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  • Writer's pictureFather Benjamin von Bredow

Born of God.

A Sermon for the First Sunday after Easter

April 7, 2024 at Holy Communion

1 John 5:4


“Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world” (1 John 5:4). In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. ☩ Amen.


My most joyful experience of worship took place at the Roman Catholic basilica on the campus of Notre Dame, where I went to grad school, and it was the Easter Vigil.


In our Parish we celebrate the Easter Vigil as two separate services on Easter morning, the sunrise service and then, after breakfast, the Holy Communion. But at Notre Dame as in other places and in ancient times—perhaps even in this parish at some point in the past, I don’t know—the service took place in the dead of night. At it was packed: at least a thousand people in that magnificent space in the mysterious darkness of Easter Eve.


But what made it it joyful was the newly-baptized. Right at the heart of the service fourteen young adults where baptized. Emerging from the font, every single one of them glowed with the light of eternity as a thousand people clapped and hollered to welcome them into Christ’s body. They had been born again, and they knew it: the evidence was the light in their eyes and the bliss on faces.


That scene came to mind for me this week because we have baptism all over our readings. In our Lesson from Acts, Peter baptizes 3000 people on Pentecost Day (Acts 2:41). And our Epistle opens with a reference to the baptized as those who have been “born of God” and goes on to refer obliquely to the baptism of Christ (1 John 5:4, 9). Beyond our Sunday readings. I use a form of daily prayer based on medieval monastic practice, and all throughout this week it asks the church to pray for the newly-baptized.

But we did not baptize anyone at our Easter Vigil. If our prayer books tell us to think about baptism this season, does that have any value to us, when most of us we baptised long ago?


Although this isn’t my main point, but first of all we have to remember that baptizing members every year is the normal condition of the church. And not just infants, either—it is the normal condition of the church to be welcoming, teaching, and baptizing new adult comers to the faith. If this seems very different from our present church experience, we have to ask why, and change course so that this can become normal again.


But for those who are baptized, we return to rituals and prayers of baptism every year because baptism has everything to do with what it means to be a Christian, daily. Baptism is not just the gateway of the church, but its path.


Everything we need is in the first verse of our Epistle, which says, “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4).


I said that the young people at the Notre Dame Easter Vigil had the joy of being born again. Now, the phrase “born again” may conjure up images of Billy Graham crusades, and people praying intensely emotional prayers of repentance and faith, and standing up to show that they have given their lives to Jesus.


The truth that in all that is that being “born again,” if it means anything, must mean getting a new start, a point after which your old life is dead and your new life has begun. And for adults, that means making new choices, changing priorities and commitments. This is what St John means when he refers to our faith and “the victory that overcomes the world”: your faith has brought you freedom from the worldliness that held you down before.


But there’s another side to being “born again.” No one choses to be born, and we so in another sense we have as little choice about being “born from God” (1 John 5:4) as we have about being born from our mothers. New birth is an act of grace; it is God’s activity in us which empowers us to chose a new life. No amount of personal resolution can save us. God must give birth to us.


So God gave to the church baptism to make grace of new birth available to the human race. Jesus himself said that to enter the kingdom of God a person must be born “of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5)—that is, born anew by the inner working of the Holy Spirit, administered by baptismal water.


The point is just this: new birth is a two-sided cooperation between our choice and God’s grace, and neither choice nor grace expires at your baptism. Baptism is only your first choice as a Christian. New life begins, rather than ends, at the font. Your baptism will continue to live in you—or it will wither and become a meaningless fact of your cultural heritage—depending on whether you continue to chose the way of new life and seek God’s help for it.


When our reading from Acts says that St Peter baptized 3000 people, the point is not that he got to pat himself on the back 3000 times. That crowd which was converted to Christ continued to live in their baptism, and it describes how: “They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 4:42).


The community of the baptized is a community of devotion, of commitment to the way of new life which God’s grace had drawn them into. They placed themselves daily in the way of God’s grace, as he came among them through “the breaking of bread and the prayers”: the holy eucharist and daily corporate prayer (v 42). Empowered by that grace, they chose to give up everything they had for the good of their neighbours, especially their neighbours in the church (Acts 2:45, Galatians 6:10).


So we do not need to have fifteen smiling new converts a year for baptism to mean something to us. If we are Christians, baptism is our way of life. Daily, we die to the old and are born again to the new as we place ourselves in the way of God’s grace by living in the fellowship and service of the church.

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