Sermon – The Baptism of Christ

I?ve already spoken quite a bit recently about the work and life of John the Baptist, so I am not going to focus on him this morning ? instead, I am going to think about the fact that Jesus himself was baptized.

There is a lot of thinking going on in the church at the moment about baptism and what it means. I am going to explore some of those thoughts this morning, beginning by asking what your own baptism meant to you.

In celebrating the baptism of Jesus, we celebrate the baptism of each and every believer. Jesus the God of heaven became the everyman of the earth and descended into the River Jordon.
He was drenched in the water just as we are drenched in his grace. Dipped in the waters to the point of being overwhelmed. Baptism takes place in a whirlpool of life and death. Images of drowning. Images of life are intertwined.

Jesus was baptised and ever since, Christians have been invited to follow him down into the waters. In a minute or two I will try to say something about why he was baptised and what is going on when we follow him, but first, I want you to try to hold the other two readings in your minds.

Firstly, think about Isaiah?s yearning for the good life when God?s children come together from the north and the south and the east and the west and are gathered together within the loving presence of God. [Those who were here last week, remember that this was written after the Jewish Exile ? the writer has discovered that foreigners know something about God too]. The idea is that as people of different experience come together and tell of their experience of God, a bigger picture is built. There is a wider vision. There is hope as the people come together. The people come together and God?s care is known. The people come together and more of God?s love is shared. The people come together and God?s people are freed from that which harms them. The people come together and the things which were formerly frightening are no longer so.

That coming together is gospel. That coming together is grace.

Now, think about the reading from the Acts of the Apostles. The early Christians found it just as hard to describe the work of the holy spirit as any of us do. After the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, one of the images which they kept coming back to over and over again which described their experience of God was that of Baptism. When called on to express what the love of God felt like in their lives, they came back over and over again to baptism. Being plunged in water. Being plunged into God?s grace. Being plunged into God?s love. Being plunged into the very being of God.

When we baptise people ? children or adults, it is these things that they are being baptised into. Firstly the coming together of God?s people as a community who can change the world and secondly being drenched in God?s love and commitment to us.

It is that commitment which brought Jesus to earth ? the Incarnation is what we celebrate at this time of year.

? that God could be born in a manger
? that God could walk the earth and hear and see and touch.
? That God could know what it was like to struggle for breath under water.
? That God himself could come to us.
This is what we celebrate and this is what we are called to discover throughout the Epiphany season.

That ongoing discovery is a part of what the church is beginning to mean by baptism. We are now being encouraged to think of baptism as being the fundamental way of thinking about ministry. I?m a little suspicious if this is helpful ? is this the way you understand your baptism? It isn?t the way I understood my own, but it is very much the current way of thinking.

Once someone is baptised in the church, so the thinking goes, that person is then a minister for God for the rest of their lives. Thus, it is baptism that gives someone the right to be a minister in the church. That may be a new idea to you ? I would be interested in what you think about it.

It is ideas like that which are behind all kinds of new ways of thinking in the church, ranging from changing the way we think about church membership to the new emphasis on the ministry of the whole people of God.

The idea is that baptism splashes sanctity onto every ministry that a person has in life ? not just the particular things that ordained people do, but the things that all God?s people do. Ministries of medicine and healing, Ministries music and poetry. Ministries of parenting and partnership. Ministries to the poor and to the needy. Ministries of oversight and of service. Ministries of food and ministries of fun.

The idea is that, as baptized people of God, we are God?s hands and feet ? we are God?s activity in the world. And it is holy and sanctified because we do these things as baptized people.

[And that, for me is where this all falls down, for I think that kindness and goodness are holy whether they are carried out by baptized people or not].

You must decide for yourself whether this kind of thinking works for you ? I would be interested to know.

As we celebrate the baptism of the Lord, we celebrate our own baptisms ? we celebrate the fact that human life is something that is at once blessed and sanctified by God. We are a holy people and God is involved in all that we do.

In a couple of weeks time, I will be baptising a child in the Sunday morning service. When I do so, and when I baptise anyone, child or adult, I celebrate that we are, as human beings, plunged by God into a life which is interesting, special and holy. What we do with it is our ministry to the body of God ? the people of God with whom we share our latest breath.

Baptism celebrates life. Baptism celebrates grace. Baptism celebrates the fact that we cannot do or say anything to deserve God?s love.

Plunged into love. Plunged into grace. Plunged into life.

Plunged with Jesus in to the water ? we are all God?s people. People coming together with experience of God?s loving presence to build a new kind of kingdom for God?s people on earth.

Together, as a people. We have despair baptised out of us and we are submerged in grace; drenched in love. Amen

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