Adopted not Interviewed - Love Wins (Rev'd Lizzie Kesteven)
Sermon for Sunday 10th January 2021 - Baptism of Christ
Today should have marked a couple of baptisms in Fishponds. Yet like many things around Covid and this pandemic, instead of a baptism and worship as normal we find ourselves yet again in shifting sands and places – and the world that was – has moved. Alongside other sacraments of the church and aspects of life, baptisms and weddings are postponed, and put on hold in the hope that we will one day be able to mark those sacred moments safely and be able to celebrate them as they deserve to be.
Baptism - to be baptised - is the overriding theme of the readings that are for today. We hear of John – the Baptizer. We watch as Jesus is baptised and hear the voice from heaven claiming him as Gods son, as God’s beloved. We listen as the very first words of the bible are read and hear the story of how God formed the world, with the beginnings of lights and domes, and the tumbling’s of the waters. Crashing in and around us today are all those big stark pictures and stories some of which might feel familiar, others less so perhaps.
I have pondered Baptism this week. In that pondering I picked up a book that I was given for Christmas –a book by Rachel Held Evans– “searching for Sunday” - and in that she offers this really simply yet what I found liberating idea around baptism. She holds that the reason that Baptism is so critical, so solemn, so special, so profound is not so much about what is might say about salvation for an individual but what it says about God – And it was this phrase that took my breath away – she said. Baptism is Adoption. Not an Interview.
Baptism is adoption not an Interview.
Baptism is never a test that is needing to be passed. It’s not an A or an F grade on a score sheet. It’s not an achievement on the road to a career highlight or a dazzling marker of a person’s wisdom, wit or intelligence.
Baptism is not an interview.
Baptism is an adoption.
Mark Simms our Lay Minister touched on this a week or so ago when he spoke about the reading from Ephesians. We are adopted by God. We are God’s children. And here as we hear the words from Heaven from God to God’s son about being beloved – we also hear the words cascade like water and crash down over us. We are not here because we have gained it, or earned it – we are here because God loves us and adopts us - into his family.
It’s not an interview.
Perhaps that is why the words and the rituals of oil and water that take place around Baptisms are so emotive and moving. When a person, or adults on behalf of small people stand and make promises – they are not little things – but big statements of what they believe the world to be, or at least hope for it to look like. Baptism is an identity thing – it’s says something about who we are and what we might believe. It’s also a joining in thing – adoption suggests family – a collective of people - these are not individual made up bespoke promises, but beliefs held across towns and valleys, oceans and mountains and across generations of time and place. Adoption doesn’t begin and end in one person’s life or death, it permeates through time.
My other half, Simon, is not often at church, he has his own story to tell around that, but he is often letting me know how profound the Baptism service is in the church – “Lizzie” – it’s one of those times in church when people stand up and actually say what the church is. It is powerful and moving.
And I was thinking about that a little – the words and promises – which in this postmodern world when words of devil and sin and evil can trigger at worst a sense of anger or apathy or even ridicule –But I would revisit that – if Baptism is an adoption and not an interview, then we have nothing to prove in that moment, nothing to gain than being anything other than ourselves, bringing our brokenness and vulnerability – and saying – here I am – is this what you want to adopt – And hearing God unconditionally say back – Yes.
Perhaps it’s because the promises around Baptism ultimately declare that Love wins. They name death, and sin and evil – they don’t suggest that they are not real or true, like bad fairies that live at the bottom of the garden – we only have to examine our own lives, the world of this past week around us to know that reality. But in Baptism God names it and boldly owns it. And then proclaims that Love still wins. Love claims the victory. Love makes the tomb on Easter morning empty. Love conquers death and casts out fear. That is the power of Baptism.
If you are baptised, if that has been something new for you or perhaps even something long ago then hear those words claim that you are beloved. An adopted person. A family member. Even if that feels a long time ago in a world long gone, even if that is something that was said for you, it is still yours to claim and know. And we renew our baptism promises all the time – and I find it always feels great. My prayer is that however close or far you might feel from the God who claims you and loves you as his own then you might take a minute to picture again that sacred time and celebration and what it might mean for you and for others now today. What will you do with that today I wonder?
If you are not baptised, or if your baptism has been postponed or delayed, or if for whatever reason you ever thought that couldn’t be for you – then I hope and pray that you know that God’s doors are always open. Always available. Always here - this is not an interview. You have no test to pass or grade sheet to fill in. You need not be smart or funny, attractive or clever. God’s church is a random and motley crew. It isn’t a journey that promises to be easy, or light and comfortable. It is an invitation to grapple with the deepest and darkest parts of ourselves and God’s world. And in that we are promised that love wins. Know that you are Welcome. Get in touch. Come and see. Welcome to the God who adopts and claims you in love.