The Grace of Baptism

Here I am Lord

 Deacon Richard Haber  June 10, 2018

Good morning!  This afternoon we will be baptizing three beautiful babies. We had some wonderful faith sharing with the parents and godparents as we prepared for the baptisms.  One question that often comes up during these evenings of preparation is the question of sin.  The grace of baptism, the great sacrament of initiation removes all sin but babies don’t sin, do they? What sin is being removed from them in baptism? This always leads to a discussion of what is known theologically as ‘original sin’.  This is the sin that marks all human beings and it is quite mysterious.  We often turn to Chapter 3 of Genesis from which our Gospel is chosen, to try and understand original sin.  Original sin stems from something God gave to all humanity- the power to make moral choices, to discern good from evil, even if we choose to reject our maker. Here is how the Catholic Catechism puts it:

“In that sin (original sin) man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good. Constituted in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully ‘divinized’ by God in glory. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to ‘be like God’, but ‘without God, before God, and not in accordance with God.”(CC,#398).

“Where are you?” This plaintive cry of a loving Creator and the answer he received marks the beginning of our struggle. In the mythic language of Genesis about beginnings, we hear how the man and the woman—generic terms for humanity—betrayed their relationship of love and trust with God.  This is what we call original sin: “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” The harmony and complementarity between male and female was broken, hence “I was naked”. Today this broken harmony is seen everywhere, eg. in #Metoo movement.  We ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil-we became capable of choosing between good and evil- we broke with God’s plan for us and our relationship became conflictual as we tried to replace God. The consequences of that are all around us. We want to dominate creation with our science. We have broken with Brother sun and sister moon and are no longer stewards of God’s creation.  As one commentator explains:

“our story from Genesis reveals how ‘anxiety comes from doubting God’s providence, from rejecting his care and seeking to secure our own well-being.’ The serpent seduces humankind into believing that there are securities

apart from the reality of God, and so ‘failure to trust God with our lives ‘proves to be death.’” (Feasting on the Word, vol 3, B, p100)

There is that wonderful description of the harmony between God and humanity before the rupture- “they heard the sound of the lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze.” This is the last time that God walked with humanity in a garden until his new covenant with us sealed by his Son Jesus who indeed walked among us.  This is what Paul refers to in our second reading.  “…we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will bring us with you into his presence.” Through our baptism, original sin is removed from us and we are united once again with God as we were in that first harmonious relationship in a garden long ago.  In another Garden, the Mount of Olives, Jesus prayed for us as He approached his death which won for us the great gift of baptism. This is why we sing at every Easter vigil in the Exultet praising the risen Lord, ‘Felix culpa, O happy fault that won for us so great a redeemer.”

A Benedictine monk, Bede Griffiths who was interested in finding Christ in Eastern religions asked people of different religions ‘Where is God?’. Interestingly Buddhists and Hindus pointed to the heart whereas Christians, Jews and Muslims pointed to the heavens. Where do you find God? Paul in Corinthians in this morning’s reading tells us that God is within us. “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day…because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” After baptism, our answer to God’s call, “Where are you?” is “Here I am Lord! One with you through our brother Jesus Christ. “

Finally, in our Gospel, we are reminded that there are forces that work against our harmonious relationship with God. St. Ignatius refers to these forces as ‘the enemy’. The enemy constantly seeks to alienate us from a loving God. 

“Satan does not necessarily mean a personality with horns and a red tail, but it does name demonic power that is actively engaged against the compassionate and reconciling love of God.” Just before our Gospel in chapter 3 of Mark, Jesus has healed a man with a withered hand and He was condemned for it because he did the healing on the Sabbath. This so infuriated the Pharisees that they wanted to kill him.  Following this healing, He gave his apostles and disciples the command to preach and to drive out demons. Where are these demons in our community?  One commentator states it in this way:

“…the reality of Satan and Beelzebub become disturbingly clear. They name the forces and configurations of power that capture us and cause us to hurt ourselves, to hurt others, and to hurt God…. there is the power of race, which tells us to believe that one group is superior to another simply because of skin colour. There is the power of patriarchy, which tells us that men should dominate women. There is the power of materialism, which roars at us that money gives us life. ”

These are some of the ways in which the enemy works against God’s kingdom. These are the demons we must drive out in our time. When we attempt to do this, we will meet opposition from those close to us.  “When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’” (Gospel). In dark days of opposition, remember Jesus’ words this morning, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

In conclusion, as we pray for the babies to be baptized and their families, let us reflect on our own baptisms that continue to unfold in our lives. Through the grace of baptism, we can now answer God’s call, ‘Where are you?” We are driving out the demons of injustice, poverty, racism, sexism, tribalism in order to bring about the harmony of your kingdom.  We accept our responsibility to be stewards of your creation. I conclude with the following comment on today’s Gospel:

“If we transpose this theological vision into our own time, instead of lepers and demoniacs crowding around Jesus, we might see the strange bodies of the disabled. We might see soldiers with three quarters of their bodies burned from a firefight in Afghanistan…We might see legless Syrian or Palestinian children. We might see a lesbian mother with a baby on her hip and gay men holding hands or holding their adopted child. When we think about who is near Jesus, it is not the morally perfect. It is just the diverse mess of humanity with all its moral, physical, spiritual beauty and imperfection.”

(fw, vol 3 b, p120)