Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sermon for 8am on the Feast of the Baptism of Christ... NB outline paragraph included!

Many of us were baptized when we were children. We cannot remember the event though for our parents and godparents, for the priest who poured water upon our heads, for those standing round the font it was a powerful and profound moment. Each of them would have wondered what would become of us in life, what we would grow up to be, how the world would treat us and how we would respond in turn……

1. We were baptized in the name of the Father. The hopes and aspirations of others, can all to easily place us under the most extraordinary pressures in life. The pressure to be successful, to achieve, to be accepted by society’s own shallow values.

Our baptism in the name of the father reminds us that who we are cannot be defined by what we look like or what others think of us. Your value is not based on your accomplishments or failures. Your worth as a person can only be understood through God.

When you are baptized in the name of the father, you are baptized into the depths. You are baptized into the mysterious source of light and life, order and beauty. You will leave behind your bondage to surfaces, to shallowness forever. God promises that you will be alive to the mystery and wonder of your existence.

The deep into which you are baptized is what science cannot locate or name... A Chinese proverb calls this the world of the ten thousand things. The deep is the inexplicable relation between those things and their ineffable source. The Deep was the reason that Einstein said, "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one."

The Deep made Beethoven unsatisfied with the music of his parent's generation. It inspired the French Impressionist painters to blur surfaces. It is the reason why Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky could not stop writing about God. In the 21st century the Deep aroused the imagination of particle physicists who struggled to find a language for their paradoxical discoveries. We look for the deep in cathedrals and in art galleries. Mother Theresa found it in the slums of Calcutta. Nelson Mandela found it in captivity.

2. We were baptized in the name of the Son. Although we meet very few people who seem to have an intimacy with the Deep, there is nothing really that revolutionary about it. God, or what I have been calling the Deep exists on its own, independent of our human weakness and frailty. We forget it in our efforts to impress others but we are never really offended by it. The Son offends.

The Son preaches, "Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are those who mourn… Blessed are the meek… Blessed are those who are persecuted"
Jesus offends us because he teaches a truth that is much more difficult to accept. We insist that we cannot remain human and avoid suffering at the same time. Jesus was persecuted and suffered before you did. He made a study of the most desperate corners of our existence.

For Christians brokenness is not a goal that we ought to strive for. When Jesus says "Blessed are the poor in spirit," he is not suggesting that we should strive to be poor in spirit, only that God will not desert the people who are suffering the most. In baptism Jesus promises that we do not have to have a stiff-upper lip orientation to the world. Because of him we do not need to avoid or ignore or by will power transcend the reality of suffering and pain.

3. We were baptized in the name of the Spirit. Now we come to the remarkable thing. This message about the possibility of our intimacy with the deep, this confidence in the power of love to overcome suffering and brokenness will be conveyed to you by the most fragile and unreliable means possible - by individual people. People who are weak, sometimes cruel and irresponsible, people with giant egos, people who are sick and suffering will be the ones to tell you about Christ's love.

Look around at the people with you this morning. This is the church, your new Christian family. They are not much to look at and frankly, most of us are not really very good at being Christians. What we share in common is a trust in a few people who came before us and told us about the love of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This Christian message has always been a fragile thing. Two thousand years ago, under pressure from the Roman Empire, its light was almost extinguished, all of the copies of the Bible came close to being destroyed. The message, the hope, the light survived only through the efforts of fragile witnesses.

This morning’s gospel... voice from heaven - you are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.’ The HS descended on Jesus and equipped him for all God was calling Him to.

Through baptism in the Holy Spirit God calls us by name. Through baptism we each become part of that imperfect community of saints called the Christian church. In it we will each hear God speaking to you and one day you will help others to hear this call also. Jesus’ baptism was good enough to call and equip Jesus - it is good enough for each one of us. Through our baptism God silently says to each of us ‘you are my child, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.’ This morning we come to assert our need and our dependence upon God, to understand our world and that most mysterious aspect of it, ourselves, to assert that strength may come from our weaknesses and that God calls us to fulfill his purposes for us and in us in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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