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January 17, 2013

Baptism, Indaba and Who We Are in Christ

by Admin

A year ago the Pilot Conversations were drawing to a close. Much has happened quietly in people and dioceses that took part in them. The experience and the relationships formed have remained part of the participants thinking and prayer life. Last Sunday, on the feast of the Baptism of Christ, Heather McCance—Rector of St Andrew, Scarborough in the diocese of Toronto, reflected on her experiences of Continuing Indaba and the Baptismal Covenant.

“The Diocese of Toronto was linked with the Church of the Province of Hong Kong and the Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, and over the course of nine months we spent ten days in each place together, living together; taking in presentations; touring ministries; and doing a little touristing in each place.  Over the course of weeks we spent together we learned a lot about diversity and our differences.  We learned about how culture and language shaped our sense of who we are and how being a Christian in different societies means living as a Christian in different ways.

Our differences are important. Our differences matter.  Our differences matter because they are a part of who each one of us is.

But the other thing we learned as we journeyed together, we 24 people from Canada, Jamaica and Hong Kong, is that one of the times we felt most alike—one of the times that no matter what continent or island we were on; what theological point we disagreed on; what our language, accent, or skin colour or whatever; whether we were lay person, priest, or bishop; male or female; gay or straight; we knew we were one when we came together to worship God; when we said together the Creed of our baptism; when we shared in Christ’s body and blood; and looked around and knew without any question, without even the faintest flicker of doubt, that each and every person here is, as a baptized person, God’s child, whom God loves, and with whom God is well pleased.”

The full text of the sermon:

Heather McCance, Rector of St Andrew, Scarborough in the diocese of Toronto, reflected on her experiences of Continuing Indaba and the Baptismal Covenant on the feast of the Baptism of Christ.

As many of you know, I was privileged over a year ago to be a part of a process called Continuing Indaba.  The word Indaba is a Zulu word that refers to a way of having a conversation together, a way of everyone coming together to listen in order to understand the other.  Listening is always the key in indaba; speaking is less important and in the end, agreeing is completely irrelevant.  It’s about coming together in love, seeking to understand the other.

In light of several global controversies in the Anglican Communion around the world, a number of Diocesan triads were set up to encourage indaba encounters, to help understanding across cultures to grow so that our sense of connectedness and communion might be strengthened.

The Diocese of Toronto was linked with the Church of the Province of Hong Kong and the Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, and over the course of nine months, we spent ten days in each place together, living together, taking in presentations and touring ministries, doing a little touristing in each place.  Over the course of weeks we spent together, we learned a lot about diversity and our differences.  We learned about how culture and language shaped our sense of who we are, how being a Christian in different societies means living as a Christian in different ways,

Our differences are important. Our differences matter.  Our differences matter because they are a part of who each one of us is.

But the other thing we learned as we journeyed together, we 24 people from Canada, Jamaica and Hong Kong, is that one of the times we felt most alike, one of the times that no matter what continent or island we were on, what theological point we disagreed on, what our language or accent or skin colour or whatever, whether we were lay person or priest or bishop, male or female, gay or straight, we knew we were one when we came together to worship God, when we said together the Creed of our baptism, when we shared in Christ’s body and blood and looked around and knew without any question, without even the faintest flicker of doubt, that each and every person here is, as a baptized person, God’s child, whom God loves, and with whom God is well pleased.

There are a lot of things that make up our identities.  Our gender, our culture, our language, our race, our family status, our jobs, our passions, our age.  The ability to ponder the question, “Who am I?” is one of those things that makes us distinct from the other animals God has created.

And many, maybe even most of the things that make up our sense of identity change through time.  There are the big changes; getting married, or having a child, or being divorced, or becoming a grandparent, or being widowed; all of those things have a profound impact on our sense of who we are in the world.  Jobs change; people immigrate to a new country; we develop a serious illness and live with that.  There are multitudes of smaller changes, too; I think that every person I get to know changes me in some subtle ways.

But what does not change, not ever, is our fundamental identity: you are a child of God.  As a baptized person, your first and most important identity is in Jesus Christ.

St. Luke’s account of Jesus’s baptism makes this very clear.  There is here nothing particularly extraordinary about Jesus’s baptism itself; here there is no John the Baptist pointing at him, proclaiming him to be the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world; here, there is no John protesting that he is not worthy to perform this rite, that Jesus ought to be baptizing him instead.  Luke wants us to get this point crystal-clear: “When all the people had been baptized, and Jesus also had been baptized…”  Jesus’s baptism was just like every one else’s.  Jesus was a regular, every day person just like you and me, and yes was also fully divine, but right now that’s not Luke’s point.  In his baptism, Jesus is just like us.

And in Luke, the voice that speaks from heaven speaks to Jesus alone: “You are my son,” not as in Matthew’s gospel, “This is my son.”  It wasn’t for the crowds that this voice speaks, but for Jesus.  And so, just like him, we are to hear the voice from heaven call to each of us too.  You are my son; you are my daughter; with you I am well pleased.

That is who we are.

In this world of constant change and stress, when human beings fail us and hurt us, when we come to doubt ourselves and our place in the world, that is the voice that speaks out of our baptism: You are my son, you are my daughter. With you I am well pleased.

We can’t do anything to erase that voice, to un-do our baptisms.  We can choose to turn our backs on them, of course; I have a friend who in his late adolescent rebellion made a big show of burning his baptismal certificate when he was 17… and then sheepishly had to request a replacement when it was required for his ordination a couple of decades later.

We can’t do anything to erase our baptismal identity, because we did nothing to earn it in the first place.  That’s one of the reasons we baptize babies; it reminds us that we cannot work to earn this, that it is pure grace from God, that it is simply who we are because it is who God created us to be.

We are all different, and God created us in such wonderful diversity and has called us here together to learn from one another, to be transformed by one another, to stretch one another to change and learn and grow.  But what holds us together, what will always, always be the core of who I am, the core of who you are, does not change.  You are God’s son. You are God’s daughter. And with you, God is well pleased indeed.  Amen.

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