Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Celebrating New Life!

On any given Sunday we can have a variety of motivations for dragging ourselves out of bed to come to church. This Sunday I suspect one of the emotions may have been because you were anticipating a celebration. Today we celebrate a faithful life: Nev will receive the Moderator’s Community Service Medal. There may be other reasons you have shown up here today but celebration is certainly an aspect of why we here today.

Somewhat coincidentally I had already chosen the theme for today’s service which is “Celebrating New Life”. One of the particular ways the church has celebrated new life is to baptise people. This morning we heard from Paul’s letter to the Romans about how we are baptised in Jesus life, his death and his resurrection and because of this we are to walk in newness of life. Now that may all sound a bit complex, and I thought so too, so I rang Nev to ask him about what had motivated him live the way he has serving others.

Nev told me a wonderful story of when he was sent to Mt Isa to work as a young man in his early twenties. Mt Isa was full men, lots of young men, and many of them spent much of their spare time drinking. Nev had a choice to make about how he was going to live his life. It was at this time he got involved with a minister who had a vision of building a church. He was making bricks out of sand every Saturday and Nev along with 5 or 6 other joined him in this crazy project.

Somewhere in participating in this crazy vision Nev through his work and service became more committed to God. To use Paul’s language I would suggest Nev was walking in newness of life.

Now this newness of life according to Paul is grounded in our connection to Jesus which signified in baptism. This knowledge led me to ask Nev about his baptism.

Nev was baptised as an infant and he said something along the lines that he doesn’t think very much about it or its implications. He was confirmed later in the Anglican Church but really it was in catching the crazy vision of this minister and building a church that Nev really found his faith.

Now whilst Nev would not necessarily use this language I would suggest to you that in making those bricks Nev was living out his baptism.

To help you understand this I want you to just for a moment concentrate on your breathing. You Can you feel it going in and out? Can you hear it? Can you hear some else close by you breathing?

With each breath your lungs are doing an amazing job, extracting the oxygen, putting into your heart chamber from where your heart will hurtle the oxygen through your body keeping you alive and upright where you are sitting.

Try stopping for too long and you will know just how important it is. But until I told you to think about it you probably were not even aware that you were doing it. It is an incredible and complex process which is so natural and so necessary that in general it just keeps happening.

I want to suggest to you that living out our baptism is as natural breathing. Our lives which are connected to Jesus life produce the fruits of that connection in all its simplicity and complexity.

We are baptised into Jesus life, his death and his resurrection and today as we remember that living out our baptism is as natural breathing I want us to pause, like we did before to concentrate on our breathing, and consider what it means to live in newness of life, celebrate new life, to live our baptisms.

I want to do this by looking briefly at the overarching implication but then considering each of three aspects of the connection: life, death and resurrection.

First and foremost then living out our baptism is as natural breathing because it comes to us as a gift. We are joined to Jesus life, death and resurrection by the power of the Holy Spirit and it is this gift that gives us the gift of new life. It is God’s love enacted in us and we cannot make it happen, it is God who has done these things for us. We can receive and celebrate with grateful thanks this gift of grace. Yet as recipients of this grace we are invited to participate in celebrating that new life so let us consider what being baptised into Jesus life, death and resurrection means.

What does it mean to be baptised into Christ’s life if living out our baptism is as natural breathing?

During the week I asked another of our congregation members how it was she made the decision to leave her family, especially her husband and young children, to come to Australia for 18 months or so to study. Her answer was clear she had keep God in her mind in her decision making and sought God’s guidance.

As people who are baptised into Jesus life we look at Jesus who constantly did God’s will and sought God in what he was doing. We read the stories of Jesus of Nazareth who in his life was a teacher, a critique, a healer, a friend, a wise and holy man. In considering his way of life and seeing his constant connection to the one whom he called father we learn to keep God in our hearts and minds as well because we know God cares what happens in this life.

What does it mean to be baptised into Christ’s death if living out our baptism is as natural breathing?

In Paul’s letter to the Romans he asks, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death?”

It may sound strange to think about being baptised into someone’s death as something to celebrate but I want to explore just a couple of things that this might mean.

Firstly, in knowing Jesus was God in our midst it means that God understands our suffering because God has experienced suffering. When I see people suffering, when I feel suffering in my own life I know that God is not a stranger to what we go through. God is not the cause of suffering but rather walks with us in it. God is no stranger to death and in Jesus takes within the divine life those moments of suffering and pain we experience.

Secondly, the implication new life is that there was and is an old life. As people we know we are not perfect, we are human and we are fallible. The first day I met Nev he introduced himself to me as ‘Neville the Devil”, he knows he is not perfect.

In Jesus death he also takes into himself those moments we turn away from God and turn away from each other. Living our baptism may be as natural as breathing but is only so because God in Jesus has made it possible for we who would rather reject God’s ways to do so.

And lastly, what does it mean to be baptised into Christ’s resurrection if living out our baptism is as natural breathing?

I would share two thoughts on this particular idea. The first is that we live our connection to Jesus resurrection in those moments when we consciously or unconsciously walk in newness of life witnessing to God’s love for the world in our words and actions. This might be something as simple as making bricks to help build a church or teaching children or helping people with disabilities or speaking out for the marginalised. When Jesus sent out the seventy he encouraged to let others know that the kingdom of God had come near. Any time this is happening the hope of Jesus resurrection is being realised. It is said the church are a resurrection people and so we proclaim these things as we seek to live them.

On the other hand, there are times in our lives when our deep desires and concerns for ourselves, our loved one and this world around us seem overwhelming. I am aware that for many a parent the deepest concern in their heart is for the good of their children and the relationship that they would desire their children might have with God. I am aware that for many people concerns about the magnitude of the issues we face as a society, issue like poverty and conflict and ecological disaster, are too overwhelming.

When things are beyond us and beyond our powers we throw our hopes and dreams on God who has the power to bring life from death in the hope that those things which we find are beyond us are not beyond God.

Today many of us came to celebrate Nev’s award, but lying underneath this recognition is the Celebration of New Life; we are baptised people, connected to Jesus in his life, death and resurrection. I don’t think many of us are that conscious of this much of the time but that is because living out our baptism is as natural breathing? It just happens as a gift of grace around us and we celebrate our new life: we are baptised into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

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