Water has power. Water changes things.
Over the last two or three weeks we have seen water changing the landscape, demolishing piers and promenades, flooding properties, closing businesses. We have got away lightly on this occasion.
And all over Bensham in recent months, there have been roadworks because Northumbria Water has been cleaning and upgrading trunk water mains. The lights and slow traffic are a nuisance, but we rely on good clean water.
What a contrast with the Water Aid advertisement over Christmas about the people who have to drink disgustingly dirty water because they have no choice. We do have a choice. People die because of the lack of clean water. Water changes lives. Clean water changes lives.
So there was John preaching in the wilderness. And the people who heard him must have remembered Isaiah’s prophecy of God’s servant who would come to change things, who would call the people to righteousness, liberate those who are chained, give sight to those who cannot see, and re-establish the close relationship with God. They must have wondered if John was the one. John’s preaching gave them hope. And they came out of the towns and villages to hear him. He invited them into the water of the River Jordan to be baptised, to confess their sins and be washed clean. It was a physical dunking in the water, but for a spiritual reason. Water changes things – spiritually.
Jesus, too, comes to ask for baptism. John says, surely not, you should be baptizing me! Because either he knew him before and he knew what Jesus was like, or he was meeting him for the first time and he recognised that he was special. More than special. But Jesus says: Just do it, will you.
And so Jesus was baptised by John in the River Jordan, and that is one reason why we baptise people when they come to us. There is a direct link between what happened to Jesus and what we do here in church. At the end of his ministry on earth, just before he was assumed into heaven, the way Matthew tells the story, Jesus told his disciples to baptize and make disciples. So that’s the other reason why we baptize.
A family came in yesterday to ask for baptism for their child. I told them they could have a service of Thanksgiving for Birth or they could have Baptism, and if they wanted Baptism, they would be making promises about bringing the baby up as a Christian. They wanted baptism. They wanted the water and the sign of the cross, and they were happy to make the commitment to bringing the youngster up in the faith. The parents come because they want the very best for their children, and the very best includes a life of faith. The parents and godparents promise that they themselves want to follow Jesus and that they will bring the child up to know Jesus, and they mean those promises. It is really important that we pray for all the families who come to this church for baptism, and pray that the Holy Spirit will help them keep their promises.
It will be a joy when they bring Tyler to be baptised. I will mark him in holy oil with the sign of the cross, an invisible sign that for the rest of his life he belongs to Jesus, and everything that Jesus did on the cross he did for Tyler as well. Then we will pour fresh water into the font and ask the Holy Spirit to bless the water so that we can baptise Tyler in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Water changes things – for Tyler and his family, and for us.
When Jesus came out of the water of the River, a voice was heard from heaven saying: This is my Son, I love him very much and he is very special to me. And when we baptise the children who come to us, God is saying: this is my child; I love her very much, and she is very special to me.
It is easy to get cynical, because we often don’t see much of the families after the Christening. But we do our best for them. We welcome them. We are glad to have them. We give them a candle to symbolise the light of Christ coming in to their lives. We give them a little book of prayers, and we give them a children’s bible story. We invite them to the Saturday afternoon family service, and some families do come along to that, which is great.
The Church of England has been looking at the service of baptism and is trying to make it more accessible to people who aren’t regular church-goers. They want the service to make more sense to the people who come. They have produced a draft text and the bishop has asked a number of parishes in the diocese to test it out and see if it works. We are one of those parishes, so we will have the opportunity to comment on the texts they have put forward and suggest improvements. So when we baptise Tyler, we will be using the new service. There aren’t a lot of changes, and some work better than others, but we will try them out.
Water has power. Water changes things. And being baptised in water will change things for Tyler. Just as it changed things for us. Baptism brought us into God’s family. Baptism made us Christians. Our parents and godparents made promises for us, and we choose to keep them, day by day, to go on developing the relationship with God who loves us, to reach out to others in love, to tell others what Christ has done for us, and to bring them to baptism.
Water gave us life. Real life. And it is a privilege to share that gift.