Baptismal Living, part 3: Living Selflessly

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Third Sunday after Trinity (Proper 8), 2020.

“The life of a Christian is a continual response to the fact of his Baptism.” This teaching from Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey, who in the eyes of many is the most important person to hold that office in the modern era (my eyes being included in that sizeable group), I have included in my sermons the last three Sundays. The reason I have done so is that Archbishop Ramsey’s teaching points us toward the central mystery of our lives as Christians—the mystery of Christ Who is in us, because through baptism, we are in Him. We are given the gift of being able to live in His freedom, to live in His love—the gift of receiving Christ by means of the Holy Spirit, and in receiving Christ, receiving Him Who sent Christ, that is, receiving the Father, the maker of all things visible and invisible. The fact of our baptism begins with the fact that God, having begun the project of making us into the image of His Eternal Word, thereby makes His dwelling in us.

This wondrous gift is a fact of our baptism, and Archbishop Ramsey, along with all the Apostles and Saints, would have us understand the gift as something we are to be continually responding to. And the way that the Church has always responded to mysteries that originate in heaven is by asking the simple questions—what does this mean? and what, as a result, shall we do? These are the two questions, and the only two, asked to the 120 apostles represented by the Apostle Saint Peter on the day of the Coming of the Holy Ghost, and from these two questions the Church grew exponentially in all directions of the known world.

But it is not the case that we no longer need to ask them in the Church today. We do need to ask them, for in asking what an aspect of the faith which was once delivered unto the saints means, and then what as a result we ought do, we are embodying Archbishop Ramsey’s teaching about mature Christian life— that the life of a Christian is a continual response to the fact of his Baptism. And it is in this sense—of an ongoing inquiry into our real participation in Christ’s heavenly Body—that so much of Saint Paul’s teaching finds its basis.

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” the Apostles asks—not that in asking it we today no longer have to, but that we today will continually reflect on our baptism, seeking new meanings of it and at the same time seek new ways of ordering our lives to fully live by it. “We were buried therefore with by baptism into death,” Paul teaches us, “so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” The desire to be shown by God deeper aspects of the meaning of our baptism issues forth by God’s grace the invitation to walk in newness of life—to be, as Paul teaches elsewhere, a new creation.

And this is the meaning of Our Lord’s teaching that he who loses his life for His sake will find it. Being a Christian means growing in our ability to live selflessly for others, as Christ Himself lives in perfect selflessness for us. Living in perfect selflessness is eternal life, and baptism is God’s seal upon us which begins with our cooperation the process of sanctification—of the purging of our sinful ways, which gives way to being illuminated more and more by God’s presence, and in the next life, continual growth in Christ’s love towards unity with God—united with God in a resurrection like His.

Brothers and sisters, considering ourselves (in the words of Paul) dead to sin means we seek and strive to live our lives selflessly for God and for others. The gift of Baptism is being able to walk in the light of God’s presence, knowing that death no longer has dominion over us, so we need not fear physical death—because that the Holy One of Israel is our King, and His love is established for ever.