This is the sermon preached by Canon Rachel for the Baptism of Christ.
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Readings: Isa 42.1-9 & Matt 3.13-end.
I love this reading and I love this part of Epiphany.
I am a liturgy geek and had both my babies baptised on the Festival of the Baptism of Christ – mostly because I’m not a detail kind of girl and otherwise I wouldn’t have stood a chance of ever remembering when it happened. Oh yeah – when we remember Jesus doing it – that’s when you did it!
And it’s the reading I love most to read when I baptise others into the family of faith. Last week Amanda talked about us being on our faith journey together. We are now travelling together – not a congregation who just happen to like their religion delivered in bite size pieces with robes, hymns and servers at 10am on a Sunday – but a gathered community, on a journey. And that journey started for each one of us in a different place – the place of our baptism.
It does blow my mind a little to thing that there will be those here today , young and old, who were baptised in that very font. But I’m also willing to bet there are folks here who have been baptised in everything from a river to a bowl to a bath, in other denominations, in other countries, as babies, children or adults.
It’s a great place to start for us – and it’s a great place to start for Jesus.
And I want you to think about that place where Jesus starts – and that place where we start – wherever that was, near or far, for you.
And I’d like you to tell me what you know about what baptism is for – what is baptism for – what’s it about? Don’t be scared – tell me.
Forgiveness of sins?
Part of God’s family?
Follower of Jesus?
Member of a church?
I think it’s saying – here I am Lord, change me, help me, help me to be all the things you made me to be, whole and full and amazing.
OK – how many of these apply to Jesus? Does he need his sins to be forgiven? Those of different traditions might argue about which amongst the saints are considered without sin – but I think all Christians agree that if anyone way, Jesus was.
Does he need something to make him a follower of Jesus? That doesn’t make any sense does it.
God’s family? Hmmmm maybe – hold that thought and we will come back to it.
A member of a church – Jesus is a good God fearing Jewish boy – and the messiah – he comes not to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfil what they said .
So Jesus isn’t doing this for exactly the same reasons we do it is he. So why is he doing it?
I think for the reason Jesus does most of what he does
Jesus doesn’t just talk the talk – Jesus walks the walk and stands in total solidarity with us in our humanness and his.
There are loads of things that the Son of God didn’t need to do – things that had no practical, logical reason that would make sense to people whose image of the world is shaped only by bitter experience, practical necessity or personal gain – by which of course I mean people like me – and probably you – and probably everyone we’ve ever met ever.
But this is what it means for God to be Emmanuel – with us. Not just a word to use at Christmas – rhymes nicely with Is-ray-el in the carol – but a word and a knowledge for every day of the year. God with us.
Not watching us disapprovingly wondering why we get it wrong.
Not distant from us in any way.
But raw and real, physical, present in flesh and blood. In goose-bumpy flesh coming up out of a river. The Jordan may have been warm when it happened – but in my minds eye there are goosebumps!
God with us. God with God’s sleeves rolled up ready to give absolutely whatever we need. Ready to show us by word and by example how to reach out for what we need in our baptism.
For forgiveness. For a place in God’s family. For a journey together as family, as community, to seek God’s will for ourselves and the world.
I don’t know if I ever would have had the nerve or the imagination to reach out to those waters if the one who didn’t need to – hadn’t loved me enough to show me how.
And then there’s what we said about baptism being about being part of God’s family. And there’s some of that going on here isn’t there?
I don’t believe Jesus goes down into the water because he wants to provoke a reaction from the Father and the Spirit – I don’t think they’re that dysfunctional a family – but I think Jesus needs something here.
As we move through the coming weeks – thinking of the ways in which God is revealed in Jesus – and moving towards Lent and the road to Calvary – the focus is most often on what Jesus is giving – what Jesus is pouring out for us on behalf of the Father and in the power of the Spirit. Always giving.
Jesus wants to be baptised not because he has sinned – but because it’s the right way to start his ministry. And what a ministry he is about to start. The unimaginable pressure and expectation as he moves to this next part of his journey as Messiah – the Messiah everyone needs – but not the Messiah everyone hopes for or expects. All that work to do – and why not mark the beginning of this new life as others marked their new lives of repentance?
And then a wonderful thing happens – we see and hear the family of God – the community which is God – the model God has given us for who we try to be together as human beings – we see and hear that in action.
“you are my child, my beloved, with you I am well pleased”
Now – setting aside it makes God sound very northern.
This is how we see and hear the gift of the Holy Spirit received by Jesus at that moment – and how we see and hear the Father’s love for Jesus made real.
Can you actually imagine being the messiah? Next time I’m tempted to whinge that I’ve got a lot to do I’m going to try and remember this. At least I’m not the messiah.
The pressure, the expectation, the promise, the work.
Surely the thing that Jesus most needs to hear right now – before the pouring out of all he is begins, is that he is loved – not because of what he has achieved, or even because of what he will go on to achieve – but simply because he exists – he is.
It’s what we all need to hear – whatever the challenge we face, whatever mountain we have to climb, whatever life we have to live. We need to hear those words again and again so we can grow in body, mind and spirit. And Jesus needed those words too – just as much as any of us –because he is fully human as well as fully divine.
Jesus like us – God in the midst of us – bringing us to light and life – reaching out in solidarity with us – showing us the nature of God in community – and receiving love and grace unearned – just generously offered.
So I invite you to whisper those words next time we gather here as God’s people to make our promises to those whom God is calling into relationship with us. I invite you to speak them to one another as we travel on this journey of faith together, learning and growing – when you can see your brother or sister in Christ is wrapped up in self-loathing or a messiah complex. Take a deep breath and remind yourself when you feel swamped by the next challenge. Shout it on a mountain top or mumble it into your beer.
“I am a child of God. I am beloved.”
And may I remind you – God is well pleased with you too.