Tag Archives: baptism

Living in Covenant (Lent 2B, 1 March 2015)

Readings
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Romans 4.13–25
Mark 8.31–38

 

There is something very precious that our western, neoliberal society is in danger of losing. I am speaking of the need human beings have to live together in covenantal ways. We have a need to make covenants with one another.

I have a bible dictionary that defines ‘covenant’ as

a formal agreement or treaty between two parties in which each assumes some obligation.

When someone says ‘covenant’, many people think first of the covenant of marriage. You know,

Mary, will you give yourself to Fred,
to live together in the covenant of marriage?
Will you love him, comfort him,
honour and protect him,
and, forsaking all others, be faithful to him,
as long as you both shall live?

Marriage fits the bill. It is certainly ‘a formal agreement […] between two parties in which each assumes some obligation’. (And there really are times when marriage may seem to be more like a treaty…)

Marriage isn’t the only relationship I would describe as a covenant. Let me name friendship as an informal kind of covenant. True friendship can join people together in ways which involve a mutual obligation on both parties through time, perhaps through a whole lifetime. In covenantal ways. The companionship of friends in good times, and the support good friends offer in hard times therefore has a ‘covenant’ aspect.

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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.

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Grace, Love, Communion … (Trinity Sunday, Year A, 15 June 2014)

Readings
2 Corinthians 13.11–13
Matthew 28.16–20

 

Last week, I said that while preachers often feel the Trinity Sunday is a hard gig, I really feel that Pentecost is the hardest day to preach and to do justice to the message.

Today, I’m not so sure. Trinity may be the hardest day to preach after all. But here goes!

‘Trinity’ is the best way we have to speak of the unutterably great, incomprehensible God who came to earth in Jesus Christ and who comes to earth today as Holy Spirit.

God is unutterably great; God is beyond the understanding of our best minds. God has come to us as a human being, Jesus of Nazareth, exactly as we are yet without sin. God is poured out upon us as the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of God.

When the New Testament speaks of God, it often links God our Father with Jesus the Son.

For example, Paul begins 2 Corinthians like this:

Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is clear from the New Testament that we can’t think of God, we can’t talk about God, we can’t know God without Jesus the Son.

And then the New Testament also speaks of God in a threefold way, so Paul ends 2 Corinthians with these very familiar words:

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

And there are other places too. For example Galatians 4:

God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’

Or Ephesians 4:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

There are other examples, but let’s look at the closing verses of Matthew’s Gospel. Here, the (singular!) name of God is given as Father, Son and Holy Spirit:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.

And that’s the Name we use of course, whenever we baptise anyone. The name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

I wonder what would happen if we only baptised people in the name of the Father? Or just the Son? Or just the Holy Spirit?

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Baptised as God’s beloved children (The Baptism of Christ, Year A, 12 January 2014)

Readings
Isaiah 42.1–7
Acts 10.34–43
Matthew 3.13–17

 

When we baptised H last week, we made a brief statement about what baptism ‘is’. It started like this:

Baptism is Christ’s gift.
It is the sign by which the Spirit of God
joins people to Jesus Christ
and incorporates them into his body, the Church.

Baptism is a gift. It’s not just being ‘done’, just going through the motions. And it’s not a useless gift either; baptism does something. Through the sign of baptism God’s Spirit joins us to Christ and makes us part of his Body, which is the Church.

The statement continues:

In his own baptism in the Jordan by John,
Jesus identified himself with humanity
in its brokenness and sin;
that baptism was completed
in his death and resurrection.

The best gifts are those that the giver values very much. Jesus valued baptism enough to go through it himself. He didn’t have to do it; John’s baptism was a sign of repentance. Jesus didn’t need to change his ways, but he identified with us in our “brokenness and sin”.

And baptism didn’t stop there for Jesus! Jesus identified with sinful humanity so fully that he died on the cross of Calvary. There—in death—his identification with us was absolutely complete. And in his resurrection from death, Jesus promises that we will share in his eternal life. Our baptism also is completed in our death and risen life with the Lord.

And then the statement says:

By God’s grace,
baptism plunges us into the faith of Jesus Christ,
so that whatever is his may be called ours.
By water and the Spirit we are claimed
as God’s own
and set free from the power of sin and death.

“Baptism plunges us into the faith of Jesus Christ.” What is “the faith of Jesus Christ”? It is more than believing in Jesus. The faith ‘of’ Christ is his commitment to the kingdom of God, to God’s will being “done on earth as in heaven”. The faith ‘of’ Christ is also his faithfulness to his mission. Faith in God and obedience to God go together. As baptised people, we are called to be faithfully committed to God and God’s ways. It doesn’t matter if, like me, you were a baby when you were baptised. Baptism brings to us the promises of God and calls us to seek the kingdom of God.

“Baptism plunges us into the faith of Jesus Christ, so that whatever is his may be called ours.” Here’s a great promise: “Whatever is his may be called ours”. We can see what is Christ’s as we look at his baptism by John. Firstly, he is God’s beloved Son; in and through him, we are adopted as God’s beloved daughters and sons. In and through him, we are part of the family of God.

Secondly, the Spirit comes upon Jesus; we also share in God’s Spirit in and through Jesus. The Spirit opens our spirits to the life of God, enlightening our minds, converting our hearts and gifting us for the sake of God’s kingdom.

The Spirit applies to us the salvation Jesus won. Dying, he defeated death and rose again in new, eternal, life. Sharing in baptism assures us that we share in his risen life here and now, that we are “set free from the power of sin and death”—even in times of doubt or spiritual dryness.

The statement concludes like this:

Thus, claimed by God
we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit
that we may live as witnesses to Jesus Christ,
share his ministry in the world
and grow to maturity,
awaiting with hope the day of our Lord Jesus.

Baptism gives us a purpose and a share in God’s coming kingdom as Spirit-anointed witnesses and sharers in Christ’s ministry and mission in the world.

Baptism isn’t something that happens once, which we then leave behind. Baptism marks our whole life. The sign of the cross is never erased from us, it doesn’t wear off. Today, we shall reaffirm our baptism as people who are on the Way with Jesus, the strange way to life he has pioneered. We are people made alive with him, people sharing in his Spirit. We shall commit ourselves for a new year; we shall set our course for 2014.

We are forgiven.
We are God’s children.
The Spirit of Jesus is with us. Amen.

 

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Lend a hand—as baptised people (29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C)

Reading

Jeremiah 31.27–34

 

Last week, we were reminded that Jerusalem was destroyed for the first time in 597 BC. That’s 2600 years ago. The city was demolished by the Babylonians, who were the superpower of the time. The Temple, God’s house, was torn down. And Jerusalem’s best and brightest were carried away into exile in Babylon, in the place we now call Iraq.

When the Jewish people were carried away, they felt they could no longer worship God. The Temple was gone. That was their only place of worship. So in Psalm 137 they sang,

By the rivers of Babylon
we sat down and wept
as we remembered Zion.
On the willow trees there
we hung up our lyres,
for there those who had carried us captive
asked us to sing them a song,
our captors called on us to be joyful:
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’
How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?

How indeed? As if broken hearts and broken spirits were not enough, how could they sing God’s songs with no temple?

The Book of Jeremiah countered this by telling them to put down roots, to grow food and have children, to pray for the welfare of the city of their enemies.

And when the time came that they could go back to their ancestral home, the Book of Jeremiah has startling news for the returning exiles. God says:

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel…says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

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