Choral Evensong, Baptism of Christ, 13th January 2019

Readings: Psalms 46, 47; Isaiah 55.1-11; Romans 6.1-11

Many of you will know
that I recently began leading a meditation group
which meets in the upper vestry early on Wednesday mornings.
Meditation has had an important role in my life,
even if I’m not as faithful a meditator as would be good for me.

I started practicing meditation in 2008.
I had begun moving towards serious commitment in my relationship
and had begun to explore a sense of call to the priesthood.
Responding positively to God in this way
and moving towards his call,
had the surprising effect of throwing up a lot of anxiety in me.
I would get very stuck in worried thoughts,
which would whirl around and around incessantly,
my chest would tighten and my heart rate rise.
I was surprised.
I’d have understood bad behaviour would lead to anxiety,
but on this occasion I was moving towards God,
I was responding to his call.
It seemed a little unfair.

However, as I discovered
the motto of Westcott House,
the theological college at which I trained for ordination,
invariably turns out to be trustworthy.
He who calls you is faithful.
A line from 1st Thessalonians.
God had called me into a committed relationship with a wonderful lady,
and into ordination,
and he knew that this would take me out of the drivers seat,
make me feel out of control,
and throw up a lot of anxiety.
And so he provided meditation
as a most helpful tool for the journey.

At the heart of Christian meditation
– which is a form of prayer,
is the wisdom of the Psalmist who says,
‘Be still, and know that I am God.’
Rather than continuing to engage in the whirling thoughts
of our anxious and often impotent minds,
the Psalmist reminds us that God is our ever present help in trouble.
But so often we reject this kind of help from God.
We would prefer an activist God
– not a contemplative God.
And we want to be active in solving our problems,
not contemplative.
Which works, as long as our actions continue to be fit for the task.
As long as we can solve our problems.
Life has a way of throwing a spanner into the works,
of setting us challenges we, on our own,
are simply not equal to.

Learning to meditate helps one learn how to let go and let God.
How to rest in God
and let all mortal flesh keep silence.
The rather uncomfortable notion at the heart of this,
and something I know goes against my grain,
is that of a certain kind of passivity.

Passive. Its not an attractive idea to most of us.
We think of people who are doormats, pushovers,
idle layabouts, inert, lifeless and drab.
But there is a certain sense in which as Christians,
we must be passive before God.
We must let God be God,
and allow him to accomplish his work in us.

An idea that the church has traditionally used
to describe this passivity of letting go and letting God,
is that of baptism.
St Paul describes baptism as a sharing in Christ’s death.
Historically of course baptism was done by full immersion,
in a pool of water, a river or the sea.
And it has always been understood as a ceremonial drowning.
The old self is lowered into the water, and drowned,
and the new self is born again, or resurrected.
So that we, who are baptised,
share in Christ’s death
and enter into his life.

This then, is the kind of passivity
which is at the heart of Christian life.
A stopping. A ceasing. A giving up. A surrender.
A letting go and letting God.

The only really good way to learn about this in practice, is prayer.
And prayer at its heart is being with God.
It is being attentive to God with our heart.
The way that looks varies greatly between church traditions,
between people, between disciplines of prayer.
But one of those types of prayer, meditation,
has something very powerful to teach us
about letting go and letting God.
And the reason for this is that as we meditate
we divest ourselves from mulling over the past,
and anticipating the future.
Instead we simply stop doing either of those things,
so that all that remains
is the present moment.
The here and now.
Which is where God can get at us.
Because we have stopped getting in the way,
we have stepped out of the drivers seat,
and given God the wheel,
even if only for a brief moment.

But that moment in which God is in control,
can be both incredibly painful and alarming,
but also incredibly life giving and transformative.
We would often run a mile before we let God be God.
And until something like a surprising surge of anxiety
something that we have no control over,
something that we just cannot fix,
until something like that comes up in our lives
we are often simply unwilling to let go.
But if you are in the grip of one of life’s unsolvable problems,
if you feel you have nowhere to turn,
that you are at the end of yourself,
there is Good News.
You are in fact mere inches from the hand of God.

Ho, says Isaiah, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.

In this wonderful line from Isaiah
we get a hint of the unbelievable, almost unspeakable, truth.
That the best things in life are free.
That God who created us,
the source of all life,
is here with us, now,
nurturing a sustaining us,
whether we pay any attention or not.

Becoming a Christian through the rite of baptism,
is the beginning of a life long journey
of paying attention to the source of all life.
Of allowing ourselves to formed by that life,
of allowing ourselves to be fed and watered by it;
a life which is freely given,
every moment of every day,
to everyone and everything.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place of the dwelling of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her;
therefore shall she not be removed;
God shall help her at the break of day.

But always, at the heart of Christian faith,
as meditation teaches us,
is a certain kind of passivity.
A willingness to stop.
To get out of the driver’s seat,
and let God be in control.
And yes, that feeling of being out of control
really can be the most difficult thing in the world.
Because that in us which has so far been in control
is learning to let go and let God.

Call it the death of the false self,
call it surrender, trust, faith. Whatever.
But today on this the feast of the baptism of Christ,
we are reminded that as Christians
we are the community of the baptised.
People who have entered into a way of life
of learning what it means
to get out of the driver’s seat,
and let God be God.
Yes, something in us dies,
but through that death,
through the eye of the needle,
is a new life waiting for us,
a life fed by the source of all life.

For as St Paul says,
If we have been united with him in a death like his,
we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

So let us now for a few moments,
be still and know the he is God.