Category Archives: Baptism

‘I am about to do a new thing’

Reading
Acts 10.44–48 

But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine. 

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.

I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

Isaiah 43.1–2, 19

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Last week, we heard of the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch. We heard that the Spirit of Jesus led Philip to him; we heard that there was no reason for a eunuch not to be baptised. In other words, there was every reason for him to be baptised! 

Today, we have heard the final act of another very important story in the Book of Acts. It’s the climax of the story of the conversion of Cornelius and his household.

The Ethiopian eunuch had an important position in his country, but he was also considered an inferior. Cornelius also had an important position; he was in charge of 100 Roman soldiers. But no one considered Cornelius to be at all inferior, because he was a Roman. 

Luke wrote the Book of Acts with an eye towards Rome, and so he spends a lot more time on Cornelius than he did on the Ethiopian eunuch, whose name we don’t even know. (Have you noticed that?)

Cornelius was a seeker. He was searching for truth, and that search had led him to become a ‘God fearer’. God fearers were Gentiles who found the Jewish belief in one God and the Jewish ethical code to be very attractive, but they did not take the step of actually becoming Jews, with all the demands of the Jewish law that entailed. 

So Acts tells us that Cornelius 

was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God.

It was while he was praying one day that God told him to fetch Peter to his house. Listen to what happened to Peter the very next day: Continue reading

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The Eunuch’s Bath

Reading
Acts 8.26–40 

[E]thnicity, sexuality, ableism, gender, religion, and many other expressions of human difference must be considered in accounts of societal sin. — Janice McRandal, Christian Doctrine and the Grammar of Difference, Fortress, p.84. Kindle Ed’n.

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The Book of Acts is very clear that its story is the beginning of the global spread of the Good News. Jesus tells the disciples:

you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

The Gospel news starts in Jerusalem, then spreads beyond into the surrounding country. From there, it goes all over the world. Even to Australia. 

I came to Australia too. I came as an eleven year old schoolboy, dressed up in my school uniform complete with cap, blazer, and tie. They were my best clothes. You could say that I came to the ends of the earth…

We flew here, and our flight was long. It took about 36 hours from boarding in London to disembarking in Brisbane. We made eight stops along the way, and each step further away from England was a step towards differences that were quite disorienting. In Cairo airport, I went to the loo. There were soldiers with big rapid action machine guns standing around in the loo, talking. It was quite intimidating. And Calcutta was like a furnace (remember I was in a school uniform made for the north of England). There were people in rags looking at us from outside a tall wire fence. And everywhere we went, people looked and spoke differently.

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In the Service of Christ

Reading
Mark 1.29–39

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can. — John Wesley

…to know Christ is to have served the poor, to have felt the indebtedness of the very gift of life that animates such service, yet also to have received the identity of Jesus back afresh in the process. — Sarah Coakley, ‘The Identity of the Risen Jesus: Finding Jesus Christ in the Poor’ (in Gaventa and Hays, Seeking the Identity of Jesus: A Pilgrimage (Kindle Location 3576). Kindle Edition.

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Simon’s mother-in-law was sick in bed with a fever, and as soon as Jesus arrived, he was told about her. He went to her, took her by the hand, and helped her up. The fever left her, and she began to wait on them.

There’s something tricky about this, something just a little awkward for our contemporary sensibilities. Jesus heals Simon Peter’s mother-in-law—no,  healing a mother in law is not the problem—and straightaway she starts to wait on them. She immediately busies herself getting food onto the table.

And she has just been sick with a fever! Why doesn’t she take it easy, and convalesce? Now that’s a very good question!

Peter’s mother in law didn’t need to take it easy; she was instantly healed by Jesus. Made fully better. Maybe she felt better than she ever had before. No convalescence was needed at all.

But why did she serve them?

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Is baptism important? (The Baptism of Jesus, Year A 8 January 2017)

Readings
Acts 10.34–43
Matthew 3.13–17 

…because of their baptism, they are bound to the patient, long-term discovery of what grace will do with them. (Rowan Williams, Silence and Honey Cakes)

How important is baptism?

It seems to have been important to Jesus.

In Matthew’s version of the baptism of Jesus, John the Baptist tries to put him off:

John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?’

But Jesus insists. This is the way forward.

John’s baptism was a sign of repentance; that’s why John didn’t want to baptise Jesus. He knew Jesus didn’t need to repent.

But Jesus was identifying himself with sinners. All of them, from the unclean and those outside the law to religious hypocrites who thought they were fine as they were. He was identifying himself with the whole of Israel. Eventually it would be clear that he was identifying himself with the whole world. He was the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

Christian baptism—our kind—is a little different. In his baptism, Christ identified with sinners; in our baptism, we are identified with Christ.

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Transfiguration happens all the time (Year B, 15 February, 2015)

Readings
2 Corinthians 4.3–6
Mark 9.2–9

Today, we heard that odd story we call The Transfiguration.

Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them…

It may appear to be a strange story, but you know little transfigurations, ‘mini transfigurations’, happen all the time.

By that, I mean that something quite ordinary can easily become truly significant to us in a life-changing way. It becomes a moment of transfiguration for us. We don’t control it, it just seems to happen, but we know that it is so. We may know it at the time, or we may realise it later as we reflect back on what has happened. But there it is—a moment of transfiguration.

We often associate these mini moments of transfiguration with love.

I remember first seeing Karen. At the time, I was just looking at a pretty girl. (I doubt she remembers the occasion at all.) In retrospect, as I look back, that moment has been transfigured for me into something full of meaning.

Two other people may lock eyes across a crowded room, and they just know there and then. This is the one. Their hearts skip several beats, and the moment transfigures their lives. They know it straight away.

A mother or father holds their child for the first time. Their heart melts with love, and the meaning of this event is one that changes their lives forever.

It’s a little moment of transfiguration. The new mum and dad see more truly what their lives truly mean.

A young person finally realises that they have vocation in life, which may be to teach, to nurse, to be a gardener. They feel elated. They want to share it with others. That’s a moment of personal transfiguration too.

These little, personal moments of transfiguration happen when something ordinary reveals itself as something meaningful.

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The heavens torn apart (The Baptism of the Lord, 11 January 2015)

Readings
Genesis 1.1–5
Mark 1.4–11

Mark tells the story of John baptising Jesus in very few words. Let’s hear it again:

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

That’s it. Mark tells the story of John baptising Jesus in very few words; and he tells it from Jesus’ point of view. The heavenly voice speaks to him: ‘You are my Son…’ Jesus sees the Spirit descending like a dove, and Jesus sees the heavens ‘torn apart’.

Did anyone else see or hear anything as far as Mark was concerned? We just don’t know. Mark seems to be presenting it as a purely personal experience of Jesus.

I’m really intrigued about one thing. The first thing Jesus saw was ‘the heavens torn apart’. That’s a pretty violent image, don’t you think? Perhaps it’s no surprise then that Matthew and Luke tone it down in their stories of Jesus’ baptism. You need to be aware that Matthew and Luke both used Mark as one of the sources for their own work, and they moderated Mark’s language at a few points. This is one of those points.

Matthew says,

…suddenly the heavens were opened to him…

And in Luke we read,

…the heaven was opened…

We may prefer Matthew and Luke over Mark. Their accounts are calmer. ‘Opening’ is quieter than tearing apart. It’s more serene, more in keeping with the tranquility suitable to proper religious occasions.

Yet I can’t help thinking that Mark’s version would please the prophet Isaiah more. Isaiah’s heart yearned and burned for God to come down. He once wrote (64.1),

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down…

Well Isaiah, it’s happened at last: the heavens are torn apart.

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“The Rock from which you were hewn” (24 August 2014, Year A)

Readings
Isaiah 51.1–6
Matthew 16.13–20

 

There are a lot of references to rocks in the Bible.

Deuteronomy 32 calls God ‘the Rock that bore you’. And in 2 Samuel 22:

The Lord lives! Blessed be my rock,
and exalted be my God, the rock of my salvation.

And Psalm 18,

For who is God except the Lord?
And who is a rock besides our God?

Not to mention Jesus:

The stone that the builders rejected 
has become the cornerstone…

It’s a rocky road we’re taking today, as two of our readings speak of rocks: firstly, in Isaiah we are encouraged to 

Look to the rock from which you were hewn.

Let’s ‘look to the rock from which we were hewn’. Sometimes when I’ve holidayed back in England, I’ve visited the church in which I was baptised, Christ Church Harrogate. And I’ve stopped by the font in which I was baptised, and offered a prayer of thanks. Here it is:

Font 

 

You can see that it’s made of stone; I remember the first time I went back, it was this verse that popped into my head:

Look to the rock from which you were hewn.

And why not? Whatever is happening in life, a rock gives you a solid place to stand, a firm place to be. And we need a place to stand.

For me, baptism is one such place. I suppose that’s why that verse came to my mind that day. Baptism gives us a new identity, a firm identity as daughters and sons of the God who came for us in Jesus Christ, and who sent the Spirit among us to bring us new life.

It is easy to feel lost today. Things are changing more rapidly than ever before. So much seems out of control. There are things that we can hold on to: family, friends, home. But so much is out of our hands.

We hear about

  • the way that the forces of ISIS are committing atrocities and terrorising anyone in northern Iraq who doesn’t support their particular kind of religious and political extremism; 
  • the horrors of the never-ending conflict between Israel and Gaza;
  • the way children in detention centres set up by Australia — by us! — are suffering chronic psychological trauma and even harming themselves.

How do we find a place to stand? Continue reading

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