A sermon preached by the Rector Rev Chris Williams on 12 January 2020.

Matthew 3.13–17

Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptised by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?’ 15 But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptised, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’

So. Where to start?

It’s the beginning of a new year and for someone in my position – with the opportunity to talk at you for 10 or 15 minutes – well, one wants to use the moment wisely – preferably inspiring people to live powerful and meaningful Christian lives that will change the world and encourage everyone to follow Jesus!

Well, in some way that’s always my motivation. I’ll let you decide how effective I am!

There was a temptation this morning to choose alternative readings to the lectionary, perhaps our new verse for the year – which, I think, is absolutely loaded with encouragement and challenge, but in the end I have gone with the set readings around the baptism of Jesus – although I want to talk generally about baptism rather than this specific moment in the life of Jesus.

And baptism is a good place to start when we are at the beginning of a new year, because baptism is a fresh start – a time when we say goodbye to the old and hello to the new. Baptism is this wonderful ritual through which God’s grace is imparted to us.

And I don’t think we can underestimate the benefits that become ours through baptism. Let’s remind ourselves of some of them.

  1. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter said ‘repent and be baptised…for the forgiveness of your sins (Acts 2:38) So, we have Forgiveness and cleansing from our sins.
  2. Peter goes on: ‘Repent and be baptised and you will receive the gift of the HS’ connecting water-baptism with Spirit-baptism. So that’s the gift of the Holy Spirit right there – (Acts 2:38, Tit 3:5) And we are told that this gift is a seal, a deposit, a guarantee assuring the inheritance of God’s people right to the end of the journey (2 Cor 1:21f Eph 4:30) This baptism is not just a mark of a present experience but the promise of a  future hope.
  3. Romans tells us that baptism is ‘in the name of Jesus’ (Rom 6:3) So, through baptism we are being identified with Jesus Christ.
  4. Roman and Colossians tell us that in baptism we are united with him in his death and, therefore, united with him in his resurrection’ (Rom 6:3-4; Col 2:12) By sharing in his death, we also share his resurrection life.
  5. Jesus said: ‘Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” “You must be born again” (Jn. 3:5). Being born again is a powerful image. If that’s not a new start I don’t know what is!
  6. And there’s this from Galatians: “You are now children of God because you have put your trust in Christ Jesus. 27 All of you who have been baptised to show you belong to Christ have become like Christ (Gal 3:26ff). 28 God does not see you as a Jew or as a Greek. He does not see you as a servant or as a person free to work. He does not see you as a man or as a woman. You are all one in Christ. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you have become the true children of Abraham. What God promised to him is now yours”.
    There’s a contender for verse for the year right there
  7. And the last one I’ll mention is Paul’s words to the Corinthians: We were all baptised by one Spirit into one body (1 Cor 12:13) What is this body? It’s the body of Christ – the church. And church isn’t a social club to which you go for an hour or two a week – it is nothing less than full engagement with the work of Christ, to whom we have been joined in baptism, alongside those who have also been baptised.

Seriously, who wouldn’t want just one of those benefits – and yet as Christians we receive the whole package. I guess in many ways I could stop there. There are a lifetime of themes to explore there. With benefits like those we have to ask why, as Christians, we don’t experience more of the life and joy and excitement which baptism brings.

Well, that’s another sermon (or 10), but one reason may be that we consider baptism a one-off event. Yes, it is the event at the start of our race, but it is more than a starting gun for the race, it should also the accompanying soundtrack to the rest of our lives – if I can mix my metaphors.

Rev Gordon Khurt, one-time Director of Ministry for the CofE said:

Baptism is a ceremony, but a ceremony that provides a pattern and shape for the whole of the Christian life. It is not so much a single service or event, more a way of life. The truth of baptism as an event will only be understood when the reality of baptism as a way of life is lived and experienced.

Baptism is not a door we walk through and then away from. It’s a door which defines the whole of the rest of our lives as disciples of Jesus. This list I just read should be the air we breathe – the life-blood pumping in our veins – the reality in which we now live: forgiveness, security, belonging, resurrection life, the presence of the Holy Spirit, the knowledge of the love of God as father, the unity with our brothers and sisters and a sense of meaning and purpose in life.

I guess most of us struggle to get our heads around some of the stuff we claim happens to us in baptism and to fully realise this awesome plan of salvation of which we are a part. I suppose, in some ways, the rest of our life after baptism, is just a case of catching up with, and inhabiting, the awesome reality of what has already happened in that amazing event.

So, if baptism is an initiation into the life of Jesus Christ, then the shape of our lives lived beyond baptism should be one lived according to the life and words of Jesus. That much I hope we all are signed up to. After baptism we call someone a disciple. Actually, a couple of years ago we were introduced to the word ‘apprentice’ which may be more helpful for some. In many ways, baptism is the initiation into the role of an apprentice and apprenticeship is on-the-job training. No one starts expected to know or do everything.

Some of us recently visited the Edward Barnsley workshops. These are the people making our new Communion table and lectern. Their work is exquisite, but no one walks in on their first day and produces a perfect and beautiful £20,000 rocking chair! First they are given an overview of the firm and then given manageable jobs to do and the right tools to do it with. In time, with experience and training and engaging with those who have been working there longer, they progress to better jobs and are given more responsibility and better tools.

In a good company, an apprentice will know they belong, they have a measure of security and good long-term prospects. They will have support networks and friendships.

We need to be careful how far we push this image of course, but are you mindful of the fact that, in baptism, you have signed-up to Jesus and Sons – more correctly, Jesus and sons and daughters! To excel in this role is our primary task in life and our aim is so simple – it is to, well, ‘be with Jesus, become like Jesus, do what Jesus did’. If you don’t know, that’s our St Mary’s mission statement. And it’s worth noting that doing what Jesus did includes being baptised.

Any good worker will always know that you never stop learning – there will always be different things to learn, new techniques to master, more creative possibilities available. Is anyone here like Jesus yet?

Some of us are very results oriented: the end is all and, too often, the end justifies the means. Fortunately for us the end is assured – and we can trust God with our destiny. As apprentices of Jesus, its really all about the learning, the growing the becoming. God is far more interested in our character and our relationships than what we have achieved. God’s not particularly concerned about whether we have new lighting or a reordered chancel in the church – he cares about the love and relationships exhibited as we create our new church building: are we kind to each other, have we maintained our relationships through the challenges of meeting in various locations during the reordering, will we work well together when we return to St Mary’s, Will we be generous in sharing our new resource with the community?

Apprentices at Edward Barnsley will produce practical and beautiful objects that can be admired. As apprentices of Jesus, we, ourselves, are the objects being moulded, shaped and fashioned into something beautiful.

I want to end where the gospel passage today ends: God said to Jesus after his baptism: This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. I love the fact that God affirmed Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. Before he had healed a single person, before he had died on the cross, God let Jesus know that he belonged, that he was loved and accepted. At the beginning of this year, I want every one of us to know we are loved, not because we have done anything, but because we are ‘us’ – and, fortunately, being ‘us’, is all it takes for God to love us and welcome us into his family.

Let’s pledge to be people who seek to live out the reality of our baptism every day of our lives, knowing the end is assured and that God has . God has promised to get us to the end

Pray that from the Father’s glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.