Year C, BAPTISM OF JESUS

(Sunday 1,  Between January 7-13)

 

Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22.              (Sermon 1: “Jesus Had  Himself Done”)

                                                                                    (Sermon 2: “Baptism Today”)

Acts 4: 14-17.

Isaiah 43: 1-17.

Psalm 29

 

OUR FOCUS

 

Today millions of Christians around the world  choose to celebrate the baptism of Jesus. We have gathered here today in his name praying that we who have been baptised with water may daily be baptised with his Spirit..

Amen!

 

Give God the glory, all you children of light,

Give God the glory for such radiant strength.

 

Give all the glory God’s name deserves.

Worship God in the courts of holiness

 

OR—

 

When Jesus had been baptised and was praying, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit alighted on him like a dove, and a voice came from heaven:

 

 “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

 

Now says the living God, the Creator:

Fear not, for I have redeemed you,

I have called you by name, and you are mine.

 

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you,

and through the rivers, for they shall not drown you.

 

Offer to the Lord, O children of God,

offer to the Lord all glory and power.

 

Offer to the Lord the glory of his name,

worship the Lord who is arrayed in holiness.

 

PRAYER OF APPROACH

 

Most wonderful God, we have come from many separate directions to gather here as one community of faith. Please assist us to be one in peace and joy, that we may praise you with one voice and adore you with as with one heart, and be equipped to serve you in the world as the one compassionate body of Christ. For your name’s sake.

Amen!

 

WE CONFRONT OUR SIN AND TRUST GOD’S GRACE

 

            For 2 voices

 

Let us, as the baptised community of Christ, confess to God our sin. Let us pray.

 

God most holy, God most discerning, God most merciful, you know the complete, uncensored story of this church and each of these people.

 

You know our tangled motives and our times of open disobedience.

You understand our weaknesses and our strengths much better than we do.

 

Please open our eyes to the truth, no matter how unpalatable it may seem to us.

Give us a moment of spiritual clarity and honestly.

Forgive us for all our failings as a church community, and for all our private sins of commission and omission; bless us with your freeing, healing grace.

 

Revive our stodgy spirits and bring under control our unruly wants and anxieties.

Let us make a new beginning, rid of the sludge of guilt and self-pitying regret.

In the name of Christ our Redeemer.

Amen!

 

ASSURANCE

 

Now the One who created you, the God who shaped your life, says this:

            “Fear not, for I have redeemed you;

             I have called you by name, you are mine.”

 

People of God, trust the plentiful love of this Saviour, and know for sure that you are forgiven and restored.

Thanks be to God!

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

            God Loves Us First

 

Thank you, kind God,

for loving us long before

            we knew anything about you,

            and before we started loving you.

 

Thank you for our baptism which gave us a place

            in your big church family

            with their smiling faces and kind hands.

 

Please bless us and every person

            who is baptised into your church

            and keep Jesus’ Spirit in our hearts.

Amen!

 

PSALM 29

 

Give yourselves to Christ Jesus, children of God!

            Give to Christ all honour and glory!

Offer him the praise his name deserves!

            Worship him with wholeness of life!

 

The voice of Christ is stronger than rushing streams;

            above the thundering surf of the oceans he speaks.

Listen to the mighty word of the Lord;

            filled with majesty is his message.

 

His voice could splinter Tasmanian blue gums;

            the cedars of New England would shatter into pieces.

At his word mountains would leap like the wallaby;

            Kosciusko and the Cradle like the red kangaroo.

If the Lord commanded it, Uluru would split;

            torn asunder as from volcanic fire.

The voice of the Lord whips up the Gibson desert;

            he whirls the Simpson in red dust storms.

When he speaks, forest giants are uprooted,

            and the mulga scrub is stripped bare.

Those who live close to him are in awe,

            while everything shouts “Glory!”

 

From the very beginning, Christ alone is King;

            his government is established forever.

Lovingly he gives strength to his people;

            in his blessings is our joy and peace.

                                     © B D Prewer & Open Book Publishers.

 

AT THE JORDAN

 

Out of the crowd

            the young man came

filled with love,

            bearing no shame.

 

Into the water

            the young man went,

numbered with sinners

            he was content.

 

Out of the water

            the young man rose,

ready to go

            where Wild Wind blows.

                        * From  “Beyond Words” Ó B D Prewer & Uniting Education

 

COLLECT

 

Most wonderful God, friend of the foolish and the fallen, in your generosity you sent your Holy Child, Jesus, to stand with sinners in the baptismal waters of the river Jordan. With your continuing generosity you place him in our midst.

Encourage us to delight in his presence, to adore his glory, and to receive his grace which washes away our sins and draws us together as one body. For your name’s sake.

Amen!

 

SERMON 1: JESUS HAD HIMSELF “DONE”

 

Luke 3: 21-22  When all the people had been baptised, and Jesus followed, the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove. A voice came from heaven “You are my much loved son, I am most pleased with you.

 

Galatians 3: 26-27  Through faith, in Christ Jesus you are all children of God. For as many of you who were baptised into Christ have, like a garment, put on Christ.

 

My theme today will be baptism; baptism and the church.

 

Over the years there have been many parents who have approached me saying they wanted their baby “done.” Well, borrowing their terminology, we celebrate today that Jesus had himself “done” by John the Baptist in the waters of the Jordan river.

 

But first I want to start with one person’s definition  (maybe tongue in the cheek) of purgatory. I no longer recall where I heard it, but here it is.

 

Purgatory for me would to be one of twelve human clones sitting round a table and sharing the bread and the wine.

 

A horrible thought, isn’t it? Twelve copies. No diversity.

 

THE MIRACLE OF COMMUNITY

 

My friends, I reckon there is no fear of that kind of purgatory for the people of this church, eh?  We are certainly not a saccharine fellowship of clones. We are not look alikes, think alikes, worship alikes, pray alikes, serve alikes.

 

Which means, that being members of the church runs contrary to our natural inclinations. It is some sort of miracle that we are together.

 

The church does not select members like Rotary, Lions, or the Melbourne Club. We do not select members because they fit in well together, or because we think they have something to offer us. We are not people of like worldly status, interests, priorities or financial clout..

 

Think how much easier it would be to accept and work with, fellowship with, and worship with people of like mind. It would take little effort, leave feathers unruffled, make for short committee meetings (wow! for a moment I am tempted!)

 

How much harder it is, and at times it feels almost impossible, to accept, worship and work with a hotch-potch of divergent personalities and convictions.

 

Have you noticed how we tend to respond to the image of ourselves in others; a bit like seeing our own reflection in another’s eyes and saying: Yes!  The people we readily like to have around are quite literally our kind of people. It would like having sweet communion with...... ourselves? Yuk!

 

Sadly, there are some people who split off from the church because they cannot find this likeness in other church members  They hive off and try to form a fellowship of pseudo clones. A sweet communion of people with similar convictions and prejudices.

 

That it not what God in Christ Jesus asks of us. It is not how the church is formed. God in Christ asks us to seek and accept the differences, to embrace the otherness of others--- especially the bits that prickle, bruise or frighten us. God chooses us, we do not choose God. In Christ we are called from separateness and cosy relationships into sweet-sour communion. The one thing that links us together is Christ.

 

CHRIST’S BAPTISM AND OURS

 

Which brings me back to baptism.

 

I’m not concerned with the outward signs, like how much water, dipping or pouring, child or adult. I want rather to look at some questions surrounding Messiah’s baptism and ours.

 

Why did he do it?

 

Why did Jesus have himself “done?”  Whatever possible repentance did this unique Child of God need to make? None, presumably.

 

Why then? Because God was calling him to identify with others; to stand with them; to be numbered with taxgatherers and sinners. Jesus was called to throw in his lot with those who shared his human nature, yet in the ways of sin were so unlike him. It was an act of sweet-sour communion

 

When St Paul talks about baptism, he says that it is an incorporation into the body of Christ.  Galatians 3: 26-27:  Through faith, in Christ Jesus you are all children of God. For as many of you who were baptised into Christ have put on Christ like a garment.

 

In our baptism, we who are unworthy of God, are placed in the new community of Christ Jesus which is counted as worthy (holy) because of his holy Presence. All distinctions are annulled. So Paul excitedly tells us that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free person, male or female.

 

Race, gender and class, are dismantled by God, declared illegitimate by Christ’s baptism and ours. We are placed together in the one body in spite of our perceived differences. A part of the meaning of baptism is that in Christ we seek the “other”, care for the “other”, respect the “other”, serve the “other,” even though we may strongly disagree on creation issues or find the other person not to our natural liking.

 

by this world’s reckoning. It is a supra-natural fellowship.  No wonder the early Christians were sometimes called a “second race” or a “ new tribe. We could rightly add to Paul’s words by saying that when we are baptised in Christ, there is no longer---

married or single,     Australian or Asian,     clergy or laity,     evangelical or high church,     Liberal or Labour,     theological conservative or theological radical,     young people or the elderly,     the clever or the ignorant,     doctor or labourer,     the clean or the unclean,     social justice people or spiritual retreat people,     life-long Christians or new converts,     straight or gay people,     orthodox or heretical,     millionaire or pensioner,     Pope or choir boy.

 

DIFFERENCES

 

That is not to say that we all must become alike, or sweetly agree on every topic.. God forbid! 

 

We retain many of our differences.  And these differences can of course lead us into stringent debate on awkward issues, and may cause considerable stress and pain.  Witness the travail presently endured in the church over the issue of homosexuality. At times we might feel confused and threatened by our differences. But these differences are all subservient to the Spirit of Christ.

 

The baptismal community of Messiah Jesus is not to allow the world’s fears and prejudice (and its penchant for ostracising discomforting minorities) to shape us. The secular society does not dictate how we value certain types and groups of people.. In Christ the noisy infant is as valuable as a bishop, and a prostitute as precious as a Sunday School Teacher.

 

For this reason I prefer Christian names to be used in the informal life of the church. This is not because we should all gush around, pretending to be good mates in a religious club, but because our baptismal names signify the only essential status we have in the community of Christ.  I rejoice when 4 year old Thomas calls me Bruce, and I hope 95 year old Daphne rejoices when I use the precious name she was given at her baptism.

 

IN SUMMARY

 

Today then, we remember a young man from Nazareth, having himself “done” in the Jordan River. We treasure his readiness to be numbered with us. We rejoice that the Spirit alighted on him like a dove, affirming the decision of the beloved Son of God to stand among taxgatherers and sinners in those baptismal waters.

 

We rejoice also that we here are indeed a baptised people; Not clones, but a diverse motley mob who are (unnaturally) one in Christ Jesus; An odd people, rejecting the world’s classism, racism, sexism, elitism; and sectarianism; An uncomfortable people, faithfully wrestling with issues we would have much preferred to avoid. A new race, drawn from the highways and byways of life to find ourselves face to face. A surprising community, treasuring one another in a fellowship that no social engineer could ever devise.

 

Right?

            For as many of you who were baptised into Christ have put on Christ like a garment.

 

 

SERMON 2: BAPTISM TODAY

 

Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22

 

Not a text but an event. Jesus was baptised. Not much doubt about that.

 

What is more, he was baptised by dipping in the Jordan River by the prophet we know as John the Baptist. Not much doubt about that, either.

 

 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove, and a voice came from heaven: “You are my beloved Son, with you I am very pleased.”

 

It is a shame (no, more like a disgrace!) that the sacrament Of baptism, like that of Holy Communion, has over the centuries become a contest between sparing opinions and interpretations among the separated denominations of the church of Jesus Christ on earth.

 

The sharpest points of difference have hinged on whether adult baptism or infant baptism is the valid practice, and whether sprinkling or immersion is the valid way to enact the sacrament. In this context words like “valid” disturb me. When some believers claim to hold the only “valid” doctrine and practice, it nearly always leads to a demotion of love from its position as the greatest gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

DESCENT INTO SILLINESS

 

When Christians start arguing with each other (not open discussion but verbal violence where one wants to bully the other in to submission!) about what is the true practice of baptism, matters often descend into silliness.

 

Take two examples of such silliness;

 

1/  Argument from silence.

 

Proponents of adult baptism say: “Show us some incontrovertible evidence in the New Testament that they practised infant baptism. When it is written that whole households were baptised there is no mention that any of them were children.”

 

Proponents of infant baptism say: “Show us any incontrovertible evidence that the people of the New Testament did not practice infant baptism. Is there any situation where new adult converts were told: “You can be baptised but your children will have to wait until they are of age.”

 

As I see it, with both of these arguments base don silence, we are not taken us any closer to understanding.

 

2/ Arguments over the meaning of the Greek word for baptism. What does the Greek word baptise mean? 

 

Proponents of adult baptism by total immersion assert that the word baptizoI meant to immerse under the water. That  does indeed appear to be a primary meaning of that word.

 

But the proponents of infant baptism argue that there are many references in Greek literature where baptizo is used for washing dishes, bathing, the washing of a baby, and the ritual washing of hands before performing sacred rites. Others point ou that those pre-Christian desret monks that practised many baptisms (like the people of the Dead Sea Scrolls) used only a small amounts of water for their ritual ablutions.

 

What do I think? I doubt whether such a harrying of semantics will not take us any closer to understanding, but it will indeed take us further away from communion together.

 

SUPPORT FOR BOTH VIEWS

 

One can conscientiously argue either way.

 

As I see it, both those who support adult baptism by immersion, and those who practice baptism of infants by pouring water over the head, have some sound grounds to support their position. Neither camp can be written off or be patronised as unreasonable.

 

Total immersion?

From my perspective,  when baptism by total immersion is practised it can be a dramatic “outward and visible sign” of that saving grace by which one dies with Christ and rises into the new creation. I find many young people are drawn to this symbolism. It is the kind of holy drama which still speaks powerfully to them in this twenty first century.

 

By pouring?

Also, from my perspective, when baptism of an infant by pouring water is practised, it can be the most wonderful “outward and visible sign” of that saving grace which precedes all our vows or righteous deeds. The infant has nothing to offer God except its vulnerability. God is there for her/him before the child can know it or respond to it. Grace is proclaimed in all its glory in Infant Baptism..

 

SOME RESERVATIONS

 

Yet  there are perceived difficulties with both forms of baptism.

 

It must be said that many Christians have some reservations about customs that may at times taint the practice of both forms of baptism. As follows:

 

In the case of adult baptism I become wary when the key emphasis is placed on human repentance and vows. The grace of Christ which seeks us, calls us, heals us, should always be the primary focus. Sacraments celebrate God’s free, generous grace, not “correct” human doctrine or even a “worthy” repentance. By grace you are saved, through faith. It is not your doing but the gift of God.

 

In the case of infant baptism, I become wary when the key emphasis is placed on the vows of parents and/or godparents. It is the prior saving grace of Christ at work for this child which should be the primary focus.

 

Little child, for you Jesus Christ has come, has lived and has suffered; for you he endured the agony of Gethsemene and the darkness of Calvary. For you he has triumphed over death; for you he prays at God’s right hand All for you, little child, even though you do not know it.”  Says my denomination when baptisms infants.

 

As long as the sacrament is a celebration of the grace of God in Christ Jesus our Saviour, I for one will be delighted.

 

SOME DISCOMFORT RE INFANT BAPTISM?

 

 However, there are other reservations.

 

Like many ministers in my denomination, and in others where infant baptism is practised, I at times experience discomfort when (from my limited observations) the parents appear to be perfunctorily meeting a social expectation to “have the child done” rather than displaying any spiritual discernment on the matter. I may sometimes wince when they make vows about the upbringing of their children, or when certain godparents or sponsors make vows.

 

Listening to other members of congregations, I also hear some of them expressing unease about what appears to them to be the degrading of the sacrament by some parents who seem to display no intention of being active members of the church. such unease has led some wonderful church members to dedicate their children instead of having them baptised, delaying the sacrament until the child has reached the age of discernment.

 

How can we deal with this unease?

 

In earlier years I was briefly attracted to a proposal that, in this post-Christendom society, it might be a good thing to place a moratorium on infant baptism for a generation, in order to be liberated from the element of social expectation. I thought I could go down that path, if it gave an opportunity for the sacrament to be rescued from apparent misuse.

 

However,  I turned away from that proposal because it seemed to fall (once again!) into the trap of self righteousness. It places too much emphasis on the human imperfections of parents rather on the glorious adequacy of Christ’s grace celebrated in the sacrament.  I came to terms which the flawed human performance surrounding the practice of infant baptism, and decided I could live with parental shortcomings (just as my congregations had to live with mine!) just as long as in each baptism the initiative of God’s redeeming grace of God in Jesus is the primary emphasis.

 

SUMMARY

 

Theme: Jesus was certainly baptised.

 

Following in his footsteps, we are baptised.

 

It is a sad thing when the way baptism is practised becomes a source of contention between Christian denominations.

 

There are reasonable arguments derived from Scripture, and from early Church practice, to support either immersion or pouring, child or adult baptism.

 

We move into dangerous territory when any doctrine or practice re the sacraments takes precedence over the dramatic setting-forth of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Grace is the key: God’s unearned and unearnable, generous and regenerating, love for sinners!

 

As today we remember Christ’s baptism, I call on you to think about your own,

and give thanks for the amazing grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,

the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

 

A CREED

 

I believe in the God of Jesus of Nazareth, who blesses the meek, the poor and the persecuted, exalts the least and saves the lost..

I believe in the Holy One whose dearest Child, Jesus the Christ, pleased God far more than tongue or pen can ever tell.

I believe in the baptised Christ, and the community of love and hope which grew around his word and witness.

I believe that he is the first citizen of a new race, where the entry fee is Divine grace, and the ground rules are shaped by love.

I believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit, by whom old things find new birth, and new things grow on to maturity, and the dead receive regeneration.

I believe in one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and in the limitless life which flows for the healing of the nations.

Amen!

 

THANKSGIVING

 

Receive thanks, lovely Lord,

     for all who ask, seek,

     knock, find and enter

     into your new world.

 

Receive thanks, lovely Lord,

     wherever two or three

     are gathered together

     in your name.

 

Receive thanks, lovely Lord,

     when your followers

     seek not to be served

     but to serve.

 

Receive thanks, lovely Lord,

     when enemies are loved,

t    the persecuted prayed for

     and wrongs are forgiven.

 

Receive thanks, lovely Lord,

     wherever great love

     proves that many sins

     are indeed forgiven.

 

Receive thanks, lovely Lord,

     from those who are taught

     by the free birds of the air

     and flowers in the wild.

 

Receive thanks, lovely Lord,

     for the unpretentious folk

     who give parties for the poor,

     crippled, lame and blind.

 

Receive thanks, lovely Lord,

     from those who find joy

     in one lost sinner

     who turns to God.

 

Receive thanks, lovely Lord,

     wherever eyes are opened

     in the breaking of bread

     with a pilgrim Stranger.

 

Receive thanks, lovely Lord,

     from all who are immersed

     in your remarkable news

     and soaked in your love.

 

INTERCESSIONS

 

First of all, let us pray for the world-wide church: By the inflowing of the Holy Spirit may we become in practice more truly what we already are in faith and hope: the body of Christ and new family God.

Let there be truth, healing, compassion and joy, God of our salvation.

 

Now let us pray for our country; that the values of the kingdom of God may become less unusual in the way we care for the weak and the neglected, the foolish and the disgraced.

Let there be truth, healing, compassion and joy, God of our salvation.

 

Let us pray for the strong and the wealthy, the powerful and the ruthless; the famous and the idolised; that they may realise how easy it is to gain the whole world yet lose the soul.

Let there be truth, healing, compassion and joy, God of our salvation.

 

And let us pray for all suffering, broken, and forlorn people around us in church and community; that the healing of Christ may reach into the soul’s depths where no human hand can touch or human word console.

Let there be truth, healing, compassion and joy, God of our salvation.

 

And now unto the loving God who is always doing far better than we can think or pray or do,

be glory in the church through Christ Jesus, now and beyond the end of time. Amen!

 

 

SENDING OUT

 

You are a baptised people, a community of hope, the new race dedicated to doing the unlikely deeds of grace, and sometimes even taking on the impossible.

 

Thanks be to Christ, whose power is made perfect in human weakness.

 

The blessing of the Creator, Redeemer and Inspirer will always be with you.

Amen!