Preaching on Baptism

I am about to start a series of sermons on baptism, coming especially from the United Methodist perspective. Like all of us I’m sure, I have fallen into the pattern of certain cliches and formulas to “explain” baptism, some of which are helpful, but some are probably less so.

SO, I would be interested in hearing YOUR descriptions of what is happening in baptism. Are you an anabaptist, holding to “believer’s baptism” after a profession of faith past the age of accountability? Let me know. Are you rooted in the Anglo-Catholic tradition a believe that persons should be baptized as soon as they are able? Let me hear your theology of that belief. And, does the amount of water matter in the sacrament?

Please understand that I am fairly secure in my belief system, and I need to hear from you to push on my understandings and to hear some of the questions that I might need to be addressing in this series.

PLEASE!!! If you normally lurk around this site, I REALLY covet your comments. Paint me a picture of your theology and understanding of baptism.

5 thoughts on “Preaching on Baptism

  1. I believe in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins…whether done as an infant with the parents and other members of the covenant community taking responsibility for the Christian upbringing of the child, or as an accountable adult taking personal responsibility for cultivating their Christian walk. I have preached on this topic in the past and found inspiration from the book of Acts. In Phillipi, Paul baptized Lydia and her “entire household”. He also baptized the jailer and his “entire household”. While there is no further elaboration as to what a household is, one cannot deny that it is most likely, men, women and children…everyone.

    In the Methodist faith, even laity can baptize someone in an emergency. If a believer comes upon someone in a life threatening situation, such as at a car accident, etc., and they make a profession of faith, if they are not baptized that believer has the temporary authority to baptize that person. If they recover they should later be formally baptized by an ordained minister.

    The anabaptist perspective is akin to the Anglo-Catholic rite of confirmation. When one reaches the age of accountability they confirm their faith and make a commitment to live a Christian lifestyle. We who christen our youth see confirmation as a similar event to the anabaptist’s baptism at a similar point in life.

    Again, to be biblically grounded on the subject, I would refer you to the instances where entire households were baptized, and pontificate as to what that means. Hope this helps.

  2. Jason,

    This is a good question and one you should ask your congregation as well.

    As a 9th generation methodist, I know I don’t hold the “normal” school of though on “methodist baptism”. I was fortunate that my parents didn’t baptize me as an infant and then send me off to confirmation class in the 5th grade. Because of that, I wasn’t baptized until I was an adult at the age of 24. To me, it means more to me since I can obviously remember the act of my Christain baptism. I remember the struggle in my heart and in my mind that lead me to the altar that Father’s Day Sunday in 1991. In my mind, I have never understood infant baptism since I personally don’t think infants need baptism. If I had a child now, I wouldn’t baptize them for the same reason.

    I don’t think the “amount of water being used” matters a hill of beans. Baptism is an act of faith from the heart. For those who do say that it matters and than one must be immersed to be properly baptized and be saved, I’d ask the following question to them: A man is moved by the Holy Ghost and starts down the aisle to recieve Christ and be baptized, on the way down the aisle to the altar, he suffers a massive heart attack and drops dead in the church without being baptized or publically professing his belief in Christ as his Saviour. Is this man saved?

    Well he obvious answer is OF COURSE HE IS!!!

    So, if that is the case, what difference does it make if one is sprinkled, poured, or immersed? In my mind, baptism is not even a requisite act for salvation. We are baptized because we are told to immitate Christ and Christ was baptized by St. John the Baptist. Baptism is a symbol. We know that baptism is not a requirement for salvation, because the thief on the cross was saved and he wasn’t baptized.

    Baptism is a symbolic act that demonstrates my belief that through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, my sins that were as scarlett, are now washed away.

    I also agree with Marty above about who is authorized to perform the act of baptism. Even though the UMC doesn’t give it too me, I personally believe that as a Christian, I have the authority (given to me in Matt 28:19) to be able to baptize anyone who genuinely professes their belief in Christ and who asks me to baptize them.

  3. Baptism is something I have struggled with since becoming a member of a Methodist church. I was brought up with an understanding of baptism that everyone who recognizes their need of a Savior and then repents and believes in Christ should be baptized. This obviously conflicts with the Methodist belief of infant baptism. As Keith above puts it “Baptism is a symbolic act that demonstrates my belief that through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, my sins that were as scarlett, are now washed away.” , infants are unable to have this belief and are not yet able to understand the need of a Savior.

    I was also taught that baptism come from the Greek word baptizw (baptizo) meaning to immerse. But too many people get hung up in the details rather the act itself.

  4. I read what Marty, Keith and Gary said with great interest. My back ground in the church is from those who not only immerse, but do so beyond the age of accountability and from one church to the next.

    When I became a Methodist Christian my understanding of baptism changed, to say the least. However, I do not believe that the amount of water is as important as it is often made out to be. For me baptism is what God does in your heart when you repent and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. What God does God does perfectly. That is why Methodist should not try to re-baptise. How can you ask a perfect God to redo a perfect act? The act of baptism is what we humans do and we aren’t perfect, therefore the mode, the amount of water is of little consequence with the exception of those who have waited or been allowed to wait upon that precious moment in their lives when they are led by the Holy Spirit to accept Christ as Lord and Savior.

    For me, and I am well satified with my baptism, the argument over mode and age and meaning have been settled by a gracious God who has allowed in my wandering the experience of His baptism.

  5. “Preaching at the Margins: Baptism ” in The Pastoral Review, July/August 2007. Tablet Publishing Company, London. 22-27
    Preaching at the Margins

    Unlike preaching at the Sunday Liturgy where the message of the preacher is largely directed to regular worshippers, congregations at weddings, baptisms and funerals often have little or no Christian background or commitment. In the second of a series of three articles, deacon and homileticist, Duncan Macpherson examines the evangelisation-potential at the celebration of the baptism of infants. The first two homilies were prepared for infant baptisms celebrated outside of Mass where the parents and godparents, family and friends had tenuous links with Catholic faith or practice. The first homily focuses primarily upon Scripture texts and the second is an example of mystagogical preaching, where the preaching focus provides a commentary on the rite of baptism itself. The third example was prepared for the celebration of a baptism during a normal Sunday Mass where a large number of residual Christians or non-Christians were expected to be among the congregation and were present largely or solely out of motives of friendship or respect for the parents of the child.

    The proclamation and preaching of the Word in the context of the liturgy is a message primarily orientated towards building up the faith of those who are present in Church and who are united by a common faith and baptism. It is for this reason that in 1982 the American Catholic bishops argued that the purpose of liturgical preaching is not to try to convert unbelievers but to assist believers who have gathered to celebrate the liturgy to do so “more deeply and more fully” . On the occasion of baptisms, weddings and funerals it may often happen that in addition to practising Catholics, and other believing Christians, congregations may include an assortment of lapsed and semi-lapsed Catholics, residual Christians, people of other faiths, atheists, agnostics, and post-Christians: the unchurched and the semi-churched.

    The Code of Canon Law (Can. 868 §1) specifies that, except when there is danger of death, a child should only be accepted for the sacrament of baptism where the parents or guardians, or at least one of them, is Catholic and at least one of the parents gives their consent. In addition it is required that ‘that there be a well-founded hope’ that the child will be brought up as a Catholic. In cases where such hope is ‘truly lacking’ it is specified that the baptism should be deferred and the parents advised of the reason. Such refusals are rare however and most pastors are naturally reluctant to turn away potential Catholics or to cut off one of the last links that residually Christian families may have with the Church. Inevitably then, congregations attending the celebration of the sacrament of baptism for infants may include a range of people from committed Catholics to non-Christians whose attendance is dictated purely by considerations of friendship or family ties. Thus preaching at such celebrations needs to be directed both at building up the faith and understanding of believers and also at offering a sympathetic and inclusive introduction to the basics of the Christian faith for the outsider.

    The parents or the parents and godparents are often invited to attend a series of preparatory meetings of instruction on the responsibility to bring up the child in the Faith. Such meetings provide a good opportunity to introduce or reintroduce some understanding of the meaning of the sacrament of baptism and of the basics of the Christian Faith. The preaching that accompanies the celebration itself can then build on such preparation but it will also need to take account of the varying needs of the congregation as a whole, combining a primary intention of helping the parents and godparents to see the relevance of the sacrament and at the same time to attract others to the Christian faith in an inductive and inclusive way. Special concern is needed to emphasise that baptism is more than a ‘naming ceremony’ and that the baptism of a baby, unable to give its own consent, only makes sense in the context of subsequent Christian formation.

    Exegesis of Those Attending the Celebrations of Infant baptism
    The preaching for the first two celebrations of baptism recounted here was for the children of parents with very tenuous Church links (Although based on actual baptisms, the names and the pastoral details have been changed). The first baby, Tom, already two years old, had a father who attended mass only at Christmas and Easter—and not always then! The mother, herself unbaptised, had no links with any Christian Church. Motives for bringing the child for baptism were not clear but may have included a desire to please the father’s parents and may also have been influenced by the excellent reputation of the local Catholic Primary School. More positively, Tom’s parents, who were not canonically married, both expressed a concern for passing on sound spiritual and moral values and Tom’s father related these to his own sense of identity as a Catholic. He also expressed a commitment to bringing the child to Church regularly at some stage in the future. The second child, Britney Ann, had an intermittently practicing single mother who was very emotionally dependent on her own mother, a devout and very traditional Irish Catholic whose husband had died some years before. The third celebration, which took place during the contest of the Sunday Parish Mass, was for Gina, the daughter of an Italian restaurant manager and his wife who had become a Catholic only a year before.

    The 20 or so ‘guests’ at the baptisms of Tom and Britney Ann were largely composed of lapsed Catholics, nominal Anglicans and non-believers. The congregations at Gina’s baptism comprised the normal congregation at a 9.30 Family Mass as well as about twenty guests of whom about half were Catholic or practicing members of other Christian traditions.

    Choice of Readings and Interpretive Technique
    The Gospel reading for Tom’s baptism was taken from John’s Gospel, 3.1-8, the meeting with Nicodemus and that for Britney Ann from Mark, 10.13-16 where Jesus asks that the little children should be brought to him. The readings for Gina’s baptism were those of the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary time, year B (Jeremiah 23.1-6, Psalm 22, Ephesians 2.13-18 and Mark 6.30-34).

    The philosopher Paul Ricoeur, a French philosopher who taught at the University of Chicago offers a ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ in an approach to any text. This involves openness to a primary insight as to the meaning of a text which he terms the ‘first naiveté.’ A second stage in Ricoeur’s pattern assumes critical distance and combines with the first naiveté to provide an interpretation of ‘critical openness’ .

    Exegesis of Text of the Homily for Tom’s Baptism
    When applied to the interpretation of John 3:1-8, Ricoeur’s method of interpretation produced a first naiveté that the child to be baptised was being brought to a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit. The second naiveté, deepening the first, developed from reading commentaries on John’s Gospel. In the Jerusalem Bible, John 3:4 is translated as “I tell you most solemnly unless a man is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” According to Raymond Brown, the Greek words gennethe anothen, translated ‘“born from above’, have the double meaning of ‘born from above’ or ‘born again.’ Brown call this the ‘technique of misunderstanding’ whereby the confusion enables John to correct Nicodemus’ somewhat prosaic interpretation of the words of Jesus as meaning that the birth must take place ‘again in time.’ ‘Nicodemus’ use of deuteron, as in “Can he go back into the womb and be born again?”, ‘indicates that he chooses only the temporal meaning of anothen.” Meanwhile a social science perspective emphasises that whatever honour attached to a child’s birth ‘was simply a given. It usually stayed with a person for life… aside from extraordinary circumstances, a non-elite peasant remained a non-elite peasant until death. To be born over again, born for the second time…, would alter one’s ascribed honour-status in a very fundamental way. A new honour-ascribed status would derive from a new birth.’

    These critical insights were incorporated into the development of and inductive preaching strategy for the infant Tom’s baptism. By playing with images and reminders of Tom’s birth and the emotions it had produced at the time the homily could work on the idea of what a second birth might mean. Just as Tom had a special place in the world through his birth into his particular family and the gifts he had received through them, so now, he would be born into a new family as a child of God, born again in the Spirit into a new life in Christ. This gift of new birth would require help and encouragement from his parents and godparents who might need to be reminded of what a wonderful gift it really is.

    Text of the Homily for Tom’s Baptism
    “Just for a moment I would like you to think about how you felt when Tom was born: relief that mother and baby were alright; wonder that such an amazing thing as the birth of a new human being could happen to you and, above all, just sheer joy at the birth of a new member of the human family. And Tom didn’t just become part of the human family in general; he became part of a particular family with his parents, his grandparents and other relations. That is why so many of them are here today, together with their friends.

    So today is a great family occasion; but it is not only that. It is not just a naming ceremony. Tom has had his name since he was born. No, today is about Tom becoming a member of another family—the family of the Church. Through the power of God’s Holy Spirit Tom will become a brother of Jesus Christ and a child of God the Father. He will be ‘born again’; ‘born from above.’ Nicodemus, the man who came to visit Jesus at night couldn’t get his head round that: ‘Nicodemus said “How can a grown man be born? Can he go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”’. Not even someone as young as Tom can do that! So what was Jesus talking about?

    You may have heard of people who call themselves ‘born again Christians.’ Actually there isn’t any other kind! As far as the Catholic Church is concerned every baptised Christian is ‘born again’—it is just that in many cases they are not born again so that you would notice! They either do not believe that Jesus died on the cross and rose again so as to give them a wonderful new life or else they believe it and don’t really care. But Jesus is the giver of this gift of being born again—of being able to start a new life as his brother and as a child of the Father—and the gift is real.

    Imagine that a particularly generous friend of Tom’s parents gives Tom a very special ‘state of the art’ lap top computer. Then imagine that it never gets taken out of the box. Nobody ever encourages Tom to play with it or offers to teach him how to use it. The gift will be real enough but it will not be much use to him! That is why the Tom’s parents and godparents will have such an important role to play in helping him to grow in the new life that Christ gives him. This new life will bring him even greater happiness than any other gift he could ever receive and unlike any other gift it will last forever!

    [Several elements in this short homily were then underlined further with a selection of brief commentaries on the ceremonies accompanying the rite itself as in the section that follows.]

    Mystagogical preaching for the Baptism of Britney Ann
    The word mystagogy is taken from the Greek Mystagogia, meaning, “interpreting of mystery,” (literally, “the leading of the initiated”), originally referring to initiation into the pre-Christian pagan Greek mystery religions. In the early centuries of the Church, it came to be used in a specifically Christian way, referring to the stages of Christian initiation, through which new adult Christians were led to a deeper understanding of what they had experienced in their Baptism, Confirmation and first Holy Communion at Easter. The term “mystagogical preaching” can be used to refer to any preaching that invites the initiated Christian to reflect on the deeper meaning of their sacramental experience. In the case of the celebration of baptism for an infant I am suggesting the preaching of a brief running commentary on the various stages of the rite in order to awaken in the parents and godparents a sense of the significance of their own baptism so as to encourage them to help the child to grow in the Faith.

    Exegesis of Text of the Homily for Britney Ann’s Baptism
    Although the preaching at Britney Ann’s baptism chiefly consisted of commentary on the rite itself, a brief treatment of the Gospel reading from Mark 10:13-16 was also required. Although this text relates only indirectly to infant baptism, it was used very early on to justify the baptism of infants. One commentary argues that ‘there is no reason to read this idea back into Mark’ at the same time allowing that ‘it may have resonated with some in the Markan community.’ More positively Oscar Cullmann rejected equally the idea that any debate over infant baptism was foreseen by Jesus as well as the possibility that ‘the primitive church invented the occurrence of Mark 10.13-16 to justify infant baptism.’ Instead he suggested that the story was included into the narrative in ‘such a way that a baptismal formula of the first century gleams through it.’ This insight renders the account of the incident a particularly valuable text to include within a mystagogical preaching commentary on the ceremony as a whole.

    Text of the Homily for Britney Ann’s Baptism
    (At the reception the child at the Church door the priest or deacon asks the parent what she asks from God’s Church and what name she intends to give to the child. He then reminds the parent and godparents of their duties and invites them to follow him in making the sign of the cross on the child’s forehead 🙂
    ‘I expect that this baby has already received some gifts from her mother’s friends and family. Some people may even have asked what to give. I am now going to ask you what you want as a gift from the Church. At this service I am asking the question on behalf of the Church. So, I now ask you, what do you ask of the Church?
    A name tells us who we are and the name you are going to give this child will be her baptism name, the name she will have as a child of God. So what name do you give this child?

    Adults will make lots of decisions for Britney Ann before she is old enough to make them for herself. For example they will decide that she needs to have regular food and drink, to be kept clean and, as she grows, to be sensitive to others. The most important decision anyone will make for her is that she be a child of God and a sister of Jesus Christ, filled with his Holy Spirit. This gift of being a child of God that she will receive today must not be like a wrapped up present left under the Christmas tree. She will need help in opening it up and finding out how to make it work properly. So I will now ask her mother and her godparents to make a solemn statement that they understand what they are undertaking.
    You have asked for you child to be baptised…Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?
    Are you ready to help Britney Ann’s mother in her duty as a Christian mother?

    I am now going to read from Mark’s Gospel 10:13-16…

    Now that we have heard this story let us think about what it means. People were bringing their children to Jesus just as you have brought Britney Ann today. But there was a problem. The disciples of Jesus thought that it wasn’t appropriate. Jesus had a message that was for grown ups and they probably thought that bringing children to him was wasting his time. There are some Christians today who will only baptise people who are old enough to understand. Maybe some people thought like that at the time that Mark’s Gospel was written and that was why Mark decided to put this incident from the life of Jesus in his Gospel—to show that children as well as adults could share the new life that Jesus gained for us when he died for us and rose again.
    The disciples had tried to keep the children away from their master but Jesus was indignant and told them to let the little children come to him and not to stop them. And he said that only people who grow in simple trust like young children would be able to come into his kingdom. The promises that you have just made will help this child to come to him, not just today but when she come to make her First Holy Communion and when she is confirmed. With the help of your prayers and example she will be blessed and embraced by Jesus all through her life until she comes to the end of her time on earth and comes to share in the kingdom that God has prepared for those who love him.

    So now we are going to pray for this child, her parents and her godparents and after each prayer I would like you to say “Lord Hear Our Prayer.”

    (At the end of first set of the intercessions) ‘In a minute Britney Ann is going to become part of a Church that has members in heaven as well as on earth so we are now going to ask their prayers and I would like you to repeat the words, “Pray for us after ” after each petition.’

    (Before the prayer of exorcism) ‘We only have to watch the news or open the papers to see that the human race is caught up in a lot of evil that is not always entirely the fault of the individuals concerned. Sometimes we hear someone blaming the parents. Then we look at the parents and we are tempted to blame their parents or perhaps we blame advertising, the culture or the media. What is clear is that we do not get a fair start. We are already part of a web of human evil from the very beginning. So now I am going to tell Satan, the spirit of evil to leave this child alone, because she is going to become part of a network of love and goodness through the presence of the Holy Spirit in her life.

    (Before the prayer of anointing ), ‘Before Britney M is baptised we remind ourselves that she is to be like an athlete who has had ointment rubbed on her muscles to make her ready for a race or other athletic event. So I will now anoint her with oil to represent the strength she will need to be a disciple of Christ.’

    (Before the blessing of the water) ‘None of us can live without water. The Bible begins by reminding us that water covered the earth before the dry land appeared. The story of Noah’s ark reminds us that water can destroy us. The story of the children of Israel escaping from the Egyptians through the Red Sea reminds us that God can put clear water between us and whatever threatens us. John baptised Jesus in the river Jordan. Water flowed from the side of Christ on the cross and Jesus told his disciples to baptise all nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Water is the symbol of new life and I am now going to bless this water so that Britney Ann will share in the life of the risen Jesus.’

    (Before the renunciation of sin, the profession of faith and the baptism) Living this new life means a turning away from sin–everything that is not filled with God’s love. I am now going to ask Britney Ann’s mother and the godparents to renounce sin and to profess the faith on Britney Ann’s behalf. This is also an opportunity for them and for everyone here to renew their faith and to reaffirm the promises made on their behalf when they were baptised.

    (Before the baptism) And now we come to the baptism itself. When I say “I baptise you”, it will be Jesus Christ himself, not me, who is making this child part of the new creation brought about by his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead.

    (Before the anointing after baptism) ‘I am now about to mark this child with the oil of chrism, blessed by the bishop. Anointing with oil is a very ancient way of marking somebody out as a leader, set apart for a special purpose. Christ is a priest, a prophet and a king and now that Britney Ann shares in Christ’s life she is set apart as a royal priest and a prophet like him.

    (Before the presentation of a candle and a white garment) This new life is then going to be represented by a white garment symbolising the innocence of this new child of God. After that I will light a candle from the Easter Candle to symbolise that this child has been given the light of faith to light up the way she will live.

    (Concluding rites) Jesus once touched the mouth and ears of a deaf and dumb person. He then said the word, ‘Ephetha, which means ‘be opened’ in Aramaic. Britney Ann cannot speak or hear about the things of God yet. I will now perform a ceremony that reminds us that Britney Ann will need all our help if the wonderful gift that she has received today is to have its full effect in her life. Then, before the final blessing we will join in the family prayer that Jesus taught to his disciples.’

    The Eucharistic Gina’s Baptism
    Although pastoral reasons may sometimes make a separate celebration of the baptismal liturgy more appropriate a baptism is never a private family event but is a matter for the whole community so it is particularly appropriate when the baptism take place in the presence of the entire parish family, especially when the parents are regular worshipping members of the congregation. Some members of the Sunday congregation may complain that the Mass time is prolonged by the addition of infant baptisms. Such complaints can also provide the occasion for a gentle raising of their awareness that we assemble as a parish family rather than as a collection of isolated individuals like an audience in a cinema. Moreover time is saved by the recitation of the creed being replaced by the baptismal profession of faith and where the water used has been previously blessed.

    Exegesis of Texts of the Homily for Gina’s Baptism
    The homily preached for a baptism celebrated within the context of a normal Sunday Mass must serve the needs both of the congregation and of the parents, godparents, relations and friends of the child to be baptised. This may be best achieved by exploring the general message and then relating it first to the baptism of this particular new Christian and then to that of every baptised person in the congregation.

    In the interests of brevity only a few of the available richness from the readings were used in the homily: chiefly those based on Mark 6.34 developed in the light of the theme of Ephesians 2.13-18 with illustrative references to the responsorial psalm 22 (23). Reference to commentaries on the Gospel underlined the inadequacy of the Jerusalem Bible translation of esplanchisthe as ‘he took pity’’ rather than ‘had compassion’ and offered the insight that “‘compassion’ is the bridge from sympathy to action.” The action of Jesus which followed; the feeding of the 5000, was not referred to in the homily, focussing as it did on the lost sheep analogy with Christ taking pity on us, bringing us close by his blood (Ephesians 2.13) and breaking down the barriers between God and ourselves; between ourselves and others.

    Text of the homily at Gina’s baptism
    Problematic: In what ways are we like sheep? We have the capacity to get lost. We have all probably experienced the moment of sheer terror when we realised that our parents were nowhere to be found. Or maybe we have dreamt that we were in a strange place and then suddenly realised that we had no clue as to where we were or why we were there. There is a value in that moment of terror. Of course there is no value in panicking, but at least we then know that we are lost. Much worse to be in denial—to be following some other daft sheep and thinking that we will get to wherever it is that we should be.
    And as Jesus stepped ashore ‘he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.’

    In what ways are we lost? Maybe we are, or we have been, lost and a long way from home –we are experiencing now, or experienced in the past–the moment of sheer terror, when we realised that this world is a strange place. Again, there is a value in that moment of terror. There is no value in panicking, but at least we know that we are lost; much worse to be in denial—to be following the other sheep and thinking that we will get there. So many of the human family are lost– half the human race is sick from too having too much and the other is sick from having too little. Politicians use violence to establish power and rival seekers after truth turn on each other with hatred and prejudice.

    Good News: Jesus’ stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.’ Some translations say “compassion,” a much better word. “Don’t pity me!” people say, “I don’t want your pity!” There is a suggestion that pity doesn’t go anywhere, doesn’t do anything to change the situation. Jesus doesn’t just pity us–he rescues us. He changes our lives. He brings us home. As Paul tells us, ‘You that used to be so far apart from us have been brought very close, by the blood of Christ.’

    Application to Baptism and Life: This is what happens to each person who has been baptised. If it is not our experience then that is not because we have never received the gift of new life in Christ but because we have not unwrapped it and claimed it for ourselves. In a few moments two of God’s children will be baptised. They will be found and reborn through the dying and rising of Christ. Whether that is to be a lived experience in their lives depends in part upon the encouragement of their parents and their godparents and other members of the Christian community. Ultimately it will depend upon the children themselves but they will never need to be lost, ‘like sheep without a shepherd.’ The Good Shepherd will lead them to green pastures; revive their spirits when they are down. He will guide them along the right path, taking away their fears. He will bring them to the banquet of the Eucharist and he will anoint their heads with oil in Confirmation. ‘Surely goodness and kindness will follow them all the days of their lives and they will dwell in the Lord’s own house for ever and ever.’

    Notice too, as Paul tells us that this is not just something individualistic. When Christ brings us home to God he also brings us together: ‘For he is the peace between us.’ Paul is talking about how Jews and non-Jews are brought together by the same cross that brings us together to God. ‘This was to create one single New Man in himself out of the two of them and by restoring peace through the cross, to unite them both in a single Body and reconcile them with God. In his own person he killed the hostility. Later he came to bring the good news of peace, peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near at hand. Through him, both of us have in the one Spirit our way to come to the Father.’

    Like us this new Christian, we are be called to be reconcilers, bringing peace and justice where there is conflict and oppression, uniting those who are divided and showing active compassion for those who are lost and in need of a loving Shepherd. We will be like Jesus who ‘took pity on’ those who ‘were like sheep without a shepherd.’
    Duncan Macpherson is a Permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Westminster

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