The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Evensong      13th January 2019
Become what you are - living out our baptism
Jeremy Fletcher

Romans 6. 1 - 11


It is all too possible to think that you’ve made it, got there, succeeded, and then find that you haven’t. In golf you can sink the winning putt, but if you sign for the wrong score, you are not the winner. In many sports, especially athletics, bad subsequent behaviour after a victory can disqualify you, and proof of cheating in some events can disqualify your results in all of them. A true victory has to be lived out. As someone put it: if you are resting on your laurels you’ve got them in the wrong place.


This applies in other contexts too. Yesterday at a wedding I proclaimed that the bride and groom were husband and wife. We all celebrated, including those who joined in via Skype in Australia. But they still had work to do, not least signing the registers, before then going on to make their marriage public and active. The vows were the beginning, not the end. The life of a Christian disciple is all about delivering on what has been started, about being and behaving and becoming what we are. Becoming what we are is about living the life of the baptised  


In Romans, Paul has been talking of the remarkable nature of God's love and what is revealed in Christ through baptism: where there was sin, now there is grace. Where there was rebellion against God, now there is acceptance by God. Where there was rejection of the love of God, there the love of God has been demonstrated as a free and undeserved gift in the figure of Jesus Christ. Where death was the inevitable conclusion of everything, with no appeal, there is now eternal life through the resurrection of Christ.


`So', says the bright spark, `if the remedy for sin is so remarkable, why not sin again so that the remedy is revealed again? If sin reveals grace, then more sin reveals more grace'. `No', says Paul. `If you have known Christ as the one who has forgiven you, and put things right with God, then you can't act as if that has never happened so you can have the experience of forgiveness all over again'. Having been proclaimed free and healed and made clean there is work to do in order to be what you are. Grace works by living out the victory, not restarting the contest.


Romans 6 is the great exposition of baptism as inclusion in the death of Christ. The argument goes something like this. Jesus died, and his death as a human being included all of us. Jesus rose again, therefore all of us will be included in his resurrection. A dead person is free from all the outstanding claims of the law, so if you have died, the power of sin has been taken away from you.


In Paul’s thought Jesus's death was deliberate: it was aimed at the power of sin, and his death took away the power which sin wielded over people. This power was seen supremely in the fact that everyone dies. But Jesus rose again: death had no ultimate power over him. We are included in Christ: therefore we have died, therefore we have been freed from sin, therefore we have been freed from the power of death, therefore we live a new life, focused on God, not on what used to be. We live out the victory rather than restating the problem.


Baptism, done properly, makes this plain: death one side, life the other. Your baptism shows that you are forgiven, free, alive, able to walk in newness of life. `If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old has passed away. The new has come'. 


Paul goes on from here. He says clearly: you are, in eternal terms, forgiven and set free. But that has to be worked out practically in your daily lives: you must be what you are. The putt has been sunk, the tape broken, the vows made. Now do what is required of the champion. It is possible to blow it. Let your actions match your reality. 


We have been showed love. We have been forgiven everything. Our reality is that we share the new life of God. God asks that we walk in that life, that we respond to the fact that all is forgiven by conducting ourselves in such a way that there is no more to forgive..


Working out what it is to be loved unconditionally, and to be treated by God as if we are forgiven and raised with Christ is the stuff of the Christian life. We are treated as eternally alive, whilst in time we are subjected to the law of sin and death. Therefore we are called to double our efforts to do what is required to show that we are who we are.


In all of this there is forgiveness for when we fail, encouragement that Christ takes us along the way, and all the resources of the Holy Spirit. Today, the Sunday where we reflect on baptism, we can be encouraged to live out our baptism by responding to the love of God seen in our inclusion in the death and resurrection of Christ. Today is a day to be what we are, that we may became all that God wants us to be. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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