Sermon preached by Rob Barber (Reader)
on Sunday 13th January 2019 (The Baptism of Christ)
Isaiah 43.1–7; Psalm 29; Acts 8.14–17; Luke 3.15–17,21–22
So here we are, nearly two weeks into the New Year. How many people here made New Year resolutions? How many have already broken them? (It’s perhaps a good thing I didn’t ask last Sunday!)
This is the time of year when gym membership goes up and when we see adverts on the TV for stop smoking remedies and weight loss products.
The sad thing is, it rarely lasts. People take out an annual membership for the local gym but stop going there after a few weeks. Those nicotine patches work for a while, but after a few weeks, the fags make an appearance. (I know this only too well, having successfully stopped smoking nearly eleven years ago, but remember only too well the many unsuccessful attempts to stop previously). The diet is great, but those cream cakes or those burgers do look very tempting…
That’s a bit of a sad admission to make, as it shows a lack of staying power. But then again, all of us as humans are sinners and prone to falling, but as Christians, we have the opportunity to continually make a new start. At the start of the Mass, we confess our sins and when we come to the communion, we approach the altar with a clean slate.
This morning we celebrate the baptism of Christ, which reminds us of the new start we can all make. In a few minutes, we’ll all face the font to be reminded of our own baptism, how we are all cleansed through water and the Holy Spirit.
Just as our baptism marks a new start, Jesus’ baptism marked the start of his ministry, with the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove, and the voice of God declaring “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
The question that many Christians have asked over the centuries is: why did Jesus go to John to be baptised? After all, John preached a baptism of repentance. That in itself angered the religious leaders, because as far as they were concerned, as the “chosen people” they had no need to repent. Baptism was purely a ritual cleansing for Gentiles who wanted to become Jews, but when John emerged, the people flocked to hear him and consequently, to repent and be baptised. But if Jesus was without sin, why did he need to repent?
Well, through John’s preaching, there had been a noticeable movement towards God and a call to repent. Jesus knew recognised this and knew that his hour had come. It wasn’t so much a case that he was conscious of sin and the need for repentance, but rather that he knew he had to identify himself with this movement towards God.
This is an example of Jesus’ humility. He wasn’t a sinner and had no cause for repentance. He had no reason to undergo the baptism of John, yet he still chose to.
By being baptised, Jesus began his ministry by identifying with us. By becoming “one of us” if you like, by doing the same as we are commanded to do – by taking on himself the sign of repentance that we take on ourselves.
This repentance, of course, is important and goes to the very core of our faith. I’m sure we are all aware that those of us in the church are often under scrutiny. There is a perception from those outside that we as Christiana see ourselves as being somehow better than others and are accused of hypocrisy if we stray slightly from the straight and narrow. Nothing could be further from the truth though. None of us is perfect – I’m certainly not – but when we take up that call to repentance we make a new start, not just at the beginning of a new year, but every week, every day, possibly even every minute.
Just as the baptism of Jesus began his ministry, so our baptism begins our ministry – a ministry into which we are called to do as he did, to identify with those who are lost and looking for wholeness.
We’re two weeks into the New Year. There’s another 50 weeks left which can be full of the power of God, if we believe in and accept Jesus as our Saviour and our brother. And if we hear the cry of those around us, if we sit up and take notice of those signals that God sends us, and learn the lessons that they teach, and walk as Jesus walked – with one another as friends, as helpers, as ones able and willing to share the love of the Lord who is in us.
So let’s not concern ourselves with New Year resolutions. Not even new month, new week or new day resolutions. In the power of Christ, let every waking moment be a new start.