A warm welcome to East Sussex, Wivelsfield and St Peter & St John the Baptist parish church to those online and those gathered in this time hallowed building for the eucharist and baptism of Taron Close. As our parish priest Fr Christopher is on leave it's down to me to be celebrant and that is a particular joy. When I retired from Horsted Keynes 5 years ago I covered the pastoral vacancy between priests here when I baptised Taron’s big sister Lily, so it's more of the same this morning so to speak. A special welcome to all who’ve travelled far to join Chris, Annie and the children for this special day on which we recall another priest, Annie’s late uncle Fr Martin Onions well known to me and to you.
The service today has three parts - word, baptism and eucharist - and we hope all can join in the bold text and in the various ceremonies as fully as conscience permits. In the Gospel reading for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity we have a warning against over immersion in worldly things and the need to seek the riches of God. As we begin the service we pray for cleansing from over-worldly preoccupation, for our failure to love God, neighbour and self and for a right spirit, the Holy Spirit, to be planted in us. Let’s keep silence a moment before we make the prayers on page 2 of the booklet our own as we join in the responses.
I want to look back to the first reading set for this Sunday from the first eleven verses of Colossians Chapter 3 going through the passage to open up its meaning. I’ll divide the passage into three sections, which I will read again, starting with verses 1-4:
If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
People struggle with the meaning of life. When you study Christianity you engage with the greatest clue to life’s meaning and it's tied up with what conquers death, or more precisely who conquers death, Jesus Christ. Just as we can’t see God as the same as any other being - God is the ground of being if he is God at all - so we can’t see the event on account of which Christians gather Sunday by Sunday, the resurrection of Jesus, as in anything like the same category. History records Christ’s tomb as being empty that first Easter Sunday but that awesome event sees eternity intersecting time and can’t be ranked properly in human history.
His empty tomb - never disproved - and consequent change in his disciples from fearfulness to confidence in God and the later astonishing change in holy day from Friday to Sunday, have made this day for Christians ‘the Lord’s day when the Lord’s people gather in the Lord’s house around the Lord’s table’. As we gather to celebrate the resurrection, what God did for his Son is done for us: If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above. To be a Christian is to be drawn mystically into Christ’s dying for sin, rising to immortal life and the expectation of his return: you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
Now, moving on, listen again to verses 5-9 from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, Chapter 3:
Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things - anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices.
Last Sunday I caught up with Annie, Lily and Taron. We explored our ancient font together. Lo and behold, Taron climbed into it! It’s so deep he could in principle have a bath in it this morning! Not only that, Lily climbed in with him - it is an enormous font! The idea of baptism is about plunging underwater and emerging fresh, just like bathtime! What Paul teaches in this passage, by coincidence used this morning at Taron’s christening, is this: Jesus died in our place to rise in our place. He died for our sins and rose to lift us into deathless life. When we are baptised we go under the water, so to speak, to help effect freedom from sin, and come up fresh to welcome the Holy Spirit who plants God’s immortal life in us, sealed by receiving the bread and wine which is his body and blood after confirmation. The baptism rite we follow shortly is not just for Taron. It's for us all. We are to be reminded that ‘to follow Christ means dying to sin and rising to new life in him’. Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly… anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language... Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices. Today’s first reading colours the promises we make with and for Taron this morning. Baptism is only done once but we need holding to its principle hour by hour, day by day. For example, if the baptised fully lived their baptism there would be no lies in society, in government, on the internet - no truth telling crisis in the world for Christ would be all and in all - Lord, hasten that day!
Moving on to he last section let’s listen again to Colossians 3 from the end of verse 9 to verse 11:
You have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
The new clothes Taron wears today link to this aspect of baptism which is a clothing of ourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. What we most want for Taron is what we most want for ourselves and for the population of the world past present and to come - we want him to become more fully what he is meant to be. God who made us desires this earnestly, but on account of his gift of free will God can’t do this without our cooperation with his grace. Sunday worship, daily prayer, study of the bible and the saints, service of others, regular self examination - all of these are means of grace, ways God makes baptism real for us as we seek the best for ourselves.
Jesus died in our place to live in our place. In baptism Taron’s fleshly life dies, in a sense, so that the immortal life of a child of God can live in him as his life principle fighting valiantly against sin, the world and the devil and remaining faithful to Christ to the end of his life.
If human beings were perfect there’d have been no need for God to send his Son to die. When we look at the Cross and think of Christ’s sufferings we see how much God wants the best for his children and provides for them a new start - day by day forgiveness, guidance and empowerment. Annie and Chris, who we know would willingly suffer hardship for Lily and Taron, share with today’s godparents a great yet joyous responsibility to help their children become what they were made to be. We at St Peter and St John the Baptist stand with you in this today. We congratulate Chris and Annie for your decision on behalf of your children to seek God with us in worship and prayer. May the Holy Spirit counter all that’s negatively at work within us through sin, all that frustrates that fantastic process already well underway in the world and in us, which is to make Christ all in all. So be it!