Trinity Sunday: Born Again in Baptism

St Nicholas – 9:30 am
Baptism of Chloe Cooper-Berry

Trinity Sunday

Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

This is a very special Sunday! On the church calendar it is Trinity Sunday which means we are celebrating God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit by reminding ourselves that they are one in the same These three are one. Does three equal one?!

We are also celebrating the baptism of Chloe Cooper-Berry. She has brought a lot of family and friends today. We are blessed to have you here! Chloe will be baptised in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Trying to understand how three equals one is confusing! Fortunately we are not alone in this. There was someone else who did not understand: Nicodemus. He was lucky that he was able to take his questions directly to Jesus as we can too of course. Only Nicodemus got to do it in person.

Nicodemus came to understand more about God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit through his conversation with Jesus that dark night in Jerusalem. Who is this guy? Nicodemus was a leader of a group of Jewish people called the Pharisees. He was a big deal in Jerusalem, he was well educated and important. Like most religious people, Nicodemus believes to some extent that God is love. But he believes that God’s love is measured and sensible and follows a set of rules. Yet there is something attractive about this Jesus.

Nicodemus is confused about Jesus and where he fits. This could be why he pays him a visit to get Jesus to fill in the proper forms, tick the right boxes. His confusion is given away in the detail about coming to see Jesus at night. Darkness or night in John’s Gospel represents confusion or a lack of understanding.

A second reason for going at night means that Nicodemus was concerned about being seen with Jesus. He was not willing to risk his reputation or position for Him. Nicodemus’ curiosity got the better of him. Nicodemus starts by telling Jesus that he knows that there is something special about Jesus. Only someone with a special relationship with God could do the things Jesus was doing. He is basically saying ‘I’m someone who can recognise what God is doing and you, Jesus, are doing a pretty good job’.

Jesus’ reply seems to mystify Nicodemus. I’m not sure what your response is when you hear the words ‘born again’. Have you ever thought about how you were born?
Has anyone ever asked you ‘are you born again’?

Nicodemus is picturing a physical re-birth which makes for some interesting mental images around re-entering his mother’s womb. This is not what Jesus means; he is referring to spiritual rebirth in which someone who already possesses life at the physical level comes to birth at a spiritual level.

This is what we are doing in baptism this morning; Chloe is going to be ‘born again’. This happens when I pour water on her head three times and say ‘Chloe, I baptise you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.’ Spiritual rebirth in baptism is about discovering life in all its fullness which comes only through being born again, or from above. Spiritual rebirth has to come from God. To see his kingdom we need to be born both of water (physically) and spirit (from above). We are all invited to be born again.

Luke & Esther and godparents Sally, Dean & Steph you have accepted the invitation on Chloe’s behalf. You have the great responsibility to now help Chloe understand what that means and to grow into the promises you have made to God and to her. We are here to help you do that.

The other thing that baptism prepares us for is the life after this one is over. John 3:16 is a very familiar verse. It is the first one I remember learning as a child. This verse sets out what it means to be a Christian. What is that?

An invitation to join God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit in the deep and endless richness of God’s love. To join in their being and doing forever. This eternal life is a new quality of life. It is made only possible through the love of God, which is shown in the astonishing fact that he loves the world so much that his only Son, Jesus should die for it.

This is the invitation that Jesus extended to Nicodemus that night and continues to extend to us today. I think that Nicodemus made a start that night in understanding what this love of God is really about, even if he does not quite yet understand. After this midnight meeting with Jesus, Nicodemus goes away changed.

How do we know? He appears on two more occasions in John’s Gospel. Nicodemus defended Jesus when he got into trouble with some other Pharisees. This shows that he is no longer as embarrassed to be seen with Jesus.

The final appearance of Nicodemus is after the crucifixion. He was the one who brought the myrrh and aloes for the preparation of the body. Along with Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus took the body, wrapped it with the spices in linen cloth and laid Jesus in the tomb.

Think for a second. Would Nicodemus risk everything, his whole life if he did not believe who Jesus was? If he did not want more of what Jesus was offering? I think Nicodemus had way too much to lose if it was untrue. Nicodemus appears to have accepted the invitation into the deepest relationship that we can be offered: a relationship with God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit. The belief that God is Trinity is the foundation for the belief that God is also love.

Start with the Three and see that it is the deepest nature of One. In the Trinity we discover God’s character, personality, priorities and God’s reality. I can point you in the direction of large theological volumes if that is helpful. When we see the deepest nature of the One as Nicodemus did we are invited to join in the relationship of the Trinity, we are invited to the table to share love and life together. This is worth celebrating.

Lent 5: I am the Resurrection and the Life


Psalm 130
John 11:1-45

The Raising of Lazarus
National Gallery, London
Sebastiano del Piombo incorporating designs by Michelangelo

It is a great privilege to welcome the baptism family and friends to St Mary’s Fawley this morning on this very special day. According to the baptism book, FB is the 399th person to be baptised here since 1910. Baptisms are a delightful occasion in the life of the church as well as being quite a serious one too.

Parents and godparents Simon you are making some considerable promises to God and to FB this morning. You are putting yourself on the hook for guiding and teaching him throughout his life in the ways of the Christian faith. This is more than being a good and nice person with an understanding of Christian virtues and morals.

Fortunately, we are off to a good start this morning with our Gospel reading. This is a rather long and well-known passage of John’s Gospel. I chose to read it from the Children’s Bible that I will present at the end of the service; as I was quite surprised by the depth this version goes to. Often the story of Mary, Martha and Lazarus gets reduced down to a miracle story of Jesus. An impressive miracle story of course. However some of the more important parts get left out.

Jesus is our friend. I baptised two brothers a couple of years ago and I asked the older one what does it mean to get baptised? He paused for a moment. Then with the biggest smile on his face, he said, ‘it means that I am Jesus’ friend forever and Jesus is my friend forever.’

Jesus is the friend that will never leave us. Jesus loved his disciples and his friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus. He spent his life travelling around and teaching them so they could pass on the message to others. Mary, Martha & Lazarus appear to have been particularly close friends as Jesus is known to have stayed with them and they are mentioned by name.

Jesus does not always do what we want him to, when we want him to. The fact that Jesus knew that Lazarus was sick and did not immediately rush to his bedside, but waited for two more days is awkward. We have this idea that God should act and react whenever we summon him to meet our needs and wants. When this does not happen, people get angry and God takes the blame for all failures and misfortune.

There were reasons why Jesus did not rush off: the disciples were afraid that the Jews were going to stone Jesus (we are getting rather close to Easter) and they were quite far away from Bethany at the time. Jesus tells the disciples that, ‘this illness does not lead to death, but rather it is for God’s glory, so the Son of God may be glorified through it.’

There are things that we will never understand about how God and Jesus work on this side of death. We do not know how God’s glory fully works. It is good to be curious so that we can begin to understand and that comes through learning about Jesus by looking at this life.

This past week a lovely Priest friend of mine collapsed and died at his home. Leonard was married with three teenagers; he is a much loved parish priest just outside of Reading. He was a very good friend to me during a difficult time when we were training together in Oxford. I have been so incredibly sad through to raging mad over his death. It makes no sense and all I can see is the unfairness, the injustice of it. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, what is wrong with my friend Leonard?!

Everyone who trusts in Jesus will live forever. The pinnacle of John 11 is in the words of Martha as she knows that Lazarus will rise again in the resurrection on the last day. Despite her distress, her sadness and her request that seemed to go unanswered; Martha understands, at least on some level, that death is not the end of the story.

Jesus is the resurrection and the life. As he says, ‘Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ Martha believes this. I happen to believe this. I am confident that other people in church today believe this. Do you?

This, ultimately, is what FB will need to come to understand about the Christian faith. The resurrection is the central event that everything about Christianity hangs on. Part of baptism is being prepared for death; the water represents the washing of sin and death to self. This is not easy and needs to be done daily. We all make mistakes, fall short, mess it up and we need to make amends for that. As lovely as FB is, he will not always be the delightful little cherub we see in front of us today. In his life, FB will need to forgive and be forgiven. He, like us all, will have to die to ourselves.

We will all experience physical death in this life; the death of those that we love and our own. How do we make sense of it? Unfortunately most of the popular narrative around death today is painfully lacking and brushed over.

In light of my friend’s death, belief in the resurrection is the only thing that has brought any comfort at all. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. I have no questions or qualms over the fact that as bad as it is right now, my dear friend Leonard is now living in the light of the resurrection.

Jesus cried. People sometimes get the impression that God is somehow removed, distant from us or worse, not particularly interested in what is going on down here. If we want to know what God is like, then we need to look at the person of Jesus. In Jesus we see love and compassion, forgiveness for those who want it and boundless patience. Jesus was so moved by the broken hearts of those around him, he cried.

Jesus is not afraid of bad smells. FB will need to know that nothing is beyond God’s reach, nothing he can ever do or not do, say, think, act is too much or too bad. He is loved by God unconditionally forever. As much as you love him, God loves him more! Trying to out-love God will keep you occupied for the rest of your lives.

Jesus can raise people from the dead. Jesus can and did raise people from the dead on a few occasions. Miraculous! However, they went on to die again another day. Jesus also raises people from spiritual death who do go on to live forever. This is out of love, the most extraordinary love we will ever know. I hope that you go from here today knowing how much you are loved by God. Go and share that love.

Baptism of Jesus: Time & Togetherness

It was lovely to be with my great friend Fr Joseph Fernandes this morning. We lived streamed from St Hilda’s, Ashford.

St Hilda’s Ashford – 10/1/21

Genesis 1:1-5

Acts 19:1-7

Mark 1:4-11

Leonardo Divinci’s Baptism of Christ

Happy New Year! I think it is still okay to say that. As we stand at the beginning of another year, with many unknowns and uncertainties that are certainly going to come our way, celebrating the baptism of Jesus should help us to remember that He is very much with us. He always has been. I am going to begin this morning by reflecting on Genesis 1.

In the beginning’, these famous first words started time rolling. A podcast I listened to this past week had a very interesting take on time. Time was the first thing God created. In the words ‘in the beginning’, the clock started running. Ever since then, humankind has been trying to measure time – it started with light and dark, day and night, evening and morning.

Humans created sun dials, water clocks. The philosopher Blaise Pascal is credited with creating the wristwatch when he took out his pocket watch and tied it to his wrist with a piece of string! The minute hand was added in the 1570’s. In the 1970’s when digital watches were made popular, we started to mark time in seconds! What can you do with a second?! We have become obsessed with time and marking it. Reflecting on the last year and our use of time – many people have more time on their hands than they know what to do with. Others have never been busier and can’t spare a second for one more thing.

Time is the most valuable thing that we have. Isn’t it interesting that time is the first thing God created? It is one of the very few things that every single person has in equal measure and no one can change the amount of time they have been given. The difference is, of course, how we fill our time.

We can wax poetically about time; a quick Google search provides all manner of quotes and statements about it.

William Penn: ‘Time is what we want most, but what we use worst’

J.R.R. Tolkein: ‘All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us’

Miles Davies: ‘Time isn’t the main thing; it’s the only thing’

Jonathan Estrim: ‘The way we spend our time defines who we are’

What does time have to do with the baptism of Jesus? A lot actually! At the beginning of time, there was God, water and light. The three key elements of baptism. God’s timing is everything! He is never late, but he is often not in a hurry, as it has been said. As the wind swept over the face of the waters in Genesis, in God’s timing John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness calling for repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

The time came for Jesus to be baptised, notice the ‘in those days’ Jesus came. We so often ask ‘where has the time gone?’, we count down days or sleeps until x or y happens. Time, biblically speaking, does not go – it comes. The time came for Jesus to be born, the time came for him to be baptised.

For John, Jesus and the disciples time builds up. Time is coming. Time is coming when the vaccines will be in millions of people, time is coming when we won’t have to live in lockdown. I am finding this way of looking at time much more encouraging than counting it down. It unhinges me from the tyranny of counting seconds and hours and the disappointment that inevitably comes when delays and cancellations occur.

There is difficulty in being patient for time to come. It can be a struggle to hold on to hope in the waiting. Proverbs 13:12, ‘hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.’ Leo Tolstoy in War and Peace wrote, ‘The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.’

The time came for the creation of the heavens and the earth, the time came for Jesus to begin his public ministry. The Spirit, breath or wind of God came down at both events to signal the presence and power of God. We all need to know God’s presence with us and in us. This presence shows His great love for us, reveals our purpose, and draws us into His family.

This is what we do in baptism, become part of God’s family. I remember fondly asking a 6-year-old boy I was going to baptise if he knew what his baptism was all about. Without hesitation he said, with a big smile on his face, ‘it means that Jesus and I are friends forever!’ And so much more!

Many of us may not remember our baptisms if we were baptised as babies. We can re-affirm those promises made on our behalf – I am sure Fr Joseph would have loved to have sprinkled you all today!

In his baptism, Jesus enters the dirty, messy waters with us. He didn’t need to be baptised. Jesus’ baptism was called an acute embarrassment by the early church. The gospel accounts are short: Matthew makes the point that John the Baptist tried to argue with Jesus that he should be the one baptizing him and not the other way around. We have this short account in Mark. Luke gives it two verses and doesn’t mention John the Baptist. John has no account at all.

Jesus did not need John’s baptism of repentance. He had not and has not sinned. What was he doing in the waters of the great unwashed, the sinners, the prostitutes and tax collectors?! Did he not care about his reputation?

Apparently not. This is very good news for us. Jesus’ first act was one of radical solidarity. Jesus stepped into a relationship with sinful humanity. He was not apart from it, not standing on the banks of the river waiting for the water to run clear.

In baptism we are all united to God and to each other. We are interconnected into one family. We cannot let go of this; we need to come back to it. That is why the wrong message of our culture and society that independence, doing it my way, is so dangerous. We are not islands unto ourselves.

Having to live distanced from each other is not helping! We can of course do things to mitigate and stay connected in other ways. Focus on what we can do, not what we can’t. Time is coming when it won’t be like this anymore.

The disciples that Paul met in Ephesus were waiting, but they did not know what they were waiting for. They had been baptized into John’s baptism of repentance but did not know about the Holy Spirit. Paul knew what they needed so he baptized the in the name of Jesus. They began to speak in tongues and prophesied. Wild stuff! The time came for them – it wasn’t booked in the diary! These twelve heard God’s Word and it transformed them. They received the light and love of God in that moment. The light and love that gives us a language, a home and a community.

We all need the light and love of God right now, more than ever. We also need to share that light and love with those around us who are living in darkness. God is with us always. The One who started the clock running in the beginning, who tore open the heavens at Jesus’ baptism is still the One pouring out love and grace on us as individuals but also as His Church. We might not be able to meet in person, but the time is coming when we will be able to and, in the meantime, we are still connected by the waters of baptism.