Toorak Uniting Church

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Faith in the clouds?

Hebrews 11: 29 – 12: 1, 2
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
15 August 2004, 9:00am

Just now Alec, Charlie and Robert have been baptised. They are now an official part of the congregation here and of the Christian Movement worldwide.

Weren’t they part of the congregation before this? Well, I think we all know they very much were! Will anything change? I certainly hope not!
What then exactly has happened here this morning that has been so important? What has happened that warranted asking all those long and deep questions, renouncing the devil and all sorts of other archaic sounding things? Is this just an age old initiation rite maybe, we put them through, a set of questions and answers, of actions and gestures shrouded in the mystery of bygone times, designed to make people feel they have joined a very special club?

Well, admittedly, there is a bit of that going on too. But it is not the most important thing!

In baptism we play out a holy drama, where all the most basic questions of faith are asked and answered and where in the actions profound truth is played out. Not only to join somebody, to join Alec and Charlie and Robert to the Club, but also to symbolically let them make the journey of faith before it has even begun.

Let us focus on the actions and see how they relate to us being a cloud of witnesses as we talked about earlier.

The ears and the mouth of Alec, Charlie and Robert were touched as instruments of listening to God and speaking about God. Symbolising that baptism is about listening and about speaking, about receiving a message and speaking about it.

Alec, Charlie and Robert had some water sprinkled on their foreheads. And the name of the Triune God was spoken out loud over them.

The water symbolising several different things all at the same time: Water makes things grow as God, whose name was spoken over them when they were baptised, will make Alec, Charlie and Robert grow. Water cleans, as God washes off anything from us that doesn’t fit in with what God wants us to be. And last but not least: Water is dangerous, a commodity we might drown in if we are not careful. Reminding us that even though Jesus died, drowned in the evil of the world one could say, he rose again after three days.

A cross was made on their foreheads signifying that they are now part of the people of the man of the Cross, the people that follow Christ who suffered death on a cross to bring us to God.

All symbols that tells us about the story of faith. About the listening and speaking that has been going on for centuries and centuries, about the growing that has been done and all the forgiving that has taken place and all the resurrecting that has happened over the ages in Gods name. Culminating in the words and the deeds of Jesus Christ, in his growing and forgiving and resurrection. Symbols that point forward: that movement, that faith story is ongoing, has not yet finished, is still happening today and those who are baptised are all part of it.

Like the people that are named by the writer of Hebrews: Moses, Abraham, Gideon, Rahab, David, Samuel. Heroes of faith, people that lived out their faith, and showed, in one way or another what it means to be part of God’s people, of that great cloud of witnesses that moves through history under the name of God.

Jesus is the beginning and the end of that history, he has made clear for the first time what God’s involvement in history is really about and where it is going. He gave an example to start people off on the right track but at the same time shows them where they should end up if they want to follow him. Pioneer and perfecter of faith. Taking things further than anybody before him, showing more perfectly how living with God is done than anyone else.

He ran the perfect race of faith. Not only did he show how to get to the finish line as a champion, he also showed how to run the race to perfection. Perhaps that is something we could think about in the coming weeks when we watch the Olympics. What it means to run the race of faith, what we should be aiming for and how we should run it.

Not as members of a special and exclusive club of those who have been touched with water, but as those who have been invited by God to become part of his movement, part of the cloud of witness moving through the ages testifying and living out a life as God has intended: a life of love, peace, justice and sharing. The water, the gestures, the questions and the answers a Holy Drama to remind us all what it is that faith is about: Listening and speaking, growing, being cleansed of our sins, going under and rising up again, wearing the cross in imitation of Christ.


© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2004

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