Preached FCCW October 21, 2018
In the gospel message I just read, we find Jesus and his disciples thinking and speaking in cross purposes, so that Jesus has to clarify some of the language they are using to get them all on the same page. He redefines for them words like greatness and glory, service and sacrifice. And the meaning of Baptism.
One of the first things they teach you in seminary is that, when it comes to understanding what the Bible has to say, do not assume that every written word you read means what you think that it does. The Bible’s original language, after all, is not English. It has been translated from Hebrew and Greek. Not all words translate from one language to another very precisely.
My in-laws speak Creole, and occasionally they will have trouble explaining to me exactly what a Creole word or phrase means in English. There just aren’t perfect equivalents and something gets lost in translation.
The meanings of words also evolve with time, and the modern definition of a word or phrase may be very different from what it was in past generations. The word “inmate”, for instance used to mean: A tenant or room-mate. Try posting an “Inmate Wanted” ad on Craigslist today and watch what happens.
Another word that no longer means what it once did is the title of this sermon. Matrix.
When I see the word Matrix the first thing I think of is the classic sci-fi film starring Keanu Reeves. It’s the story of a future where everything people experience is an illusion created by artificial intelligence to control humanity. What made Matrix the perfect title for that movie, was the definition of the word, which has to do with a grid of computer data.
That’s not what it always meant, though. Matrix used to refer to a mother or a womb. Which makes perfect sense when you think of similar words like maternity and maternal.
More recently, that definition was expanded to say a matrix is an environment in which something develops. So, a matrix can also describe an environment that aids something or someone that has been born to grow and develop to its fullest potential.
Matrix, in all its definitions is a great word for understanding the Sacrament of Baptism. For one thing, Baptism is a lot like a rebirth. In New Testament times, Baptisms were not done at a Baptismal font like this. Baptisms took place where there was enough water to actually immerse the person completely under water and then bring them back up again. The symbolism of being baptized this way was of dying to what was and being reborn to a new life shaped by our relationship to God. Jesus himself said, “Unless we are born anew, we cannot see the reign of God. Unless we are born of water and the Spirit we cannot enter God’s new order.”
Baptism is the matrix through which we enter into a new spiritual life. And it is a life defined by God’s unconditional love for us, not a reward that we have earned. As Jesus says about himself in our Gospel reading, “The Son of Man came to give his life a ransom for many.”
As I said as we baptized Sawyer this morning, Baptism is the outward and visible sign of God’s grace, of our participation in God’s forgiveness, and the beginning of growth into full Christian faith and discipleship.
If a matrix is the environment in which something new develops, then when a baby is baptized, the family and godparents make up a critical piece of the matrix in which growth into full Christian faith and discipleship develops. And so, parents and godparents commit themselves to maintaining a home environment that, by teaching and example, provides children with every opportunity necessary to develop their own personal relationship to the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
Participation in a community of faith is another matrix in which Christian faith and discipleship grows. So, the congregation makes its own commitment at the time of baptism to support and care for the spiritual growth of children who are baptized. Ideally, family and church work hand in hand to create a matrix that is distinctly different from the matrix of society in general. Jesus pointed out to his disciples that the matrix that the world operates under is the illusion that status and power over others is what defines a person’s greatness. But, that he came not to be served but to serve others. And that anyone baptized in his name is reborn with eyes open to a much different vision of reality than what the world teaches.
And a matrix of loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself.
A matrix where greatness is defined by justice, peace, and compassion instead of control and dominance.
A matrix, not of cynicism, but of hope.
A matrix that Jesus called God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
Copyright 2018 Raymond Medeiros