Come to the water

The Rev’d Bill Crossman

Readings:  Acts 17: 22-31; Psalm 66: 7-19; 1 Peter 3: 8-22; John 14: 15-21

Easter 6 – 14 May 23 Baptism of Maivy Letitia Crossman  –  St. Andrew’s Indooroopilly 9.30am

It’s a great delight for me to be among you this morning as we come to baptise Maivy Letitia.  For very nearly 30 years I’ve been here with my Crossman family to give thanks to God in times of joy and sorrow.  The first time I officiated at the funeral service of Maivy’s great-grandmother and my aunt, Letitia – or Letty as we all knew her.  Being a part of the family’s sacred story is an enormous privilege, one I’ve not taken lightly and for which I’ve always been grateful.  So thank you to Matthew and Trang – whose wedding Libbie and I officiated at here – for inviting me to be part of today.  I guess it’s even more meaningful for me as I am Matthew’s godfather.  I’m also very grateful to Sue for her graciousness in giving her ready approval for this – even though I’ve had to preach twice for my morning tea.

Notice I said we baptise Maivy – “I” do not baptise Maivy.  There are certain actions I perform on your behalf in baptism, and I’m authorised by virtue of my ordination to perform those.  “We” come as a community of faith, as representative of the whole body of Christ to receive and welcome Maivy as we will do specifically a bit later on.  In much the same way, if people ask me when I am celebrating the eucharist my standard reply is that I’m presiding, we all celebrate together.  I mention the Eucharist as in the Anglican sacramental understanding there are, and here I quote from the 39 Articles – who remembers those? – “there are two sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.”  How terrific that we can all share in both this morning – it’s something we should never take for granted.  We share this morning in baptism by which we enter the Christian life and the Eucharist which nurtures, sustains and strengthens us in that life.  We are a community of faith that tries as best we can to live out and into our baptismal life – a life in which we try to live as disciples of Christ; as children of light not darkness and in which we reject all manifestations of self-serving, and to which many of us re-committed ourselves at Easter.  Together we launch Maivy on this amazing journey of faith and as we do we pray for her parents and her godparents who commit to encouraging her on this journey by their own prayers and examples, by their friendship and love.  We too have our own roles to play in supporting them as we will commit to do.  And even though Maivy may not be part of this particular community week by week – she, Matt and Trang don’t live in Brisbane – I know this particular community which has been their spiritual home will pray for them and will welcome them warmly when they do come back from time to time.

I hope Matthew won’t mind me saying that when he and Trang and Maivy were with me here on Friday afternoon he remarked in his quizzical way on the words incorporated in the stained glass window in the baptistery here.  If he does mind, I guess it’s too late because I’ve already said it.  The window comes, if I remember rightly, from the former church building at Taringa and the words “Suffer the little children to come unto me……”.  I explained that “suffer” meant “let”.  St. Matthew relates in his Gospel Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’ And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.”[1]  There’s also a related passage “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”[2]  In this particular passage, Jesus subverts the disciples’ concern for rank and status by making lowliness and humility an entrance requirement for the life of the kingdom.  In doing so, he does, I think commend qualities of vulnerability, innocence, capacity to give unconditional love, but there is more than that going on too.  Presumably Jesus is aware, having been one himself, how children can be as infuriating and self-absorbed as any adult.  After all, when he was twelve, his mother did say to him in exasperation “Child, why have you treated us like this?  Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”[3]  In the culture of Jesus’ time, children were loved and valued in their families, but outside that, they had no social value or status.  Jesus is making a stark challenge to the will to power that flourishes in any community.  The humility required or entrance into the kingdom consists in not expecting or demanding to be treated with any more consideration than a child in that society.[4]  I think baptism reminds us – it certainly does me – of that humility.  Jesus goes on to say that “whoever welcomes one such child in my name, welcomes me.”  In welcoming a child, or anyone who might be symbolised by a child, we welcome the Living Lord.  This to my mind is a massive shift from “rite of passage” language to sacramental language.  The child we welcome – in this case Maivy – is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, to use the language of the Catechism.  Just as much as water is the outward and visible sign in baptism, so is the one baptised an outward and visible sign of Christ with us.

Water as a symbol has multiple meanings – those of us who have experienced flooding know the destructiveness of water, and how the aftermath saps at your spirit.  “Save me, O God, for the waters come up to my throat” cries the Psalmist[5]  But we also have wonderful images of the life-giving nature of water, for example Ezekiel’s vision of the river of the water of life flowing from the restored temple.[6]  The prayer of blessing over the water of baptism picks up on some of these.  I know that the introduction to the baptism service in the Prayer Book say this “Baptism with water signifies the cleansing from sin that Jesus’ death makes possible, and the new life that God gives us through the Holy Spirit.”[7]  I must admit that in baptism I have always emphasized the latter over the former.  In our second reading this morning, Peter seems to do something of the same.  The reading is concerned with characteristics or the nature of Christian life – having unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, not repaying evil for evil or abuse for abuse.  He commends gentleness and reverence and speaks of baptism “not as removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience.”[8]  For me, it signifies that there are more meanings to baptism than just one – and to limit our understanding to just one limits the grace of God given in the gift of baptism.

So, we come now as a people of God to start Maivy on her new life – her baptismal life.  May she by God’s grace and by our support, love and prayers continue to live and grow into all the fullness and joy of her baptism.

[1] Matthew 19: 13-15

[2] Matthew 18: 1-5

[3] Luke 2:48

[4] Brendan Byrne Lifting the Burden – Reading Matthew’s Gospel in the Church Today Liturgical Press Collegeville, Minnesota 2004 p140

[5] Psalm 69:1

[6] Ezekiel 47

[7] A Prayer Book for Australia p51

[8] 1 Peter 2:21