“Baptism is a serious business”
Sunday 13 January 2019
The Baptism of Our Lord
Jesus’ baptism in the Jordon River by John brought to my mind another very different baptismal event. It was described graphically by Banjo Paterson in his poem, A Bush Christening.
The poem tells the story of a ten year old boy who lived with his family, the Magees, way out west. Their isolation had meant that the young fellow had never been christened. Fortunately, a preacher turned up one day and agreed to baptize the boy. Now, the boy overheard the discussion between parents and preacher and was none too impressed.
Banjo Paterson writes:
Now the artful young rogue, while they held their collogue,
With his ear to the keyhole was listenin’:
And he muttered in fright, while his features turned white,
“What the divil and all is this christenin’?”
He was none of your dolts – he had seen them brand colts.
And it seemed to his small understanding,
If the man in the frock made him one of the flock,
It must mean something very like branding.
So the young fellow rushed off and went up a log with the christening party in hot pursuit. No amount of cajoling could get him to come out, so eventually, a stick was poked up the log.
“Here he comes, and for shame! Ye’ve forgotten the name –
Is it Patsy or Michael or Dinnis?”
Here the youngster ran out, and the priest gave a shout –
“Take your chance, anyhow, wid ‘Maginnis!’”
As the howling young cub ran away to the scrub
Where he knew that pursuit would be risky,
The priest, as he fled, flung a flask at his head
That was labeled “Maginnis’s Whisky”!
Now Maginnis Magee has been made a J.P.,
And the one thing he hates more than sin is
To be asked by the folk, who have heard of the joke,
How he came to be christened Maginnis!
So while there was a certain amount of misunderstanding on the part of the young fellow, he did at least recognize what a serious matter being baptized is. Becoming a member of the Church of Christ through the sacrament of Baptism is not something to be taken lightly.
For most of us, the choice as to whether or not to be baptized was made for us as we were only babies at the time. But during the baptismal ceremony, the Church makes very clear its expectation that any child brought to the community for Baptism will be brought up as a member of that community.
The rite of Baptism expressly requires the parents and godparents to state their intention to bring up the child in the “faith and practice of the Church”. The words of the rite express the expectation that: “In due time these children should make their own response to God, and be prepared for confirmation.”
The parents and godparents are asked whether by their own prayers and example, by their friendship and love, they will encourage the child in the life and faith of the Christian community.
So those of us who have found our way as faithful adult members of the Church generally owe much to our parents and godparents who have taken the responsibilities placed on them by the Church at our Baptism seriously.
But it does us good from time to time to reflect on our membership of the Church which came about through Baptism and today’s celebration of Jesus’ Baptism seems like an appropriate occasion.
It may be a good time for each one of us to ask ourselves the question: “Do I really appreciate being a member of the Church – specifically, the Anglican branch of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church of Christ?” Does it mean anything to me? Does it make any difference at all to the way I live my life?
You know how reformed smokers are reputed to be the greatest advocates for a cigarette-free lifestyle, well I think the same can possibly be said for people who were not born into a particular Christian tradition but rather chose to join it. They tend to be the greatest advocates for the benefits of belonging to that tradition.
I’m a little like that. As someone who has changed from the Roman Catholic tradition to the Anglican tradition, it seems to me that the Anglican tradition is rich with insights into the best way to lead the Christian life. I don’t mean that in any competitive sense – just that there is much to be proud of about belonging to the Anglican Church of Australia in regard to the spirituality of the tradition.
A former Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher provided us with a rich description of the strength of the Anglican tradition in his Official Report to the General Synod of the Church of England in 1950:
“Relying upon the honest reading of the evidence to be found in the Scriptures first, and then in the history of the Church, and then in our own reason and experience, taught and tutored by a reverent dependence upon the Holy Spirit, we seek to hold together in a large charity and a reasonable service ‘the outward continuity of organization and the inward continuity of spirit faith and practice … which links the church of to-day to the Church’ upon which the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost”.
Here, Fisher articulates beautifully the three witnesses to revelation enshrined in the Anglican tradition – Scripture, Tradition and Reason and their interrelationships with the action of the Holy Spirit to give us the confidence that the church today is an authentic descendent of the community of believers touched by the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost. Fisher saw the Church as characterized by the following qualities: it should be rational, tolerant, inclusive and collaborative.
While these qualities are by no means exhaustive, we can ask ourselves whether these characteristics are ones that we have made personal in our way of living as Anglicans. Do we use our God-given intelligence to think deeply about our faith and our Church? Do we ever try to read theology, or books on spirituality, or books on church history or the like? Do we listen to others in discussion of faith matters? Are we willing to allow others to hold views different to our own? Do we go out of our way to meet those who worship with us? Do we welcome newcomers? Do we work together for the mission of the church? Or do we leave everything to others in the hope that our comfort will not be disturbed?
On this day when we remember the Baptism of Jesus, I invite you to remember the fact that we have been baptized into membership of the Church of Jesus Christ. Our presence here today says that our membership of the Church means something to us. Let’s take the opportunity this week to reflect on what that membership means for us and pledge ourselves to deepen our commitment to Christ through:
- increased use of our intelligence to explore the message of Jesus and the Scriptures as a whole;
- greater tolerance of those whose views do not always agree with our own;
- willingness to reach out to everyone with whom we share in worship and whom we think might like to join us; and
- rededicating ourselves to work together for the spreading of the Kingdom of God.
And as always, let’s ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our efforts to improve the way that we live the Christian life.
Fr Allan Paulsen