Message 7th January 2018 by Bill Hearn

Hi, you have got me today, but Morag has used a different Gospel reading to the one set out in the Revised Common Lectionary for the start of Epiphany for this year. Both however relate in some way to the Baptism of Jesus. So I intend to speak on Baptism.

Last week Morag spoke of the genealogy of Jesus through both Mary the blood line and Joseph her husband, tracing back to King David, the branch of Jesse. Another of the ways where Jesus is the fulfilment of prophesies of old. Today we read how God the Father brought the deity of Jesus into focus through His baptism.

I want to start with a question:

how often do you think about your baptism?

Today there are two ways different denominations perform Baptism. Some sprinkle water normally at the time of infancy. Others, like our tradition, do it with full immersion at a time when a person is believed to be old enough to be able make a considered choice.

          how often do you think about your baptism?

It may be that you are not yet Baptised and you avoid thinking of it. Or is it when we read a passage like today’s that speaks of Baptism? For some people they will celebrate on the anniversary of their Baptism.

Or do we only really think of it when we see others Baptised?

Or maybe you know the theological significance of baptism but, truth be told, don’t think of it all that often.

          how often do you think about your baptism?

Speaking for myself, it is something I really should think of more often. When I was growing up in the Anglican tradition, my Mum and Dad sent us kids off to the Church up the road each Sunday. They ran their own business, a General Store open long hours, so they used Sunday morning to have a well-earned break from us kids and the customers. Mum always said we could each make our own minds up about ‘Religion’ when we were old enough, so we did not get Baptised as other kids did.

I continued to go to church into my teens but now of my own free will. Not being Baptised started to weigh more on my conscience as I got older.

When Glynn and I were preparing for Marriage in the Anglican tradition, the minister asked if I wanted to make a commitment to God and get Baptised and do my Confirmation. I did both.

Many years later at the Clayton Church of Christ camp at Forest Edge, both Glynn and I had full immersion Baptism in the Thompson River. What an experience.

My original Baptism, my Confirmation and my second full immersion Baptism remain very meaningful to me. They are each markers in my Spiritual journey which I value very highly.

I’m asking you to think about all this, because this Sunday, the first Sunday after the Epiphany, is the day on which we remember Jesus’ own baptism. And both the text from Mark and John offer an opportunity to think more deeply, and claim more fully, the promises God makes to us at our own baptism.

More importantly, however, I’m asking you to think about all this because I believe there is perhaps no more important event in our lives than our baptism. Let me explain.

Do you use Facebook?

Facebook gives us the chance to “like” what other people write or post and then in turn have them “like” what we put on it. We are encouraged to accumulate an army of “friends”, most of whom we will never meet. Don’t look for me, I am not on Facebook.

Are you involved in kids Sport?

Today kids get awards for attending, for just showing up they get medals. They don’t have to even get involved, they just show up.

Or have you been to Telstra lately or got your car serviced?

Every time I deal with a major company now days they follow it up with a ‘satisfaction survey’. “We are interested in your experience; tell us how well we served you”.

Facebook, attendance medals, satisfaction surveys and so many other things in today’s society seek affirmation in plentiful doses.

Deep down, of course, we know that this kind of affirmation doesn’t mean all that much. Or at least it shouldn’t. Many of the people we encounter via the web, or in commercial dealings, don’t really know us and we don’t know them. Credit for attending, just turning up and not achieving is shallow recognition.

So while this affirmation may be somewhat superficial, it’s often better than nothing. We crave that recognition and interaction because we are, at heart, inherently social people. Almost every element of our being reflects God’s observation in Genesis that it is not good for us to be alone, and so we value affirmation but sometimes we are left empty.

Why?

Because while we may crave affirmation, what we really need is acceptance.

Genuine Acceptance, is not the same as affirmation or “fitting in.” It’s the exact opposite. For while ‘affirmation/fitting in’ is all about changing yourself so as to be found acceptable to others, genuine acceptance’ is simply and crucially about being accepted and valued just as you are.

There is nothing more important or necessary in leading a healthy, productive life than feeling accepted and valued for who we are.

Which is where baptism comes in.

Notice in Mark’s treatment of the story of Jesus’ baptism two things. First, notice God’s words to Jesus.

They are personal,  poignant,  and powerful.

“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

 Wrapped in these words of acceptance are the blessings of identity, being valued and unwavering love.

These words come just before the trials of Jesus’ temptation and the start of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

This event – Jesus’ baptism – isn’t incidental to Mark’s story about Jesus, it’s foundational. Indeed, in both Mark and John, it comes immediately after the introductory verses and so stands as the very first public episode of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Similarly, Jesus’ baptism isn’t just a preamble to all that comes later in his life, it’s a highpoint and climax, a reassurance from God the Father that Jesus is accepted and valued by Him. There is no greater honour.

Again and again, as Jesus casts out unclean spirits, heals the sick, feeds the hungry, and welcomes the outcast, he will only do to others what has already been done to him, telling them via word and deed that they, too, are beloved children of God with whom God is well pleased.

And the darkest moment of the story when Jesus feels absolutely abandoned is followed immediately by the story of resurrection, where the messenger testifies that God has kept God’s baptismal promise and continues to accept and honour Jesus as God’s own beloved Son.

So also, at our low moments, we might remember that the God who raised Jesus from the dead is the same one who promised in baptism to never abandon us and to love and accept us always and still as His beloved children, even and especially when we have a hard time loving and accepting ourselves.

This is why I think baptism is so incredibly important, because it offers us the acceptance, not merely affirmation, of the Creator of the Cosmos and thereby empowers us to accept others in turn.

Baptism reminds us that wherever we may go and whatever we may do or have done to us, God continues to love us, accept us, and hold onto us. In today’s society where we are offered cheap affirmation as a substitute for genuine acceptance, there is no more powerful assurance.

So finally,

       how often do you think about your baptism?

Could I encourage each and every one of us today to reflect on our Baptism.  If you have not been Baptised consider it deeply, I assure you it will be an experience between you and God that you will highly value in your Spiritual journey just as I have. It is both an important celebration of your faith identity and an assurance of God’s presence during the dark times.

If you have been baptised, take some time out today to reflect on what that experience has meant to your Spiritual journey, and for everyone, know that God values each of us as we are, we are a child in whom ‘God is well pleased’Amen

 

 

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