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Sunday next before Lent, Year B, 2.3.03, St Mark’s, with Baptism
2 Cor 4.3-6: We proclaim ... ourselves your slaves for Jesus’ sake. (glory)
Ps 50.1-6: glory
Mk 9.2-9: Transfiguration
Collect: be changed into his likeness from glory to glory.
Post Com: reflect his life in word and deed (43) (751 words)

Summary: We are baptized into God's love in Christ in order to show forth God's glory in serving others.

All of our readings, from 2 Corinthians, Psalm 50 and the Gospel of Mark, highlight the theme of glory. In today’s Collect we have prayed that we may be changed into the likeness of Jesus from glory to glory, and in our Post Communion prayer we shall pray that we may reflect his life in word and deed. And the essence of this glory into which we are to grow is, quite simply, love, God’s love as made known supremely in Jesus of Nazareth.

Now, this morning we are baptizing two children into Christ, Clare Louise and Bradley William. They have been brought here because their parents, Caroline and Jason, and Rachel and Adam, and their godparents, Derek, Adam, Vicky and Elaine, desire the very best for them, and we all join with them in that.

But in a very real sense we have missed the point and purpose of baptism into Christ if we think that the ultimate purpose of baptism is to do us some good.

For we are basically baptized not so much for our own welfare as baptized rather for the welfare of others. We are baptized into God’s love in Christ in order that we may become loving, that is, that we may grow into God’s glory as made known in the face of Jesus Christ.

Thus ultimately we come to baptism because we have caught a vision of Jesus’ self-giving, loving, service of others, and we, too, wish to serve others in what we may call the Jesus-style. We wish to grow up to be compassionate and caring, knowing that we of ourselves are often less caring and forgiving than we know we could be or should be.

So how does baptism fit into this? Let me give you just a bit of biblical background. In the gospel of Mark, copied by Matthew and Luke, we find the story of Jesus receiving little children and saying, “Unless you become as a little child, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” Why does Jesus, as a Jew, say this? The answer lies in Jewish practice. At age eight days a Jewish boy was circumcised and became, purely by grace, bar berith, a son of the covenant. At age thirteen years he became bar mitzvah, a son of the commandment, and now he was obliged to fulfil all the commandments. Since the rabbis in subsequent centuries reckoned that there were 631 of them in what we call the Old Testament, you can readily see how one might take pride in keeping all of them. But the whole thrust of the biblical witness throughout the OT and the NT is that it is only when we abandon self-reliance and self-concern that we become truly free to help others. Now in the letter to the Colossians the writer says that we have a circumcision made without hands, namely, baptism. So, baptism into Christ is baptism into dependence upon God. Held by his love, we can die to ourselves in order that we may live for others.

And this dying to ourselves is what St Paul refers to when he says that we have been baptized into Christ’s death. We have died with Christ in order that we may live a new quality of life, a life lived in dependence upon God and his love.

At the end of Matthew’s gospel the risen Lord sends forth his followers with the words, “Go make disciples out of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit ... teaching them to hold fast all that I have taught you.” We are not baptized into an oblong blur, but into life in Christ, the man for others.

Therefore, in baptism we are joined into the fellowship of Christ, the fellowship of all who have followed him, the fellowship of all the saints, the Holy Catholic Church, that we may live not by our own strength but rather may love ever more deeply by a strength not our own, the strength of the unbreakable love of God.

It is into that abiding and unbreakable love of God in Christ, a love that enables us to become loving and to know in that loving the glory of true living, that we shall now baptize Bradley William and Clare Louise.