Saturday, 18 June 2016

Baptism, Relationship and the Law

Today, we have celebrated the baptism of young Tobias, and during the baptism, we, all of us, as a church family reminded ourselves of what we believe in.  We shared the words of the creed.  By doing so we recall a covenant made with us by God.  It is worth noting that we don’t say that we expect each other to fulfill a set of rules or challenges.  We don’t promise to set up committees, even though they are in their own way important.  The promises we all made were to love, to teach and to live by example, and we promise all this not by our own efforts but with the help of God.

It is a relationship that needs trust, reliance and faith if you like.  We have heard from scripture today that speaks into situations of faith.

Paul writes to the Church in Galatia, which was in what is now Turkey.  It would have actually been a collection of house groups, certainly not a cathedral or an organized mega-church or anything like what we see today.  It appears that these new followers of the way, who were mostly gentiles – non-Jews – were being targeted by a more conservative group of Jerusalem based Christians who were feeling that the movement was moving too fast.  They wanted to keep the movement within the constraints of the law as set out in the book of Deuteronomy.  It is part of the ongoing argument in the early church surrounding the necessity of circumcision, and consequently a true belonging within Israel. 

Paul is concerned for this group that he has recently planted and therefore sets out an argument comparing faith to the law.  In faith, we see a relationship, a covenant with God which Paul links to God’s original covenant with Abraham which can be found in Genesis 12:7; set against the law given by Moses; Paul, remember, is a Pharisee by education and background, Paul had studied under Rabbi Gamaliel, one of the leading Rabbis of the time so he was well educated in the law.  Paul then has a good understanding of Judaic law and even if we don’t agree with him, it is a bit like listening to an expert of a subject, we should at least show him the respect of his position.  It is quite likely for instance that if we wanted to know about the history of the Conservative party, then even if we don’t like his policies then we should at least listen to what say David Cameron or Michael Heseltine have to say on the matter. 

Paul argues that the law is given primarily because of the rebellion of the people against God, in other words the people were living in a state where there was a breach in the natural relationship with God, remember that Exodus 19:12 states
"You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, 'Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.

There can be no better picture of a breach in relationship when we were created according to Genesis in the image of God and to walk with God.  Paul states that the law has been completed and fulfilled in the person of Jesus.  You may recall that in Matthew 5:17 Jesus himself states that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it.

Jesus did fulfil the Law in his living, dying and resurrection.  The age of being subject to the law had come to an end.  We live as did Paul and his compatriot early Christians in a New Age, where we are no longer subject to the law as set out in Deuteronomy but are under a new law of relationship with God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Paul further argues that the original promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:7 “To your offspring I will give this land” should be read with offspring as referring to Jesus in the singular, rather than the way it is commonly understood.  He also makes the point that the promise – or covenant – is superior to the subsequent development of the law (something closely tied to the political existence of the new nation state of Israel).

The covenant, therefore, is fulfilled in Jesus, who sets out a new covenant, announced at the last supper, inaugurated with his own death and validated in his resurrection.  A covenant based on Grace and Truth, Love and Mercy, Self-Sacrifice and Non-Violence.

It is this covenant that we enter into in Baptism.  It is via a covenant with Jesus that we are granted entrance into the original covenant that God made with Abraham, making us as Gentiles children also of Abraham.  We can now walk with God again through Jesus. We can return to the state that existed in the Garden of Eden, but this time in a new way.

Any birth is traumatic and potentially painful whether that be for physical birth or birth of ideas.  So let us take a journey using another piece of scripture that I believe will shed light on and meet up with the strand we have just been thinking about.

Our call to worship came from Psalm 42 which together with Psalm 43 is one poem set in 3 verses with Psalm 43 being the last verse.

It follows a journey of depression, (My soul thirsts for God; My tears have been my food day and night), isolation (I say to God, Why have you forgotten me), the psalmist then recalls time of relationship and praise at the Temple ((the place where Heaven and Earth met) (I used to go to the house of God…with shouts of joy and praise)  In Psalm 43 there is a focus in on the problem, (being rejected by God in a faithless nation) but looking forward in faith that (I will go to the Altar of God, my Joy and Delight, at God’s Holy mountain). 

This journey of depression, isolation, remembrance, clarification and progression is one that is probably well known to all of us at some time and no doubt is true of parenthood.  But note that even at the depths of despair, the psalmist keeps coming back to God.  It is the relationship with God that is all important.

This journey sequence can be found in Luke 24 in the Story of the Road to Emmaus.

Two disciples are in shock, saddened by the sudden loss of all their hopes (and for these two disciples – quite possibly the acute mourning of a family member), they are overwhelmed by a sense of failure and loss – how had it all gone so suddenly wrong, when whilst they are travelling away from Jerusalem they meet a stranger who turns out to be none other than the risen Jesus, God himself.  Their relationship renewed, they return.

Jesus announced the coming of the Kingdom of God and further announced the start of God’s rule in Earth as in Heaven.  It is up to us, his disciples, the new Israel, just as it was for Paul and the others in the early Church to carry on the work of Jesus in transforming the world into God’s Kingdom. 

Where does baptism fit in with this, especially perhaps infant baptism or Christening?  Think of it this way, it is a proclamation of the good news.  We are declaring that his family, and Tobias in particular, have today been marked by God as his.  Tobias will grow and make choices that only he will and can make.  He is given however the opportunity to fulfil the promise of new life, just like all of us.  No one is given the knowledge of their particular future, but one thing is certain, we are known by God and He will always be with us wherever we find ourselves.

So, I ask you.  Are you more concerned with following the law?  I mean the written and unwritten rules of churches and denominations, or do you seek first the Kingdom of God and yearn for relationship with God?

How does this affect your behaviour?  How does walking with God affect you now and in your future?  How does remembering your promises that we made earlier impact on you?  Are you prepared to be Jesus to your neighbour?  Will you announce the Kingdom of God to the world?  Will you keep your doors open to allow the Holy Spirit into your lives wherever you may be and let the Spirit walk with you?

I tweeted a few weeks ago; “Christianity it's not about religion it's about relationship. Take a walk on the wild side with God”.  I challenge you to do just that.

May the Lord God rest with you today and be with you as we say in response to the challenges we will no doubt face “with God’s help we will”

In Jesus’ name


Amen