Tag Archives: John the Baptist

Spirit-wind, Spirit-fire

Readings
Acts 8.14–17
Luke 3.15–17, 21–22

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.

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.
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.

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. — from Uniting in Worship 2

______________________

Some of you know that I used to be part of an Open Brethren congregation as a young man. When the Brethren talk about baptism, they seem to be describing quite a different thing to baptism in churches like the Uniting Church. 

Briefly, the Brethren only baptise adults. And they say that a person should only be baptised once they have been converted, once they are someone who ‘has’ the Holy Spirit inside them. 

We baptise people of any age. I’ve baptised old people, children, babies—including babies that were about to die. 

What can a baby who is about to die bring to the life of the church? We don’t baptise people for what they can bring to us, although a dying baby brings so very much. We baptise people to declare and demonstrate the infinite grace of the triune God. 

Why did John baptise people? Luke tells us that John the Baptiser

went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins… 

‘A baptism of repentance.’ What on earth was that?

Well, to repent is to change your mind, it is to turn around and move in another direction. John’s baptism signified a change of life. 

According to Luke (3.15), 

the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah…

But John was preparing the way for the Messiah, Jesus. And repentance, changing your life, was the way to prepare.

And when the Messiah came, John said,

He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

What on earth?

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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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Joy, and two jailbirds (Advent 3, Year A; 11 December 2016

Readings
Isaiah 35.1–10
Matthew 11.2–11

Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another? (Matthew 11.3)

I want to tell you a story today. It’s the story of two jailbirds. One of the two is the Apostle Paul. The other is John the Baptist.

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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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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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From doubting to waiting — Advent 3A (15 December 2013)

Readings
Isaiah 35.1–10
Matthew 11.2–1

 

Poor John the Baptist. He’s been on an amazing ride for a few years, baptising crowds of people by the Jordan River and witnessing a religious revival. It gave him the confidence to confront King Herod about his adultery—and got him thrown into jail.

One of the highlights of John’s mission was seeing Jesus of Nazareth come into his own. It seemed that Jesus may be the one they had come to hope for, the deliverer, the Messiah, the coming one. But now he was in jail.

There, he has time. Lots of time. Time to think, to reflect, to ponder. Time to wonder if he is on the right track or not.

It must be hard to stay confident when you’re imprisoned, your future uncertain, and there’s nothing much happening on the outside.

John wants to hear that things are happening on the outside. He has begun to doubt what he had proclaimed, which was:

the kingdom of heaven has come near.

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Repentance—a way of life (Advent 2A, 8 December 2013)

Readings
Isaiah 11.1–10
Matthew 3.1–12

 

 

Some of you—ok, maybe only one of you—may not have heard this story before.

Charlie V decided the church needed a new coat of paint, so being an expert with a big heart he decided do it for the cost of the paint. Charlie wanted to save money for the church, so he thinned the paint down. It started to rain when Charlie was halfway through, so he had to find some cover. After the rain stopped, he looked out. He was horrified to see the paint had run in a long series of soggy streaks. While he was still staring aghast at the wall, a voice rang out from heaven: ‘Repaint! Repaint! And thin no more!’

And that’s almost what Matthew’s John the Baptist says in today’s Gospel Reading. He says

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.

What do we do when we repent? Firstly, let’s get one thing straight: Repenting isn’t necessarily about guilt and being sorry. When we ‘repent’ we change our way of thinking, we turn around and walk in a new direction. That may mean turning from something that is wrong. But not always. When I’m shopping in Coles, I sometimes realised that I’ve turned into the wrong aisle. So I rethink what I’m doing, and I turn around. That’s repenting too. We all repent all the time.

And what is this kingdom of heaven? It’s what Jesus asks us to pray for:

Your kingdom come,
Your will be done on earth as in heaven.

Matthew has already give us a glimpse of it. Continue reading

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Rejoice! Repent. The Lord is near—Advent 3, Year C (16 December 2012)

Readings
Philippians 4.4–7
Luke 3.7-18

The recent hailstorm peppered the church roof so badly that it needed to be fixed up. Alan couldn’t wait for the insurance company to make its final determination, so he decided to get up on the roof to repaint it. Alan wanted to save money for the church, so he thinned the paint down. It started to rain again when Alan was halfway through, so he had to find some cover. After the rain stopped, he looked out. He was horrified to see the paint had run in a series of soggy streaks. While he was still staring aghast at the roof, a voice rang out from heaven: “Repaint! Repaint! And thin no more!”

I don’t know if the voice was God’s or John the Baptist’s. Ask Alan afterwards whose voice he thinks it was.

On the Third Sunday of Advent, the RCL readings have two themes: ‘repent’ (not ‘repaint’!) and ‘joy’. Isn’t that strange? Do repentance and joy go together? And if so, how?

John the Baptist is the messenger of repentance; but what about ‘joy’? Joy is the note that plays in each of the other scripture readings in the Lectionary for today. Continue reading

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The prophet John—Advent 2, Year C (9 December 2012)

Readings
Malachi 3.1-4
Luke 3.1-6

Did you notice how Luke chapter 3 begins? It begins with a number of names, in fact the names of seven VIPs. Listen again:

In the fifteenth year of the rule of the emperor Tiberius—when Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea and Herod was ruler over Galilee, his brother Philip was ruler over Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was ruler over Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas…

Luke is setting the scene here and letting us know just when all this was happening; with the detail Luke provides, we can date it around AD 28–29.

What happened in AD 28 or 29, according to Luke? Nothing that Pilate, Herod, Philip or the others were concerned about—at first. It was this:

…God’s word came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

Herod would have dismissed this. Caiaphas would have sniffed. It would be beneath Pilate to even think about it. Who cares if someone called John thinks he hears from God?

A number of books in the Bible start in that way, with a list of names. Can you think of any?

Luke goes on to quote Isaiah; how does Isaiah start? Listen:

The vision about Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah, Amoz’s son, saw in the days of Judah’skings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah.

Another list of VIPs, another way of dating Isaiah, at least the first 39 chapters of the Book of Isaiah. We can say that this prophet, Isaiah of Jerusalem, heard the word of the Lord in the eighth century BC.

The Book of Isaiah begins in a pretty standard way for a prophetic book. If you look at other Old Testament prophets, quite a few also begin this way, situating themselves in history. So when Luke chooses the same way to begin his story of John the Baptist, what is he saying? Just this: like Isaiah before him, John was a prophet. A prophet is someone who hears what God is saying, and then speaks that word to others.

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John and Mary, Jesus and Josie: A sermon for the Induction of the Rev. Josie Nottle (8 December 2011)

John and Mary, Jesus and Josie

 

Readings
Luke 1.47-55 (responsive)
Mark 1.1-8

 

It’s Advent, and two of the most wonderful people in the Bible appear in our Lectionary readings every year at this time. Those two are Mary, the mother of Jesus and John the Baptist.

(Not that they ever come together in our Lectionary readings. I’ve cheated! I’ve taken one of the choices for the ‘Psalm’ from this coming Sunday—it’s actually the Song of Mary in Luke 1—and I’ve teamed it with the Gospel Reading from last Sunday, from Mark 1. So tonight we have John and his Auntie Mary together.)

I say I like these two, but I’m not sure I’d like to have either living next door to me. They’re both prophets, burdened with a need to tell out the word that God gives them. I really don’t think I’d like to live next door to a prophet, especially John with his weird diet and his funny clothes. And what’s more, they’re both saints. If there could be one thing worse than living next door to a prophet, that would be living next to a certified saint.

But here we have John and Mary, prophets and saints. Though I doubt that either would get through the Uniting Church’s selection process to become ordained ministers. John would have too many ‘personality issues’ and Mary would be too young (apart from having a young baby to take care of)—so Josie, you’ve done even better than them. You really do have a lot to live up to.

John was a cantankerous old coot. (Though he was actually a cantankerous young coot if the truth’s to be known.) He stood at the end of the old order and he proclaimed a brand new thing: a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Mark says,

…people from the whole Judean country-side and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him…

Sounds like he was as successful as a modern-day tele-evangelist. His approach wouldn’t work too well in these materialistic days though.

Among the throngs who came to him was Jesus, perhaps seeking to know the direction that his Father God was calling him to go.

There’s a lot we could say about John and Jesus, but I just want to highlight one thing. John says:

The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.

It was said that disciples owed their teacher every duty except to untie the laces of his sandals. This was too demeaning.

John says not only should he untie the laces of the one who is coming, but that he is unworthy to do this very demeaning thing.

There are some often-quoted words in the Fourth Gospel. John the Evangelist has John saying about Jesus:

He must increase, but I must decrease.

Josie, you are a minister of the Word. There is a real sense in which you are a symbol of the Word, the Word-made-flesh.

As a symbol, you are to point beyond yourself to the Jesus, who is the One you symbolise in a particular way. You must decrease, that he may increase. You may not be worthy to untie his laces, but listen: he has made you worthy. You have the dignity of a daughter of God.

Yet any symbol that points to the One who was broken on the cross needs to be a ‘broken symbol’. To decrease in the presence of the One broken for our sakes is to turn away from pride, manipulation and self-serving. It is to serve in his Spirit. It is to rejoice when others shine, because they shine with the reflected glory of Jesus Christ, the One more powerful than we are.

In the end, a broken symbol leads people to faith, not to control or power or possession of something. Your ministry will elicit faith within the people of God.

Take John as your example; not in the way you dress or what you eat or how often you shower, but in who you are. And in Who you belong to, and Who you yield to.

And what about Mary? Josie, you’re a young woman, but Mary was about half your age. We Protestants tend to ignore Mary; she makes us nervous. One Advent, a friend of mine said she was preaching on Mary. I said, ‘So you’re preaching on the Blessed Virgin Mary?’ She said, ‘Oh, I couldn’t call her that.’ I said, ‘Why not? The Bible does.’ She replied, ‘Oh yes, so it does!’ (All right, I confess: I was deliberately being a smart arse.)

The point is this: there are passages in the  Scriptures that value Mary more highly than we do. So we should look at her more than we do.

For tonight, let me again just say one thing: Mary is the example of a believer. She shows us what it is to believe. When confronted with an arduous task of gargantuan proportions, she just says,

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

But that’s after she questions God:

“How can this be…?”

Mary says “Let it be” after she questions what this is all about. And then Mary praises God.

Josie, I suspect you’ve taken a similar route in coming to Centenary. You’ve no doubt questioned whether this is a task of gargantuan proportions—but I think it’s not!—and you’ve sought whether God is calling you here.

And once you decided that was indeed the case, you said, “Let it be with me according to your word.” And I know you have given thanks to God for bringing you to this point.

Mary was a courageous young woman, who knew the consequences for her could be severe—even death by stoning—but she said “Yes”.

Josie, you are another Mary, as are we all. Jesus is being formed within you, and changing the way you look at life. You know that Mary sang the truth:

You have shown strength with your arm
and scattered the proud in their conceit,
casting down the mighty
from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
You have filled the hungry
with good things
and sent the rich away empty.

Tell us that story, Josie, tell us again and again! Lead us to live that story, as Mary did. And always keep in mind that Mary was only half your age, so take St Paul’s advice to Timothy also (1 Timothy 4.12):

Let no one despise your youth.

So Josie, whatever else you are, you are a symbol—a broken symbol—pointing us to the risen and crucified Lord. He is being formed within your very being, so you can be bold and daring with Mary. Be a broken symbol among us and with us and for us.

I don’t know if you’re a prophet, or a saint, Josie; maybe you are, but if so I’m sure I’ll get used to working with one. For now, on behalf of the people of God in this place, let me just say, “Welcome!”.

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