The following sermon was preached on September 25, 2022 at St George’s Transcona. You can learn more about St George’s and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here.  Photo credit: Josh Eckstein on Unsplash


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Today is a special day in the life of this parish as we are gathered to celebrate the baptism of Sally Latta.

Almost all of our services – like Morning Prayer, Eucharist, and also services like baptisms, funerals and weddings are all found in the prayer books of the Anglican Church of Canada.

The green prayer book – which you can find copies of in the foyer – also contains a section that explains each of these services, so if you’re interested in learning more about why we do what we do at a baptism or an ordination or a funeral, you can find a couple of pages on each service in that book.

That green book is called the Book of Alternative Services or the BAS for short. If you want to know why it’s called that, we can chat after the service.

The section on baptism begins, “Baptism is the sign of new life in Christ. Baptism unites Christ with his people. That union is both individual and corporate. Christians are, it is true, baptized one by one, but to be a Christian is to be part of a new creation which rises from the dark waters of Christ’s death into the dawn of his risen life. Christians are not just baptized individuals; they are a new humanity.” (146)

So today is a really special day for both Sally as an individual, and all of us as a parish, and in fact, for the entire Christian church throughout the world.

But why is it special? Why do we do this?

When I began planning this service I decided to change the readings and preach specifically about baptism.

It seemed like the right thing to do and it also seemed like it would be… easy? I mean I’m a priest, so surely I know how to talk about baptism right?

And maybe I should, but I found this sermon was really hard to write. On more than one occasion when I re-read a paragraph I thought, “Now Rachel, I know what you mean but when you word it like that it’s a heresy.”

Baptism is a sacrament, and a celebration, and a mystery. It is both incredibly simple to understand, and also impossible to understand all at the same time.

We’re not supposed to fully understand it, that’s why we call it a mystery.

But that does make it a challenge to talk about – I need to be very careful with my words.

We baptize and are baptized mainly because Jesus told us to, but Jesus didn’t invent baptism, you may recall that John the Baptist was already baptizing people before Jesus began his earthly ministry and that John even baptized Jesus.

Baptism is a sacrament that uses water and water has always been important to human beings. We literally can’t live without it.

Water is life giving, and water is also cleansing.

Baptism as a practice doesn’t appear in the Old Testament but the Hebrew Scriptures do include many stories and instructions about the importance of staying clean and using water for ritual purification.

At some point in the history of the Jewish people, baptism became a way for Gentiles to convert and become Jewish.  It also became a way to repent and be cleansed of sins.  By the time Jesus arrives on the scene his baptism by John is also the fulfillment of a prophecy.

In the portion of Mark that we read this morning, John the Baptist says,

“As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’,

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’”

Jesus is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. And although John resists, preferring to be baptized BY Jesus and not to baptize Jesus he eventually relents.

By the time of the early church, baptism had become a way to join the Christian community, and it still has that function to this very day.

Baptism is a sacrament and a sacrament is defined as “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”

So basically a sacrament is a practice or action that we can all see, that points to something that is real, but invisible.

Malcolm Guite explains that the old English word for baptism is “Christened. When a person is christened, they are enChristed – they are made part of Christ and he part of them. Another frequent image for the significance of baptism is the image of new birth. The Christian emerges from the waters of baptism born again, this time not merely a child of their earthly parents but a child of God.”[1]

But there is a paradox here, because we are all children of God, regardless of whether are not we have been baptized. We are all loved deeply by the God who created us and cares for us whether or not we have been baptized.  This act of baptism points to something that is already true, it is an act of obedience and faith on our part to acknowledge that truth by choosing to be baptized or by baptizing our children.

It is a sacrament, an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.


It is pretty common in churches that one of the very first things you see when you enter is a baptismal font and often – especially before COVID – those fonts would contain water that you could dip your fingers into and cross yourself with. A tangible reminder of your baptism.

And because it is the first thing you see, it is also a tangible reminder that the Christian life begins with baptism.

Unless it doesn’t.

In our reading from Ephesians we heard these words, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

One Lord, one faith, one baptism.

One baptism.  I believe that that is true, and yet I also know that it is definitely not true.

Because Christians have a very diverse ranges of practices around baptism. We don’t do this in just one way.

In Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, we baptize people of all ages, although infant baptism is pretty common.

This means that if baptism marks our entrance into the church we can enter at a very young age. But that’s not true in all churches.

In the Mennonite church I grew up in, my ancestors believed that people should understand what they were doing before they were baptized so they only baptized adults – and in the early years of the church many of them were tortured or burned at the stake to defend this belief.

So I wasn’t baptized until I was 15, but I was still part of the church prior to my baptism.

The Salvation Army is a Christian Church that does not practice baptism – they do have a process of formation and initiation into the Christian life but it doesn’t involve water.

Clearly, there is not one baptism.

Except, scripture says there is, and I believe there is, and not because I believe that some of the practices listed above are fake baptisms, but because I believe that God is big enough and baptism is mysterious enough that God can somehow sort out all those differences and make them into one thing.

So I believe there is one baptism, while knowing that Christians have diverse baptism practices.

I don’t have to understand it to believe that it’s true. It’s a mystery beyond my understanding, but not beyond God’s.

Baptism is also not always the way people entire into the Christian faith.  As I mentioned earlier, sometimes baptism happens after a person has been a faithful Christian for a very long time, perhaps even most of their life.

And sometimes a person dies before they can be baptized.  To imply that they are not a beloved child of God or part of God’s family because they did not participate in this ritual in a church building is to miss the point of who God is and what God desires for us.

God is love. We are God’s beloved children.   Full stop.

Our psalm speaks of God’s steadfast love. Steadfast – it is not fickle.  God will not be separated from the people they love because of a technicality.

And still, when we can, we should baptize and be baptized. We should celebrate when someone takes this step and welcome them into the family.

We are gathered today to celebrate a baptism. It is an event worthy of celebration.

One final note before we move to the baptism itself.   If you have not been baptized and are interested in doing so, talk to me.   If you have not been confirmed – an additional practice we have in the Anglican church – talk to me.

Later this fall we will also be including a reaffirmation of baptism in one of our Sunday services.  This is a brief but beautiful opportunity to say, “Yes, right now, just as I am, I affirm that my baptism matters to me and this faith matter to me.”

You can also talk to me about this of course and more information will be available shortly.

But first, we need to celebrate Sally’s baptism!

In the strong name of the holy and undivided Trinity. Amen.

[1] What Christians Believe, pg 80