We’ve been thinking about John the Baptist and the Baptism of Jesus quite a bit over the past few weeks. During Advent John’s baptism of Jesus often gets two Sundays. It is such a significant event in Jesus’ ministry, often taken as the beginning of his public ministry, when he is made known to the world; it is an epiphany.
Epiphany means ‘making known’ and during these weeks in January we look at the ways Jesus is first made known in the gospels. In Mark it is his baptism. In Matthew it is the magi who come with their strange gifts and we marked that last week. Luke, well he has quite an introduction but the shepherds are the first to come. Luke is a gospel for the outsiders. John’s Gospel sets this first with John the Baptist pointing Jesus out as he walks through the town square and then at the wedding in Cana and we will look at that in a couple of weeks’ time.
What does it mean to you to be baptised? It may have taken place such a long time ago when you were very small and so have no memory of it at all. It may something that you have turned away from and only relatively recently come back to. It may be that life has taken you through a journey that means the faith you had is now very different – either deeper, or less certain, or shaky, or all of those in different measures on different days. Baptism may be more recent, a commitment of faith consciously made.
I suggested in our newsletter this week that you might want to send a donation to the church you were baptised in as a thanksgiving for it and your nurturing in faith. Some may not want to do that because they have changed churches and no longer feel that the church they started in reflects a gospel they can share today. For some it may have been closed and turned into a pizza restaurant, as one friend told me yesterday.
If finding the right church is difficult, find one that has nurtured you or nurtures you today. We give thanks for God’s grace which holds us through all the seasons of life. I am conscious that many churches are feeling the pinch at the moment and there have been reports of some facing closure as a result of this pandemic. It could certainly be a moment of great change. So a cheque may be a very welcome gift. I know one person has responded to this already because the vicar of that church mentioned it to me – though not, of course, who that was.
At the end of this service we will use the Commission which is an option for the Baptism and Confirmation services. I tend to use this at Confirmation Services and when we acknowledge those from our congregation who have been Confirmed in the Cathedral, giving them a candle lit from the Easter Candle here. They are powerful words about teaching and fellowship, repenting and resisting evil, proclaiming in what we say and do, serving Christ in neighbours in need, seeking peace and justice to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit – that Spirit mentioned in our first reading and in the gospel, descending like a dove.
Around this time of year our Methodist friends often have a Covenant Service, when they reaffirm their commitment as part of the church. It is a time of new beginnings and therefore renewed resolve. I am going to use it this evening at the beginning our Churches Together prayers for our city. It prays submission to God, and if you want to expand the connections, our Muslim friends follow ‘Islam’, a word that means submission. We may not see all of this the same, but we each seek to submit to God. A good place to start and build on common ground.
There are some very powerful phrases in the Methodist Covenant prayer – “let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or brought low for you, let me be full, let me be empty.” Some of that is harder to say than other bits. But in all things – sickness or in health – we belong first and foremost to God.
Baptism is our union with that. The going into the waters is a kind of death to self and the coming out is life to God in Jesus Christ. “I am no longer mine but yours. So be it.”
I end with the Methodist Covenant prayer. If you feel able, you might want to say ‘Amen’ at the end.
I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing,
put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you,
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you,
or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.
Sermon for Baptism of Christ, Peterborough Parish Church, Sunday 10th January 2021.