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Sunday Worship 26 May | Baptism

Today we were delighted to baptise a member of our congregation, which set the theme for our reflection.

Galatians 3:26-28, 5:16a, 22-23
In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus...So I say, walk by the Spirit...The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Last week was Pentecost, when the church celebrated an outpouring of the Spirit that led to thousands being baptised. That sets us up brilliantly for this week, because the Spirit and baptism are connected throughout scripture. John the Baptist told the crowds that he baptised with water, but another would come who would baptise them with the Spirit. When Jesus was baptised, the Spirit appeared in the form of a dove. As part of the Great Commission, Jesus instructed his disciples to baptise people in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Spirit. And there are countless stories in Acts of people experiencing the Spirit and asking for baptism, or being baptised and then being filled with the Spirit. So it seems right that as we celebrate a baptism this morning, we spend some more time with the Spirit. Although let's be honest, it's never not going to be right to spend time with the Spirit.

Before we get there, the first verses we heard from Galatians focus on baptism, and the unity we find in it. I want to be clear that baptism is not the only way we find Christian unity, and those believers who are not baptised, or have been baptised in other traditions and by other means, are no less one in Jesus Christ. Baptism is a sign of something, not the thing itself, and that is not to diminish its significance, but to honour the diversity of our experiences within our unity in Christ. 

Because it is precisely this coming together of difference that Paul is concerned with, as he says “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. This might sound like a scrubbing away of all our identities, but it does not need to deny our distinctiveness. It is not that we should stop seeing race or class or gender. We should see all of those things, because they are part of our realities, and we all deserve to be seen for all we are, as our entire and authentic selves. What we shouldn't do is let those things change determine how we value or include people. This is not about how we see each other, so much as it is about how we treat each other. Paul is not saying “pretend you are all the same”. He's saying “come together as equals for that is what you are”.

During the 1976 US presidential campaign, Jimmy Carter said “We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic.” It was perhaps a somewhat optimistic assessment of American society, but I have always loved that image of people coming together to create something new and wonderful without losing any of who they are, not mixing their colours together into the dishwater grey I remember from cleaning palettes at the end of art lessons, but staying bright and bold and beloved in their glorious individuality. I've since heard a variation on the theme, which contrasts the melting pot with the salad bowl. I like that one even better, as while the tiles in a mosaic simply sit alongside one another, the ingredients in a salad mingle together. Whichever metaphor you prefer, I think it is a wonderful picture of all that community can be and all that the church can be.

Nat, this is all to say that we love you and we baptise you as your entire and authentic self, and we rejoice in the colour and the flavour you bring to the church and to the kingdom. You are already one with those who have chosen the way of Christ, part of this glorious mosaic or salad bowl, and from today may your baptism be a reminder of that.

Perhaps we should speak of the fruit salad bowl, because the final verses we heard from Galatians bring us back to the Spirit, and to the fruit that Spirit grows and bears within us. This fruit does not appear for the first time at baptism, because the work of God begins within us even before we recognise it. Neither is baptism the harvest of that fruit, because the work of God within us is ongoing. We might however say that baptism is one of the ways in which we water the tree, as we commit to the life and community of faith, both of which open us further to the experience and influence of God's Spirit. 

To help us reflect on the fruit of the Spirit, I want to share not more sermon but a story, called Maybe God Is Like That Too. It's a children's book, but when I read it at Messy Church a few weeks ago, the adults were at least as taken by it. It follows a little boy through his day, reflecting on where he sees the fruit of Spirit in the world. As you listen, I invite you to think about where you see that fruit in your own lives, and how you might continue to grow and bear it.

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