... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Easter VigilC
Message March 30, 2013

Renewal of Baptism: Celebrating Freedom

Text: Romans 6:3-11

Two of the big “elephants in the room” for modern Christians are tackled in tonight’s readings – death and sin. In an era of consumerism and commercialism where the emphasis is on material and feel-good philosophies, any talk let alone focus on sin and death is considered offensive. Yet they are the very topics which in the long run will free us from an obsession on the present. Perhaps in no other time has society – at least Western society – been so far removed from God. We claim a sense of spirituality, a declaration of something other than self or a realization of inner fulfilment, but they do not include God or Christ Jesus. Many today would argue that apart from the major things like murder theft or violence anything one does that makes them feel good and doesn’t hurt someone else is okay. Indeed many Christians would agree, stating that since we are Christians and have God’s grace whatever we do no longer takes any bearing. In fact that’s the same sentiment Paul is faced with in Corinth.

No so states Paul in his letter to the Romans. When we become Christians everything we do from that point on has bearing – bearing on who we are what we do and how we do it. The pivotal point of his thinking here is sin. For Paul, humanity is and will always be, enslaved to something or someone. It is our very nature – we can be enslaved to our job to our family to money to materials to food to sin or to God. The question thus becomes, “what form will that slavery take?”

Paul thus uses the illustration of baptism as a means of directing our sense of slavery – to sin or to life. Since God is our Creator and since we have been given a free will to choose, we can either choose for God or choose against God. Any choice against God is sin, and when we idolize things and people apart from God, we sin.

Now, if one has no concept of God then the question becomes, does sin exist? Paul certainly deals with this in some of his other letters, and concludes that this is one of the reasons God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. By these Commandments ignorance is no longer an excuse. By the very teachings of those edicts all people are made aware of right from wrong, are given a sense of guilt and shown and directed in a path toward righteousness.

Unfortunately sin remained in the arena of human existence and so God gave the gift of his Son, who by his baptism united with humanity and drew all who are likewise baptized into a covenant recalling the Abrahamic covenant. Once in this new covenant we are made aware also of Christ’s death – a death to sin and a sacrifice of liberty from sin.

Here Paul’s words became a liberation theology, a reflection which shows we have now attained a new relationship to sin. It is still there, it still has the power to entice. But we have been forced to ignore it, to turn from it and to actively oppose it. Baptism gives us a power to see alternatives, to weigh the options regarding the injury to self or others, including creation and to walk along the righteous path.

Easter is about our baptism into a new way; a way procured by the resurrection. It is about an active life serving God rather than sin, and can take on many modalities. Our Easter response is the response to God’s offer to free us from sin. It doesn’t mean we will not sin again or slip into sinful ways. What it does do is allow us to change, to do things in a different way and, if we do sin, to have a way to find the right paths back. But baptism in and of itself does not automatically make us new or make us aware of right from wrong. Having a baby baptized does not in and of itself mean the child will grow into the likeness of Christ. Baptism is the first step and to walk along the path to righteousness requires many steps – lots of stumbles, lots of help to be picked up again and lots of support for those times of staggering. Baptism will require constant renewals, education and examples by others, and the strength of many if it is to be truly complete and bear the fruit of divine covenant.

As we renew our Baptismal covenant let us focus on how we might do things differently to choose for God rather than self. Perhaps it might take the form of a husband and wife listening to one another on a committed level rather than grabbing a drink and going off to watch a ball game. It might be becoming active in a community watch program. It could be taking a different view of recycling and cutting down on what we send to a land fill. Or it could be committing ourselves to more Sunday attendance and actively inviting friends and neighbours to come along.

Easter means the freedom to become what we have been created to be: stewards of Creation. Easter and baptism free us and every time we renew our baptismal covenant we ought to be reminded of what it is we celebrate. Freedom to love, freedom to live, freedom to be!