ELIZABETH’S BAPTISM 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 John 1:29-42

Did you have a nickname when you were growing up? In the film The Life of Pi” an Indian boy with an unusual name tries to change how his school mates treated him. He attempts to alter the unfortunate associations of his name to ones that his school mates will admire. What you are called, either officially or in acquiring a nickname, brings with it ideas of what you are like. Apart from the rather boring “Smithy”, I was also called “Tank Driver” at one point. That’s because I rode a large old-fashioned heavy bike. I painted it olive green instead of black – so my contemporaries thought I was driving an army tank. I then failed to change their rather mocking attitude by painting the cycle pillar-box red. They started calling me “Engine Driver!” as if I had a two-wheeled fire appliance!

Simon to Peter
It’s lost on us a bit because of deep cultural differences, but names in the days of Jesus were thought of as conveying something of the character of the person in a very real way. Jesus met Simon, who became one of the foremost apostles. He looked at him and gave him a nickname: Peter. When Andrew brought his brother to Jesus, the Lord looked at him and said, “you are Simon son of John.” That’s who he was, and could be an unreliable, cowardly fisherman, as we can see from what happened when Jesus was arrested. Unlikely raw material to make a church leader from. Yet Jesus looked at him, loved him, and saw, not just what he was, but what he could become. “You are Simon,” said Jesus, “but you will be Peter.” Jesus saw the hidden potential. Jesus loved the real Simon because he could see the real Peter. He saw the potential of Peter’s faith and how eventually that would become the rock on which he said he would build his church. Peter was the Greek word for rock, the word from which we get “petrified” – literally – turned to rock.

Revealing who Jesus is
Last May our 6th grandchild was born. Lorelei, as she is called, has certainly made her presence felt. She is loud and a bright bubbly, chunky baby. She can scream just as loudly as she can laugh, she smiles a great deal but also lets you know when she is not happy about something! I find myself wondering if that’s what she is going to grow up being like – larger than life and certainly always making others aware of her presence! She’s very different from her elder sister Imogen, who is more petite, sensitive and though full of fun, can be quiet, too. It’s fascinating, isn’t it – especially to besotted parents or grandparents, to watch your children gradually develop and reveal their character! We are in the church season of Epiphany. This is the period after Christmas and starts with the Feast which commemorates the visit of the Magi to Jesus, following the star and bringing their special gifts. This begins to reveal Jesus’ nature: he is one not just for his own people, the Jews, but sought after by people from far away and a different faith. Last week our readings focussed on Jesus’ Baptism by John in the Jordan. That reveals him as God’s Son, the beloved, and one with a mission, anointed by the Holy Spirit. Today we hear the words of John describing Jesus as “the lamb of God.” John spoke in rather mysterious words about him, but basically says that although he was older, his humble role was simply to reveal Jesus to Israel – to his people. “A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” That’s what John said about Jesus.

Today we are baptising Elizabeth. It is appropriate that we are thinking also of John the Baptiser and Jesus being baptised by him. But it is important to be clear that there were two different baptisms involved at the beginnings of Christianity. John pointed this out when he made a distinction between his own ministry and that of Jesus. I only baptise you with water, said John, but he who comes after me (meaning Jesus) will baptise also with the Holy Spirit. In other words, John’s baptism was simply for people to show that they were changing their way of life. But Jesus’ baptism as well as being with water as a symbol, would also be literally life-changing. Through God’s Spirit, those baptised would have the strength to be able to keep that change up. That’s why now we baptise someone in the name of the Holy Trinity: in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We identify them with the Christian way of life, we bring them into the life of God whom we believe to be Holy Trinity.

Although it doesn’t say so in explicit words, for many people a christening or baptism is also about naming a baby. When we baptise a child we feel we’ve officially given them a name, an identity. When I prepare parents for their child’s baptism they often say that the reason they want it is because they would like their child to grow up with a sense of Christian identity. They don’t want them growing up as nothing – is the way they often express it. Parents recognise the importance of identity. Often a couple who didn’t bother too much with church or faith when they were younger, realise when their first child comes along, that they do want to pass something on to their children. They realise that they want to share with their children the same things they enjoyed and grew up with themselves. That can be as trivial as being a faithful football team supporter, or as profound as being involved with church life in some way or other. So in baptism it is not just a name that is made official for a child, but we give them a Christian identity – “as many as are baptised into Christ have put on Christ” are the words I will say when Elizabeth has just been baptised later on in the service.

Writing to his Paul Christian friends in Corinth Paul recognises what they were like. They were gifted but their gifts had a problem side. Conflicts and jealousies began to arise because there was so much energy in their church life. I Cor is an appeal to them to be united around the greatest gift of all: the gift of love. But he starts off affirming them and their nature before then seeking to channel their energies and redirect their gifts for their benefit. That’s rather like what every parent tries to do with the energies and gifts of their child!

Through our baptism Jesus recognises our identity – he sees that we want to belong to him. Like the disciples who asked where Jesus was staying – those who go and look – who spend time with him – abide with him, will realise their potential. I want to conclude with a quotation I’ve recently come across. “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” ABRAHAM LINCOLN In other words, what will really reveal someone’s true nature is how they handle power. Jesus was baptised and had the power of the Holy Spirit but used it all in sacrificial living as the Lamb of God. He sees and accepts us for who we are and through the power of his love, looks to bring out the best in us. As we go to see where he stays, we spend time with him and he can guide and direct our energies and gifts as we give ourselves to him more and more.

Copyright © Rev Paul Smith.