Baptizing Christ, becoming Christlike

A sermon for the commemoration of the Baptism of Our Lord, with the baptism of a new and infant member of our parish family, and our rehearsal of the Baptismal Covenant*

In the service for marriage in the Book of Common Prayer, the prayer is included that “all … who have witnessed these vows may find their lives strengthened and their loyalties confirmed.” In the same way at ordinations, and most universally at baptisms, the assembled congregation is challenged and affirmed by the vows that they witness to remember their own promises, their own misgivings, to turn once more to God in trust, in penitence, in faith that we are adopted by the Holy Spirit as children of the living God, and confirmed by grace as heirs to the kingdom of heaven.

Kennedy’s parents and godparents make promises on her behalf today, since she is too young to make them for herself; and as we witness them we promise to do all in our power to support not only Kennedy, but those who stand with her as they attempt to live into those bold oaths. And we renew our own Baptismal Covenant, affirming our faith in the One who Created, Redeemed, and continues to Inspire us.

We promise, with God’s help, to remain faithful to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to continue to come together in the Communion of Word and Sacrament, to avail ourselves of the food for the journey with which Christ has provided us, our daily bread; to come together often, to become the Church that Christ called into being to bring good news to the world.

We promise, with God’s help, to resist evil. We know that temptations surround us on every side: temptations to carelessness and contempt, cynicism and snark, deals with the devil, and despair. All that would divide us from God and from one another, from the call to love God and our neighbour as ourselves – all that falls under the banner of sin. When it is deliberate, when it is destructive, when it is cruel, when it is demeaning to the image of God borne by each member of humanity; when it is done by someone else, we call it evil; but we are not immune to evil. We are not immune to the temptations to smear the image of God in the mirror of the person before us. Whenever we fall into sin, we promise with God’s help to seek God’s help to return to righteousness, to restore the vision of God within us, that we may love as Christ loved us.

And that is the good news of God in Christ: that God so loves the world that God gave us Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, to live among us, to die before us, to defeat the powers of evil and death and raise us to a new life, dripping with grace and with blessing. We promise, by word and example, with God’s help to shout it from the rooftops: God loves you, no exceptions. God will meet you where you are. God will raise you from the river, and set you on dry ground.

We promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbours as ourselves, with God’s help becoming selfless, becoming Christlike. There is a virtuous cycle in which the more we find Christ in one another, the more we reflect his love in our own lives. Coming before John, Jesus did not lord it over him. Even when John would demur, Jesus insisted on submitting to John’s ministrations, to joining in his mission of grace. The more we humble ourselves before our neighbours’ needs, the greater our Christlight becomes.

Finally, we promise, with God’s help, to strive for justice, to strive for peace, to respect the dignity of every human being. Peter told the new Christians, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” God shows no partiality between peoples and nations, between denominations and demographics, between one child and the next, but we do. We tend always to favour our own family, our own country, our own party, our own religion over another; it’s human nature. And it is right to be judicious in choosing which policies to support, which doctrines to promote, which actions to pursue, good or evil, so long as we do not, in doing so, find ourselves choosing between one person’s humanity and another.

We are more than a baseline of human nature. We are created in the image of God. We have died with Christ in baptism, and we have been raised to a new life. We have levelled up. We are called to go beyond the basics, to love even our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us.

So we promise, with God’s help, to do all that is good, and peaceable, and righteous, loving God with our whole being, and our neighbours as ourselves.

All this we promise for ourselves, and on Kennedy’s behalf. It is a lot to ask of a small child. But what does God promise in return?

God promises mercy:

a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice. (Isaiah 42:3)

God promises consistency and indefatigability:

he will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching. (Isaiah 42:4)

God promises impartiality, “healing all who [are] oppressed by the devil.” (Acts 10:38)

God promises liberty,

to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness. (Isaiah 42:7)

God promises life:

Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it: (Isaiah 42:5)

God promises steadfast love, sending love into the world in dramatic and bodily form:

“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)

All of these promises Kennedy inherits as she is baptized today. All of the promises we keep, all of the promises we break, all of the promises we mend are held in trust for us by the same grace that flows over her this morning.

With God’s help, we baptize her. With God’s help, we rise refreshed with her, remembering that God is with us, Emmanuel, come hell or high water, and that God has anointed us to bring that good news to the world.


*The Baptismal Covenant

Celebrant Do you believe in God the Father?
People I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
Celebrant Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
People I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Celebrant Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
People I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
Celebrant Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
People I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent  and return to the Lord?
People I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
People I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
People I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People I will, with God’s help.

(Book of Common Prayer, 305-6)

Featured image: the house of Simon the Tanner, where Peter discovered the impartiality of God through a vision of various animals

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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