10 January 2010

The grace of baptism

The Baptism of the Lord (Year C): Luke 3; Titus 2:11-14,3:4-7

As we finish the Christmas season and then start a new year, it is natural that we should look ahead. Our second reading today provides a brilliant way of doing this. Paul writes to his co-worker Titus, who is on the island of Crete (where everyone seems to be enjoying a permanent summer with everyone lying on the beach rather than working - not that this teaching would apply to us at all?). Paul reminds the church that what happened at the moment of Jesus' death and resurrection was a sign of God's future breaking into our present. Everything was different because of this. So don't get caught up in inaction and sloth; God's future was now clear and was already breaking into our lives now. Let us live them anew and afresh.

In Titus 3:5, Paul addresses himself to this people. Something incredible had changed because of his new life in Jesus - being saved by him. Everything that had happened before that point - even though as Paul tells us in Phil 3 he had kept the law faultlessly and as perfectly as was humanly possible - was worthless and no better that garbage. God didn't save us as a result of our ability to fulfill the commandments or as a reward for how good we had lived our lives; no, God saved us because of his compassion for us; because of his own mercy. This verse, like its cousin in Eph 2:8-9 starkly and wonderfully proclaims the Christian difference. When we were baptised into Christ, we were saved not because we did something amazing and so God rewarded us. No, God saved us simply because that is the desire of his mercy. His very nature as compassionate, loving and merciful means that his deepest desire is for us to experience the fullness of life in him. God takes the initiative.

This desire is expressed in the regeneration offered in the sacrament of baptism. But baptism has little effect unless we live it fully which requires our response - to live the sacrament of baptism according to the plan and promise of God; to live it with an understanding that it is a concrete sign of God's future breaking into our present. Like Paul we are invited to look back over our lives and see the moment of our baptism, or more normally that moment in our lives (our conversion) when we began to discover the personal love of Jesus the Saviour for ourselves and so truly began to live out our baptismal calling.

This is the invitation that we are given at the start of the year - to fully live out the grace of our baptism. Will we allow this washing of baptism and the renewal and regeneration offered to us by the Holy Spirit to be at the very centre of our lives?

Paul provides a wider context for this in the first part of the reading (in chapter 2) when he asks well how do we actually live this out and how do we bring this future of God into effect in our daily lives. He offers us several suggestions when he says (2:12) that we should live in this present age 'sober, just and devout lives.' Such words can strike us as very pious and seem to belong more to a Victorian era, but when Paul writes these they are very dynamic, positive and active. These are some of the good works that we need to live in the fullness of life (a beautiful, rational humanity) that is promised us.

Let us live this call in the year ahead - to allow the changing and renewal of our own hearts call us more deeply into the beauty of God. This is the challenge for us. To live lives of truth because of the compassion and mercy of our God that has been revealed in Jesus. This is the story of a God who calls us first; who saves us before we can ever earn it; who lavishes his love upon us; a God who calls us to live out the grace of our baptism; to share in its richness and its power and to proclaim its wonder to the world.

Let us accept the love of God more deeply this year and allow the Lord to continue to call us to conversion. In this way we can begin to live more fully in the kingdom of God and begin to be true examples of the wonder of God's presence among us.

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Recorded at St Michael's 8am (10'45")