Sermon – 9 January 2005

I was walking through Tescos in Alloa this week when I encountered two women who had just met for the first time since new year. One hollered to the other: ?A good Christmas then?? and the reply came, ?Aye!?

They got a bit closer. ?A Good New Year then?? The reply was the same, ?Aye!?

They stood right next to one another and the first said to the other in a quiet voice, ?It is nice when it is all over.? And the reply came, ?Aye?.
Today, we do get back to normal. Back to normal in the sense that we are hearing about the adult Jesus rather than the child. Back to normal in that Jesus can speak for himself rather than simply be the object of veneration and worship at the crib.

Well, normality is a relative concept when we are dealing with stories about God?s work in the world. For we find in the way Matthew relates this morning?s gospel passage that it is God who gets the chance to speak for himself for once.

After Jesus is baptised by John in the Jordan, a voice comes from heaven saying, ?This is my Son, the Beloved, with who I am well pleased.?

The event recounted here has often been a slightly difficult one for the church and for preachers in particular. You see, the church has often tended to emphasise John the Baptist?s teaching about baptism. (You remember, it starts ?You brood of vipers? and gets more harsh every time you read it). And the problem is this ? John preached baptism as a marker to people that their sins had been wiped out and washed away. So why then, if the church sticks to its claim that Jesus was without sin, did he need to be baptised.

And he clearly says that he does need it.

So why? What was it that Jesus needed in the Jordan river. What did he need, and why was God so pleased with him that Matthew was caused to write that there was a voice from heaven proclaiming that pleasure?

Well, there are possible answers, and over the last couple of years, many churches, including the Scottish Episcopal Church has been trying to come up with new answers to this question.

The answer that people seem to be coming up with in modern times is to look at when this all happens. To consider the chronology of the gospels. The point is this ? the gospel writers put things in the order they want them in. They often seem to do this to make a point.

And the point here is that Jesus is baptised at the beginning of his ministry. Indeed, that is partly why this is one of the things that we read at the start of the new year, just after Christmas. Jesus is marked out by God for ministry.

And the idea that the churches are starting to pick up on is that this, symbolically is true for all of us. When we are baptised, we are marked as God?s own forever. And the idea is, that baptism is the starting point for each of us in ministry. Baptism is the beginning of ministry for God?s people.

And the idea is that the whole church is made up of all the people of God ministering together.

Now there are problems with this, especially for someone like me, whose Christian journey was underway for 18 years before I was baptised. However, it is worth thinking about.

As we remember this morning that Jesus was baptised in the River Jordan, we also hear the words of Isaiah. The prophet is very clearly writing about a God who expects us to get on and do things. (Which is what ministry is ? getting on and doing things).

This reading, from the prophet Isaiah was read at both my ordinations, to the Diaconate and the Priesthood, and I suspect that I asked for it to be read when I was licensed here too.

This is what ministry is like and it is not just for the prophet Isaiah. It is not just for professional ministers. And it certainly is not just for me, though I think God has called me to call others to join in the common tasks?

? To be a light to the nations
? To open eyes that are blind
? To set prisoners free from prison
This is the stuff, the very essence of Christian ministry.

And the suggestion that is put before us by the churches is that this is a common task. This is the task of the church.

? To bring light where light is needed
? To challenge people to see through God?s eyes again
? To set people free from whatever binds them.
And the suggestion that the prophet makes is that God does not just send us to do the task. No, the promise is that God will take us by the hand and will keep us.

We go on into this world as people of God. We go on into this world to face the tasks and challenges, the sorrows and the dreams that we have to face with God holding us by the hand.

In one of the shop windows in Bridge of Allan this week, there is a child?s T shirt. It has the words printed on it, ?I cry when hugged by ugly people?.

Can I just warn you that I don?t want to see that on any child presented in this church for baptism.

Can I also warn you that when baptisms take place, something beautiful happens. The Lord himself, the Lord who promises to hold our hand through the rest of our lives looks on us and says as surely as he said to Jesus Christ: You are loved, you are loved, you are utterly beloved by me.



  1. Kelvin says

    Re: Sermon – 9 January 2005
    And wis it a guid sermon this mornin then?  “Aye”

  2. Kelvin says

    Re: Sermon – 9 January 2005
    Read Mr Golightly

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