1 Peter 3:18-22
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive,[a] he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God.[b] It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
Last Sunday night we witnessed one of those grand sunsets. So grand was it that I noticed that The Leader was calling for any photos people might have taken of this massive spray from hues of orange, yellow to indigo and all in between, spanning the western sky changing rapidly as the sun sunk further below the horizon. There were photos all over the Facebook pages of Barossans to choose from.
I got a very good view of it. I was on my trust Triumph Thunderbird riding back from spending time with young adults gathered in a state wide young adults retreat at Normanville. High up on the winding coastline road with this magnificent display accompanied by a beautifully glass-like ocean far below was a moment to savour. And I did!
It struck me how calm and peaceful that glassy sea looked. The sea can be like that. I recalled the words of one of those “trawlermen” on that SBS documentary program of the same name, who says that the seas has always been his friend.
But the sea is not always a friend. I remember being at Piha beach on the West coast of the North Island of New Zealand around 2002 with a few families from Mountainside Lutheran Church – having a family day at this well know black sand surf beach. As our Emma, then aged about 8, was playing in the shallows one of the mums felt it necessary to correct what she saw as dangerous behaviour by Emma. Emma was regularly turning her back on the incoming waves. “Never turn your back on the sea”, said Margaret to Emma.
Emma has never forgotten that one line maxim. Whenever we go body boarding now, that line seems to serve Emma well as she tells her younger brother the same thing. We keep our eyes on the breakers coming in over us.
And that is two sides to the sea. Friend and foe. Safe and yet dangerous; possessing the power to take human life and the power to save human life….
Peter uses that great sea event of Noah and his ark as a picture for his people to grasp the reality of God’s grace at work in their lives in their baptism.
“…..only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God.”
Baptism is like the sea. It both kills and gives life. All but eight human beings and a lot of two-by-two animals were killed in the great flood of God’s judgement on the out of control idolatry of the world in Noah’s day. But those eight human beings and many animals were carried from death the new life, from God’s judgement to God’s new future in by that water.
So, can you see that your baptism is “immersion”. That is what the word “baptizo” literally means – immersion in water, in sunlight, in the bath, in the sea, in fear, in joy, in faith….. Can you hear that you have been immersed in God’s judgement and carried through to the other side of the sea into God’s new creation, where judgement is complete and transformation from one glory to the next is already underway?
If you have already been killed with Jesus and buried in the tomb with him for the express purpose of being resurrected to a life in his holy and loving presence for the rest of your days and beyond; and if you can, as St Paul says, trust this fact with your life (Romans 6), because it happened on an actual day, actual water was used and real people were there listening, praying and witnessing this great moment, then what difference does this make to how your life now?
If God has spared your life by plucking you out of the sea of his holy and right judgement on your fatal disease of idolatry and rejection of his promised and his character, and if it really is true that in your baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection you have not been lost at sea like so many were back then, but delivered safe and sound to the far side of the dangerous sea so that you now live freely and fully in the new ark of God – the Nave of the church building, the Church, then how can you now live?
Here’s what Peter suggests is your way now…
Even in suffering you know God’s blessing:
14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.
Come hell or high water, God’s blessing on your life, to give you a name – his name, to give you a place to belong to; his church, to give you a purpose – to declare his glorious grace with your life…. Is for real and is for now.
You are not easily moved off course.
“Do not fear their threat]; do not be frightened.”
The perfect love of God given in the man of sorrows resurrected and ruling the world in peace and forgiveness calms your fears and enables you to be less prone to making unhelpful decisions or speaking and acting unwisely or in hurtful ways because you are just not that scared You know that your life is hidden in God and that he has planned before time the contributions you make to the life of this world. You know that nothing can ever separate you from the love of God for you that he has lavished upon you in Christ (Ephesians 1).
15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.
You are able to give thanks, honour and love God in all kinds of seas – rough, calm, dangerous, churning…..
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
You can speak – speak and act with confidence – and make a huge difference. You can be the healing balm between others, in the work place, in school, at home. You can help people see a new perspective; new life in their midst. You can with the Spirit’s power, first given a seal of the hope to which you belong at baptism, act in his gifts and bear his fruit and in this way bring the Kingdom of Jesus to bear among your friends.
Friends, this Lent is so that you may know him better.
This baptism of Jesus, this temptation and dicing with evil, this way of sorrow and suffering and this triumphant Easter time coming up is all that you may know him better.
I am praying that the eyes of your heart may be opened longer and more attentively to who he is and what he is doing in and through you.
Your baptism into Jesus is the beginning and will be there at the last.
In between we simply call back to God in the calm sea and in the rough – “Open the eyes of my heart Lord, so that I may know you better”.
May you view him and his journey to the cross of life.
He is grander than the grandest sunset and his love wider than the sea.
May the Spirit immerse you in the grace of Baptism this Lent – it is the water that moves you from death to self and life in him.