Sunday, 6 May 2012

Born from above

There were some very appropriate readings for today bearing in mind that we have an adult baptism in the service.
In the reading from Acts we have the story of the baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch. For me this is an outward representation of the prophetic statement by Luke at the start of his gospel that the good news would travel to “the ends of the earth”. This exotic foreigner from the heart of Africa represents this very well.
“What is to prevent me from being baptised?” the foreigner asks Philip. The answer of course is always absolutely nothing.
Now Luke didn’t mean this I’m sure when he wrote the gospel , because he wrote in Greek but prevent in English (from the Latin)means to “go before” and it is the established churches belief in prevenient grace – that is, God always makes the first move before any response forthcoming from the person that actually forms the basis and rationale of infant baptism. God is already there before any response to his presence – a response that may never come - but the belief holds true under any circumstances.
God and his grace are present in all people before any response is made. God’s grace has been present and working and nudging Christian towards this public declaration of trust that  is “baptism”.
Baptism speaks of a change of heart or perspective. The visual sacrament using water is stark because the baptism represents a symbolic drowning – dying to one perspective and gaining another – drowning the old self and rising to a new life lived in God.
It is an awakening of the Spirit within and a person responding to the prompting of that same Spirit. This awakening can happen suddenly or gradually but however it happens baptism does not signify an end to the process but an acknowledgement of the beginning of a new life of discovering what our lives mean in relation to a God who is love.
In today’s offering from  John’s first letter he talks of God as Love, pure unmerited life giving love. And the Christian life can be characterised as responding to this love and incorporating it into our own lives, both individually and as a corporate body.
Turning finally to John’s gospel the image describes God being the vine and us the branches is a lovely picture of mutual indwelling – of oneness – God, Christ, you, me, nature, all part of the same thing that is alive and growing. I AM the true vine.
Conversion means the same as becoming enlightened – I AM the light of the world – and is a response to God’s presence and love – which is the only true security we will ever know – and finding peace and unity and living out of this loving presence we can start to really grow and flourish. The New Testament calls this flourishing “bearing fruit”. That is the goal of the Christian life – to flourish, to bear good fruit.
Like all tender young plants we need careful nurture and deep roots and warmth and light. We need watering or our lives can start to wither on the vine. This is why the Christian community is not an optional extra but an integral and important part of the nurture. It is within the community that tender young plants will hear the words of love and acceptance – but not only hear them but experience them within the nurturing community itself.
Which is why the nurturing community – the local church congregation needs to be open, welcoming, accepting, loving and forgiving, while also offering a true and meaningful encounter with the divine that dwells within all things.
That’s a big ask – and we know it sometimes doesn’t feel like that, which is why as a community we must gain strength for this task in a constant return to the well, to commune and encounter God, both individually and corporately, to rest in his presence, to drink of his Spirit, to re-charge our batteries, to deepen our roots, in prayer and meditation, and as we are doing this morning, in communion with God and each other. 

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