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Sunday Worship 25 September | Jesus is baptised

Updated: Mar 3

This service included the baptism of our newest church member.


Jesus is baptised (taken from the Children of God Storyeller Bible)
Jesus’ cousin John wore clothes made from camel’s hair. John lived on locusts and wild honey. He was called ‘the Baptiser’ because he was a holy man who called people to the river to wash them clean of their wrongdoing.
‘God wants your hearts to be clean as well as your bodies,’ he hold them. ‘Turn your cruelty into kindness, your selfishness into sharing.’
‘But how?’ the crowd asked.
‘If you have two coats, share one. If you have one loaf of bread, share half.’
As he took them into the river, John said. ‘I baptise you with water, but someone far greater than I will come soon. He will baptise you with the fire of the Holy Spirit.’
Jesus came to the river and asked to be baptised.
John said, ‘No, Jesus. You should be baptising me!’
Jesus insisted, ‘This is God’s plan.’
So John led Jesus  into the river and baptised him. As Jesus came out of the water, he saw the heavens open and the Holy Spirit spread its wings over him like a dove.
A voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son who fills me with joy.’

 

Over the last few weeks here at Stoneygate Baptist Church, we have been reflecting on some stories from the life of Jesus. These have been familiar stories to many of us, and so we have tried to do something a little different with each of them. We looked at different artistic depictions of the Last Supper, we thought about the Transfiguration in the light of what happened before and after, and we heard several different translations of the opening to the Sermon on the Mount. I don’t plan to do anything too radical with the Baptism of Jesus this morning, as I thought following it with Alex’s baptism might be dramatic enough!

 

Scripture often leaves us with at least as many questions as answers, and I think the big question from this passage is why did Jesus come to be baptised? He certainly took John by surprise. I think the answer is that he did it in order to identify himself with us. Matthew 3 tells us that “people went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan”, and Luke 3 adds that even tax collectors and soldiers went to be baptised. If we look further ahead in scripture, Acts 2 says that three thousand from the crowd at Pentecost were baptised, and that was a crowd that included people from all over the known world, so presumably covered people from every background imaginable. Through sharing in baptism, Jesus identified with all of them and so too with all of us. And just to be clear, I’m not saying that Jesus only identifies with those who are baptised. Baptism is a wonderful thing, but it is a symbol not a magic trick, and so Jesus’ baptism is not the thing that makes him identify with us, but is a sign that he does.

 

But why does that matter? If I had a nice neat answer to that I could probably give up preaching, because I sometimes think that my entire ministry is trying to find the right words to express just what it means to say that God became flesh and dwelt amongst us. God does not love us only in abstract or from a distance. God loves us as one who has been among us and knows what it is to be alive from the inside out. God understands what it is to feel pain and sorrow because God felt all of those things as we do in Christ. God can sit with us in the dirt and walk with us through the mess because God did those things with a body and a mind and a heart like ours in Christ. And so God’s love for us in those times is not pity but empathy, a genuine being with us in every fear and need and trouble.

 

One thing which I think is really important to note is that Jesus’ baptism comes before his ministry. Depending on which gospel we are reading, we may already have been introduced to Jesus as a baby, but in every case this is the first time we meet the adult Jesus. We don’t know what his life has been like to this point, but as far as we can tell, he hasn’t yet taught any parables or performed any miracles or called any disciples. John’s insistence that Jesus should be the one baptising seems to come from an instinctive sense of who Jesus is, perhaps borne out of their familial relationship as cousins, rather than from any knowledge of an existing public ministry.

 

That’s important because of what God says at the moment of baptism. “This is my beloved Son who fills me with joy”, as we heard in our reading. Or “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased”, as we read in more traditional translations. Jesus was beloved before he preached the Beatitudes or healed the sick or gave himself to the cross and the tomb. That says that he was beloved because of who he was not what he did. That says he was beloved because the incarnation meant that in some inexplicable sense he was a child of God. We too are children of God, so do you know what that means? It means we too are beloved not because of what we do but because of who we are. It means we are beloved before anything else. We do not need to earn God’s love, only open ourselves to it and respond to it.

 

It’s also important that we remember that Jesus’ baptism comes before his ministry because it tells us that baptism is a beginning not an ending. That’s perhaps easier to remember when the one being baptised is a baby, but our practice of believers’ baptism means that it can sometimes be misunderstood as something we have to achieve. Baptism isn’t a reward for good faith but a commitment to ongoing faith. It is a decision that should be made thoughtfully, but not one that needs to wait until we have subdued every doubt and answered every question. It is about setting a direction of travel, though not necessarily a fixed path. When Alex and I sat down to talk about this service, one of the scripture readings that had been suggested to him was Jeremiah 29:11, in which God declares, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”. It is a wonderful promise, especially when we pay attention to the details. You see, God speaks of ‘plans’ plural, not ‘plan’ singular. It may seem like nitpicking to mention it, but bear with me because I think the difference is profound.

 

I believed for a long time that God had a singular plan for my life, and all I had to do was figure it out and stick to it. I’m sure that would have been quite reassuring if God had revealed the plan with step by step instructions, but that never happened and so I experienced a lot of anxiety around whether or not I was doing the right thing. Then eleven years ago I was presented with two options, either spend a month exploring spirituality and community with a volunteer project or help with the church holiday club and preach for the first time. I was certain that one of them was the right path but I had no idea which, and then I went to a scratch theatre night and heard the words “I’m tired of leading you by the hand, I want you to decide”. The actor who said those words will never have any idea what they meant to me, but I knew in my soul that they were straight from God. I understood that I had been given two wonderful possibilities and I got to choose which one I liked best. Because God is so generous that there wasn’t just a plan, there were plans.

 

Of course that doesn’t mean anything goes, but it does mean that God invites us into a world of possibilities, where there are many paths that are good, and we can still find our way back from the bad ones. The paths that Alex has taken so far have led him to baptism, and as he declares through baptism that he has set his direction of travel with and towards God, there will be yet more paths to walk. The same is true for each one of us. If we look back we will see the paths that have led us here, and if we look ahead we may catch sight of the paths that will lead us on. Some of those paths will be hard and some of those paths will take unexpected turns, but God will walk each one of them with you. And as you walk by faith those paths will lead you towards a hope and a future, because God has plans to prosper you and not to harm you.



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