What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:1-11 ESV)
When we come to church – to worship – we are entering a world of paradox. Various definitions of ‘paradox’ or ‘paradoxical’ have in common that something – a statement or a situation which may be true has in it opposites – opposite facts or concepts – or contradictions – that make the statement or situation seem absurd. We have come through Christmas recently where Baby Jesus is also the infinite Son of God. At The Epiphany the Magi and their request to see the new King of the Jews “for we have come to worship him” suggests power and might of the invader into enemy occupied territory (Herod and all Jerusalem) but we find a family fleeing to Egypt and baby boys being killed.
We gather in a building not our own but still a church, conscious that after nearly 2,000 years the Christian Church is many denominations and if anything is fragmenting further and further at an increased pace and yet we still say in our Creed that the Christian Church is one.
We say we are one here in Brandon / Oxford but we also say that we are in the presence of God. We are in the heavenly realm at an intersection, an overlap, and whether we have gone up to the heavenly realm or the stairway means that God is down by our side is not critical – God is with us – and that means we are and we aren’t in Brandon / Oxford.
We come to meet the Lord of the Church who is present to serve us when it is we who should be serving him. But this Jesus said that he had come not to be served but to serve and his give his life as a ransom for many. This Jesus is a paradox – human and divine – not part and part but totally and totally and yet he is one person.
And this Jesus is present but through masks or means – words and water, bread and wine. We look to the altar. All those who receive, take hold and sip bread and wine but when Jesus says so it is also his body and blood then it is and a person is where their body and blood are! Paradox. Or better still … mystery.
We could go on … ok, one more … the Bible. It is both the words written in certain times and places and contexts by various people and yet it is also the Word of God. And we need to keep both truths in mind to understand the words and, better still, hear the Word made flesh speak through them to us.
Today we observe, commemorate, and celebrate the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Matthew records the discussion between them. John senses something is awry. The positions should be reversed but Jesus says that it should be this way to fulfil all righteousness and so Jesus is baptised. Imagine the scene. The crowds, the line of penitents, John we always imagine in the water, Jesus, the heavens opening and the dove which Jesus sees but the voice speaks to the crowds it seems rather than Jesus. Put it all together and you have the Son of God with a well pleased heavenly Father but what is he – besides wet? He looks, at that moment, like any other repentant sinner! Now that has got to be a paradox! God and sin close together. We all know what should happen but the destruction doesn’t happen. This shouldn’t be possible. God in human form! God incarnate! God in the likeness of sinful flesh! God making him who knew no sin to be sin for us! And there Jesus stands wet. His public ministry has begun. His rescue of humanity is happening.
And this paradox is revealed as a joke, says the world, when Jesus does die on a cross – cursed by God! ‘Foolish.’ ‘Egotistical.’, says the world of this pretender. That is until his grave became empty and now the world doesn’t exactly know what to say – and so says many things but can’t put Jesus back in the tomb and all claims and theories that the resurrection message is fake news fail at some point. But the resurrection stands because Jesus is standing. Alive! And so the followers of Jesus have gone into all the world making disciples – baptising and teaching – and new life in Christ is given in baptism.
And the followers of Jesus also are a paradox, a mystery, because we live this son-ship, this daughtership, in flesh that dies. The wages of sin is death – and so death revels this sin truth. And so we live this baptised new life by faith and not by sight; by God’s Word as foundation and truth and guide because our experiences challenge that Word; in bodies that always require forgiveness, always need sacrificing – living sacrificing (another paradox!), with minds that always need transforming to discern the will of God because sin is never not part of our existence here in this age. In the new age it is gone but we are not there yet … oh wait, yes, we are through faith; faith alone in the grace of God who gives us life – life forever – through his Son and in our new birth.
Baptism is our being joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection so that we have another story to live by in all the words of selfishness, sin and death. It is a paradox that in our sins we receive forgiveness, that in our dying we can say, ‘we live in Christ’ and this dying isn’t the end! ‘Sad’ ‘Delusional’ – says the world. And we can fear and wonder too – ‘Is Jesus real?’ ‘Is my faith real?’ – and if the answers we find come from within ourselves then we will see how tainted and frail they are – how sin clings and infects – but if the answer comes from outside of us – to us – in Jesus’ name these words, water, bread and wine are ‘for you’ then we are made alive to live, to struggle, to keep being a paradox, a mystery – a forgiven sinner – because Jesus has done it.
This is life! This is living! Because the Son of God became one of us – see him in the water, hear the voice, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” – and then remember the water word put on you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and go out and live – alive to Christ in these sinful bodies that will die.
- Romans 6:1 - 11