Homily for Baptism of the Lord (January 11, 2014)
Today we celebrate the baptism of Jesus. It was a significant moment in his life, it was the moment that he came and became public. Up until the baptism, Jesus lived a very private life, no one knew about him. But after today, after this moment in the Gospel people will start to hear about him. So the moment of Jesus’ baptism was the moment that he came to teach people, and he came to teach people how to live. That was his message, he came to teach them who they were, that was his message. He came to teach them that they were children of God, that they were brothers and sisters of one another, that was his message for them. And he said if you want to be truly alive, this is the way to live. You live like this. And so he not only taught them how to live, he modelled for them how to live. He says you live with compassion, you live with gentleness, you live with love. Look at me, this is what I'm doing. You want to be alive, you want to be happy, you want to have a full life then do this. And so what Jesus was teaching was a ‘way to living’.
In fact In the early church it was often called ‘The Way’, to be a Christian was to be a follower of The Way. The way of living. We often make the mistake that to be a Christian or to be baptised is to be stamped Christian, and that's it, you're a Christian. You've got a baptismal certificate and that makes you a Christian. A baptismal certificate doesn't really make us Christians; what makes us Christian is that we walk in the way. We walk in the certain way of living. That's what makes a person Christian. And that’s what's really challenging about this Gospel. It talks about how to be a Christian is to live a certain way. If we don't walk in the way, if we are not Christians then no matter how many baptismal certificates we may have, it's about the way. Walking in the way of Christ.
When parents bring their children for baptism in the churches, in the parish churches, they are saying that I'm going to teach this child how to walk in the way of Jesus. I'm going to teach them how to live with compassion, how to Live with love and forgiveness. That's what the parent promises. And the child grows up, hopefully, being taught to live like that. That is perhaps the personal history of all of us. Growing up, taught to live as a Christian, and what distinguishes us as Christians is ‘way we live’. The way we relate to people. What distinguishes us as Christians is the way we love, the way we are gentle and the way we are forgiving. That's what marks us out. The call of the Gospel today is to realise that we are all called to walk in this way. And you might say well, we're not perfect. It's got nothing to do with being perfect. It's about trying day after day to live with gentleness, trying to live day after day with compassion, trying to live day after day with generosity. Some days we will fail, but we never accept the failure. A Christian is someone who believes that the only real way to live is to be forgiving. They believe it deep in their hearts. That's a Christian. It doesn't mean that they are always forgiving, but when they fail to forgive , they say ‘I can't live with myself, I can't go around with this anger in my heart’. This makes life too miserable. A Christian is someone who knows that when you live with forgiveness in your heart, there is a great joy, and when something gets into my heart that makes me not want to forgive, I can't live with that, I have to get rid of it. It may take me a while but because I'm a Christian and because I want to walk in the way, because I enjoy walking in the way! I enjoy living a life where I don't have anger in my heart. When anger comes into my heart it destroys my life, I have to get it out. When resentment comes into my heart, I have to get it out. When meanness and all these things that can come into anyone's heart, when they come into the heart of a person who is walking as a Christian they can't live with it. They don't want to live with it.
I don't forgive a person who has hurt me because it's a good thing to do, or because God wants me to do it. I forgive a person who hurts me because I can't live with it, it's such ugliness in my heart. And that is a Christian. I'm generous to people not because I should be generous to them, but because when I am generous towards somebody it gives such value to my life and I have such a different respect for that person to I am generous.
So to be a Christian is a matter of life, a matter of living in the way that we have chosen to live. It's not a matter of being perfect because we all have faults, we all have failings, but we are not satisfied with being angry people, we are not satisfied with being resentful people, we are not satisfied with being unforgiving people. That's not a Christian. And so to know if we are really Christian is to ask ourselves 'how do I try to live? Do I try to live gently every day? Do I try to live compassionately ?'. And when I run into these bumps on the road; these people that upset me and circumstances that depress me, how do I handle them? Do I just become bitter or do I let them go? The call for all of us is to realise that it's about living a certain way of life. That if you're living it, there is no life like it. Sometimes people say ' my God, with all the scandals in the church, how can you be Christian’? Well what does that have to do with it? It's depressing yes but the joy that comes from being gentle, why would I want to give that up? The joy that comes from being compassionate, why would I want to walk away from that? And you can say 'well, fine, I don't have to go to church for that’. No you don't. You don't have to go to church to have joy in your heart. So why come? We come here, hopefully, not to fulfil an obligation. We're not here because if I don't come I’ll feel guilty. We come here, all of us included, we come here because during the week were trying to live as Christians, and it is hard. It's hard specially when people around us are not living as Christians, but during the week we try to live as Christians and we come here each weekend, we come before God and we ask for the strength to keep being Christian. We ask for the strength to keep being gentle, we ask for the strength to keep being forgiving. And we ask for forgiveness for the times we are tempted to give in to the anger and the resentment, and we're tempted to hold onto it. That's the experience.
We come here because we're trying to live as Christians. And we come here because we see other people in the church and we say 'God, everybody here is trying to be gentle, everybody here is trying to be compassionate, everybody here is trying to be generous. We don't all succeed but we're all trying, and it gives us a unity to say 'I'm not in this alone. There are other people struggling like me to be Christ like’. And so we come here, not only to pray for ourselves, but we pray for one another. And our very presence here encourages one another. Keep going, you're not alone in this, you're not the only person who is trying to live this life. You're not the only person that fails. Get up, try again. And so our very presence in the church encourages one another. Our very presence is meant that we pray for and support one another. But we support one another, not so that we meet an obligation of showing upon Sunday. We support one another so that when we leave this church all of us have got a little bit more energy and can say 'I'll give it another go this week. I'll be more open. I'll try again to put up with that person who is so contrary, and so hard to get along with. I'll give it another go. I won't give in to the negativity. I won't give in to the meanness. I won't give in to the darkness’.
And so the call is a call to walk in a way of life. To be Christian is not just something we are, but it's something we are constantly being, day after day . Being Christian. Every morning we get up we make a choice, will I be Christian today? Will I be Christ like? Will I live this day with gentleness? Will I live this day with compassion? And if we truly are Christian, that's a choice that we make each day.
The invitation for all of us, particularly this morning, is to look at one another and realilze we are all here trying to live that ‘way’. And it's very encouraging to be able to look at other people and say 'yeah they're trying too and it's not easy. And some of you, some of us, have very difficult situations. And yet you come here to get encouraged, you come here to get the energy to be Christ like, to be gentle, to live a life that has quality and joy.
Perhaps for a moment we can reflect on our own way of living and also to pray for the other people here in the church and their way of living, that it may be truly Christian and one of joy.