Baptism of Christ C                                               St. Ninian’s                                                

Isaiah 43: 1 - 7                    Psalm 29            Acts 8: 14 - 17                 Luke 3: 15 – 17, 21-22


On Tuesday I visited a family to speak about baptising
their newly arrived little girl. In fact, she was the first baby to be born in
Ninewells on New Year’s Day. At the end of the visit I suggested that we pray
and they were delighted as they were so happy for her safe arrival and I saw it
as a blessing of a new life soon to be part of the Body of Christ, the Church
here. Sometimes I think we treat baptism too lightly and view baptism as just
another ceremony, just another ritual that we go through in the life of the
church but I believe baptism matters.

Baptism is important because it says the
person being baptized now belongs to God. We hear people say defiantly, “I’ll
do what I want. It’s my life.” Not so with a person who has been baptized.
Baptism marks a new chapter in our life. You now belong to God. You may not be
everything God wants you to be, but you still belong to Him. Baptism
also matters because Christian baptism is a rite of the church. When
you are baptized, you are baptized into a family, the Christian family. There
are far too many people who are under the delusion that they can live a
Christian life apart from the church. There is a new phenomenon around of
people who identify themselves as having a churchless faith. You can retain
your faith, you can live a moral life, even a constructive and happy life, but
the Christian life can only be properly lived as part of the body of Christ. I
often said to the young folk, “You can be a wonderful footballer but you will
never know how good you are until you play as part of a team.” Occasionally I
wonder if God can be found in church but church is where we should meet God.
Whether a large church or a small one we are baptized into the body of Christ,
and only within the body of Christ will our commitment to Christ be complete.

There is the old joke about the church is only used for
hatches, matches and dispatches meaning the church covers all the important
events of our life but it should always be central to our life. We are not
baptized because we are perfect because none of us is perfect. The use of water
symbolizes that our sins have been washed away and that God’s grace is
available to all.

In the season of Epiphany, we look at those special
events in Jesus' life where his presence was especially manifested with power.
Jesus' baptism is one of those epiphanies found in all four gospels but Luke's
version is a little different from the others.

In each version the Spirit descends "like a
dove."   Luke and the other apostles use the dove as a beautiful
metaphor for the Spirit's coming into our lives. If you watch a dove descend
and land it does so in a graceful, gentle, and quiet way. The point is that the
Holy Spirit will enter into our lives as the Holy Spirit came to Jesus gently,
quietly, and in Luke's version, privately.

The other gospel writers imply that the Spirit descended
upon Jesus at his baptism, apparently when he was still in the water. Religious
art portrays Jesus, standing waist deep in water with John the Baptist standing
next to him, pointing at Jesus, as if to say, "This is the one!" or,
in the words of the Gospel of John, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes
away the sins of the world!" Above Jesus' head in these scenes is the
Spirit, as a dove, descending. But Luke says, "Now when all the people
were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the Holy
Spirit descended upon him." This possibly means that it wasn't a public
event but a personal and private experience. 
More than any other gospel Luke mentions that Jesus went off by himself
to pray. Luke emphasizes this to get our attention that prayer is important and
when Jesus prayed, something happened, especially at those critical points in
his life, when he was facing a crisis, or a decision, or a time of doubt, or
questions. At those points when he prayed, there were epiphanies, special
manifestations of God, just like the one at his baptism. Often God confirmed
his identity "You are my Son," and Jesus regained power and vision
for his life, through the Spirit.

There are three occasions in Luke’s gospel when he
receives such confirmations. One is at the beginning of his ministry, at his
baptism, then at the middle of his ministry, at that event which is called,
"The Transfiguration," he goes off by himself to a mountain. But this
time he takes with him Peter, James, and John. While he is on top of the
mountain praying, a voice again says, "This is my Son. Listen to
him." That confirmation is not only for Jesus, it is also for the
disciples. "Listen to him. This is my Son." At the end of his
ministry, the last night of his life, he went off by himself again in the
Garden of Gethsemane.

When we discussed this at the prayer time on Tuesday
night the question arose why did Jesus have to be baptised? Jesus was baptized
into our humanity, so that we can be baptized into his divinity. Luke is
writing his gospel for Christians, those who have been baptized and he is
telling them, your baptism means the same as Jesus' baptism. You are God's
daughter, or God's son, with you God is well pleased. In your baptism your
relationship to God was affirmed and then sealed. You are a child of God. This
is confirmed by the prophet Isaiah who quoted God’s words “Do not be afraid, I
have called you by your name you are mine.”

That is one of the most radical dimensions of Jesus'
preaching that you and I can have the same personal, intimate relationship with
God that he had as the Son of God. This was the blasphemy for which he was
killed. Only certain people could have that kind of relationship with God. The
Messiah, the Son of God. Kings were anointed, so they must have a special
relationship with God. Prophets were chosen, so maybe they, too, would have
that special relationship with God. But that was it. Not common folk like you
and me. Our relationship with God, they said, is like the accused before a
judge, and God, therefore, is distant, stern, righteous, and unchanging. In
Psalm 29 we meet the voice — the powerful voice, the majestic voice, the voice
that thunders, that breaks the cedars, that flashes forth making oaks to whirl,
stripping the forest bare. This God is not a God to mess with, not a God to
mutter about, not a God to meddle with.

Jesus shocked people by teaching that God was not like
that. Jesus said, when you pray, pray the way I do, say, " Abba, Our
Father." "Abba" is the most personal address for God in Aramaic.
It means, "Daddy." That is the way you would translate it into
English. It is the most personal address. That was Jesus’ first command to the
disciples and the second was "Go into all of the world baptizing everybody
in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." Therefore, when we baptize
people, they should have the experience as Jesus did in knowing that they are
children of God.

Today as we renew our baptism vows let us remember that we
are blessed, that we belong and that we are the beloved of God. A gracious God
who has taken delight and pleasure in who we are and who we are becoming. This
profound gift defines and changes us and is what we have to share with the
world. In our baptism is our command to minister and to be a blessing to others.


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