Toorak Uniting Church

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Baptism can lead us to a "mission from God"

Matthew 3: 13 – 17   Isaiah 42: 1 – 9
Rev. Robert McUtchen
9 January 2011

A Bush Christening - A B Patterson.

On the outer Barcoo where the churches are few,
And men of religion are scanty,
On a road never cross'd 'cept by folk that are lost,
One Michael Magee had a shanty.
Now this Mike was the dad of a ten year old lad,
Plump, healthy, and stoutly conditioned;
He was strong as the best, but poor Mike had no rest
For the youngster had never been christened.
And his wife used to cry, `If the darlin' should die
Saint Peter would not recognise him.'
But by luck he survived till a preacher arrived,
Who agreed straightaway to baptise him.
Now the artful young rogue, while they held their collogue,
With his ear to the keyhole was listenin',
And he muttered in fright, while his features turned white,
`What the divil and all is this christenin'?'
He was none of your dolts, he had seen them brand colts,
And it seemed to his small understanding,
If the man in the frock made him one of the flock,
It must mean something very like branding.
So away with a rush he set off for the bush,
While the tears in his eyelids they glistened --
`'Tis outrageous,' says he, `to brand youngsters like me,
I'll be dashed if I'll stop to be christened!'
Like a young native dog he ran into a log,
And his father with language uncivil,
Never heeding the `praste' cried aloud in his haste,
`Come out and be christened, you divil!'
But he lay there as snug as a bug in a rug,
And his parents in vain might reprove him,
Till his reverence spoke (he was fond of a joke)
`I've a notion,' says he, `that'll move him.'
`Poke a stick up the log, give the spalpeen a prog;
Poke him aisy -- don't hurt him or maim him,
'Tis not long that he'll stand, I've the water at hand,
As he rushes out this end I'll name him.
`Here he comes, and for shame! ye've forgotten the name --
Is it Patsy or Michael or Dinnis?'
Here the youngster ran out, and the priest gave a shout --
`Take your chance, anyhow, wid `Maginnis'!'
As the howling young cub ran away to the scrub
Where he knew that pursuit would be risky,
The priest, as he fled, flung a flask at his head
That was labelled `MAGINNIS'S WHISKY'!
And Maginnis Magee has been made a J.P.,
And the one thing he hates more than sin is
To be asked by the folk, who have heard of the joke,
How he came to be christened `Maginnis'!

'A Bush Christening' was first published in the Bulletin, 16 December 1893.

The baptism of Jesus is perplexing because no one fully understands what was going on. John was a prophet in the Old Testament tradition. He called people back to a genuine religious observance that was based upon purity of heart. Baptism meant washing with water to symbolise an inner cleansing of heart and soul. Then it carried none of the enhanced symbolism which Christians attach to it. No suggestion of eternal life, being joined to a covenant, being adopted by God as a child of God. Just come and wash to show you are washing away the old life. Theologians have wondered if Jesus baptism meant a further identification with humankind, by submitting to the same ritual cleansing, although people would claim Jesus alone was without sin, and thus of all people did not need to do so.

What we do know is that the baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of Jesus ministry, which is marked by God’s declaration of approval – my beloved son with whom I am well pleased. This happens in the same week the epiphany is observed – epiphany means a revelation of true identity, or the true manifestation of the identity of Jesus. We read the significant Isaiah 42 passage , the prophecy of the Lord’s servant, who we believe was Jesus. What is important for us is that the Lord had work for his servant to do. If we assemble the pieces, like a jigsaw, we glimpse a picture of Jesus who is revealed as the Son of God, with whom God is well pleased, and as one who willingly seeks to identify (again,) with humanity, as though becoming a human being in the incarnation was not enough, who was about to undertake a mission from God. Some of you will remember Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi in The Blues Brothers. Two unlikely crooks "on a mission from God". They knew exactly what they had to do, and were determined to do it.

There are parallels between Henry’s baptism and Jesus’. Henry is the loved son of Sally and William, but in baptism he is made a child of God by adoption, and so becomes God’s own child as well. There are two consequences of this adoption, and they apply equally to every other person here, as they do to Henry.

The first is the connection between each person and God. In baptism we become the adopted children of God. Every parent desires the very best for their children – it is no different with God. He invites every person to enter that special relationship in which we may share with God our hopes and fears – the notion of God as an unpredictable power capriciously dealing joy and grief is shown to be false. Further more, through Jesus death and resurrection God assures us that the power of death and sin to hold you or me apart from his love is no longer absolute. Sin and death remain, but their absolute power is now broken. Michael Magee’s wife might have cried `If the darlin' should die Saint Peter would not recognise him.' Baptism for Henry is not a heavenly insurance policy, or Proof of ID to show to St Peter – it is God’s promise that nothing we do is so bad it can become a barrier to a close relationship with God now and in eternity. There’s nothing YOU have done which would endure as a barrier between you and God …you just have to accept it.

The second is the notion of task. Isaiah spoke of the task awaiting the Lord’s servant who was the Son of God. As adopted children, Henry, and you and I, are also presented with similar tasks. a light to the nations, 7to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. To be concerned with justice, and to seek its progress and coming in the world. As baptised of God, we share a common responsibility to be ready to serve God, seeking justice, bringing light, and bringing freedom to those in prison. This may work itself out in the most undramatic of ways – but it does require every person to be involved in life with others, and like the Blues Brothers, to be conscious that we are each "on a mission from God". Your mission may be as simple as keeping a watchful eye on the elderly neighbour who only manages at home because you bring in the mail, and put the bin out on rubbish night – enough to transform a prison into a home. Or helping on school committee, or at JMC at TUC – where your helping enables carers to have a day of relief from caring for dependent family – liberating them from the prison of the home in which they care. Or buying a copy of the Big Issue - $5 – but that may mean the difference between independence and dignity, or loss of self esteem and a place to call home. God does need every person to be his hands and feet in the world – and the expectation, and the invitation, is laid on every man and woman who carries the invisible mark of the cross.

It is wonderful to celebrate the baptism of Henry – and we rejoice with Sally and William – but let our celebration also be for ourselves and our soils journey with God, and for the opportunities to make the world a better place by serving God where ever we are able. Amen.

© Rev. Robert McUtchen, 2011

Comments or suggestions on this page appreciated by email, Thanks.