Notes for Steve’s sermon for 12th Jan 2013–The Baptism of Christ

Docetism & Aryanism are two heresies; very much simplified, under the former Jesus is ‘God but only appearing like a human being’; under the latter he is ‘just a man – a very good man but not God’.

As I was reading through the gospel for this week I was thinking about Jesus coming to Baptism as both God and man and I wondered how he saw the idea of baptism, requiring as it does certain prerequisites:

HUMILITY, OBEDIENCE VULNERABILITY

1. Humility. Complying with John’s call to repentance and the token washing away of the old sinful nature. Jesus was without sin, so the bible tells us – since he is God; but he is also human, and as such gave us the pattern the example, to follow. Not going his own individual way; not undermining the work that John was doing, but allowing himself to be baptised and in doing so calling us, as it were, to follow him with the same humility.

2. Obedience.

John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” On a course I was on a while back (it was about leadership) the one and only thing I remember from it is this little saying:

Managers like to do it right; Leaders do the right thing”

Doing things the right way is good and very important in all sorts of areas – medicine, technology, homework, following a recipe…. But the desire to be doing things right can often be the result of external expectations, government targets, company rules, protocols and pathways… things that tend to come from individuals or institutions outside of ourselves.

Obedience to the notion of doing the right thing, however, is something that more often comes from the heart, from within us, and can sometimes even overrule our natural tendencies – even our instinct for personal safety or even our survival:

Jesus, the Eternal Word wasn’t expected to be baptised; John certainly didn’t seem to expect it but Jesus knew it was right (“It is proper for us in this way to fulfil all .”) Of course, it’s not always that simple – there can be misunderstandings, challenges, opposition and even, (John was a wild and charismatic man and Jesus had to persuade him)

Obedience to doing the right thing can get you into trouble as well – ask the Greenpeace activists, the doctors and journalists in the various trouble spots around the world who are being targeted because – because they’re just doing the right thing,

3. Vulnerability. involving risk and demanding trust – faith.

Baptism is partly about being cleansed, washed. It’s definitely not a forced thing; it’s entirely voluntary but it does mean putting yourself in the hands of another; being subjected to another’s authority, power, control; being vulnerable and trusting, along with all the risks that thjose two things involve. Baptism is about a letting go of the things that are against God or that tend to keep us from a right relationship with God: things like pride, individualism, thirst for worldly riches or glory or acknowledgement or power. The things that prevent our maturing in the Christian faith both as individuals and as a community of faith.

Community – we at All Hallows have discussed many times the idea of community and in doing so we have always acknowledged how we operate in all sorts of communities (family, work, neighbourhood, and so on) as well as the church community we belong to.

BUT a community of faith is different, it seems to me because it demands more from us – not only on practical, physical, mental, emotional levels – but on a deep spiritual level as well. A community of faith (to paraphrase the Bishop of Portsmouth) isn’t just:

· a collection of people who share like-minded interests – THAT’S A HOBBY.

· A group of people who meet together where the leaders do it all – THAT’S A CLUB

A community of faith is a living thing – it’s where everyone has unique worth, and respected as such; AND has a unique contribution to make to the whole. A community of faith is where people are falling over themselves to play their part, to shoulder some of the responsibility so that too much doesn’t fall on the shoulders of others. And that could be doing jobs on the rota; visiting people like Mabel or Kay or Phil & Nat; remembering to have a look round when we leave the building so YOU know it’s in a lovely state for the next people who are going to use it, to walk into; it could be deciding to pray daily for an individual or group or issue maybe without anyone else knowing – or maybe you get together regularly with one or two others and pray… a community of faith is about everyone looking out for everyone else, whatever the cost in terms of time and energy and even money… because as a church we’re much more than just a hobby or a club – we’re the body of Christ following in his footsteps in humility, responding to his commands in obedience and stepping up to the plate to serve, with all our vulnerabilities, trusting in Christ for all things.

All of this calls for us to take a new look at how we do relationship –

Relationships in the world around us seem to be spiralling downwards at an alarming rate: the rampant tribalism that raises its ugly head everywhere, whether it’s ethnic, political, racial, economic or whatever, and whether it’s between individuals or companies or nations, is the exact opposite of what the church of God, the community of faith, is all about. That’s because these things are marked by the opposite of humility, obedience, vulnerability and trust – pride, wilfulness, insularity and ultimately hopelessness… There’s a huge need in the world for a different way of doing things and actually the answer is one of the things we aim for and have been discussing again recently at All Hallows. It’s to be a community of Radical Discipleship – and it sounds very exciting and ‘right on’ I suppose but the first thing about radical discipleship is that it all about discipline; humility, obedience, vulnerability and trust in relationship to God and with each other – that’s how we find Christ in one another, by humbly, obediently risking our vulnerable selves in relationship with one another and finding through trusting in this process, new depths in our relationships with one another and with God that then enable and empower us to start transforming the world around us.

In his baptism, demonstrating these things, Jesus is not racing ahead of us, shouting at us, trying to get us to do super-human things to change the world in worldly ways.

His humility sits alongside the humiliated; his subjecting himself to being cleansed finds a kind of solidarity with all those who feel themselves or are judged by others, to be less than clean; his passage through the waters, like the passage through the red sea, speaks of a journey from an old life to a new.

That’s because, despite the Docetists and the Aryans, Jesus is at one and the same time, both Eternal Word and mere human being – the idea being that in his engaging with our humanity, he opens up the way for us to engage with God in new and possibly surprising ways: he became one with us that we might be one with God… 

You have probably seen the publicity on the website and the bulletin about the forthcoming mid-week group aimed both at new Christians and those who have a long experience of faith. It’s going to be using part of a course called ‘Pilgrim’ and one element of the course involves looking at some key elements of the baptism service. One of those is the question, “Do you turn to Christ?” and I want to finish by inviting you, in the silence that we shall shortly be sharing, to meditate on that question and what it means for you. How it affects you, not only in terms of its meaning ‘Are you a believer?’ … Have you put your trust in Christ? … Do you follow him?” … but also,

In all of your relationships, in all your dealings with other people, “Does Jesus Christ get a look in? Do you involve him in your internal thought life? What is your prayer-life like? Have you got one? How do you relate to God? In your work situation or in your daily round at home, doing the shopping, on the phone, when you finally get a moment to yourself, Do you turn to Christ?…

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