The first part of this was done as a monologue as one of the many unnamed women in the Bible.
Have you ever been caught up in the midst of a crowd… one that you are not sure what is going on immediately? It is somehow both exciting and a little scary. I was there that day… that day that John was baptizing people in the River Jordan. I had gone to fill my water vessels… we had to carry all of our water, for cooking and washing and rituals, we had to carry it, and it was a woman’s responsibility to make sure there was enough. There was a well, but it was crowded and I thought I might save some time by going to the river to draw the water, even though it was a longer walk. When I arrived, it seemed that there were dozens, perhaps hundreds of people around. And there, at the centre of them, on the banks of the river, was John.
It seemed that all the people wanted this man… this wilderness man, to pour water over them, to symbolically welcome them into new life. I stood on the edge of the crowd, looking for an opening, not to be baptized, but to get to the river. Many of us thought John might be the messiah… you know, the one who would cast off the oppression of the Romans and free our people. But John was having none of it… he said, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Well, that cooled the crowd off a bit… who wants to be baptized with fire? But even so… the crowd continued to grow… and John continued to baptize them. And then I caught a glimpse of John’s cousin Jesus… There seemed to be a radiance about him… people were drawn to him… wanting to be close to him… and John baptized him. And suddenly there was a hush… and all of us stopped and were gathered as one community in prayer. Jesus was praying… and in that hush, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him and we heard a voice saying, “You are my son, the Beloved, and I am pleased with you.”
We all heard it!
You know what happened after that, you have heard the stories… Jesus started going about the countryside, inviting people to join him in sharing the Good News of God’s love. But it started there, on the banks of the river Jordan, where so many gathered that day. At least his public ministry did… but his spiritual formation didn’t start there… he grew up like the rest of us, learning our sacred texts and stories… you learn them too. He had learned those words of Isaiah, “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.”
“I have called you by name, you are mine.”
The beauty of those words of Isaiah is that he was speaking to ALL of us, not just some of us. Jesus was someone very special… John somehow knew it before the rest of us did. But you know, we were part of that baptism too. Without us, without people who gathered around him, who listened to his message of justice, peace and love, without us, he might have remained simply Mary and Joseph’s son. Without Jesus, we would have remained a people who were looking for a particular kind of Messiah, one who would come with an army to defeat Roman rule. But together, we became something more than any of ever imagined that day on the banks of the River Jordan.
Individual and communities are interesting that way aren’t they? We need one another. An individual can have great ideas, That’s why Jesus being baptized where ‘all the people’ were gathered is so important. Together, we created something new.
(Take shawl off)
Our present day communities are not so different are they? Each baptism that takes place within this faith community marks the beginning of a new relationship. A new relationship with God and this community. Parents or people themselves make promises before God and this community and as they strive to live those promises, we too have a responsibility to them and to God. And, as a faith community, we make promises. It is a beginning, not an end… And like all beginnings, it has wonder and excitement and anxiety and is wide open with possibilities…
How will we grow in faith and in love?
How will we respond?
How will God be active in our lives?
Baptism does not exclude people who are not baptized from God’s love. But it does mean a particular relationship with a community of faith. One of the questions that I ask at baptism and confirmation is:
• Will you join with your brothers and sisters in this community of faith to celebrate God’s presence, live with respect in creation, and love and serve others?
And this is the promise that you, as a community of faith make:
• As a baptized and baptizing community, we commit ourselves to support and encourage you as brothers and sisters in Christ: nurturing one another in faith, upholding one another in prayer, encouraging one another in Jesus’ ministry.
Just as Jesus did not know what God had in store for his life when he was baptized, neither we know what God has in store for us as individuals and as a community of faith.
In baptism we are a new creation… called and claimed to participate in Jesus’ ongoing ministry. Like most churches these days, we have blessings and challenges ahead of us. I am looking forward to the coming years as we discern God’s way forward. I am not your perfect leader… and I suspect that are you not the perfect pastoral charge … we will each make mistakes… Like any relationship there will be misunderstandings, hurt feelings, forgiveness and reconciliation… There will also be love, joy, excitement and enthusiasm. Much like any new beginning…
Jesus’ baptism marked the start of his public ministry… In our baptism we enter into the challenges and possibilities of that ministry too… we enter into the challenge and possibility of being the church in this time and place… 2016.
When the heavens were torn apart and the Spirit descended on Jesus as a dove and the voice of God was heard to say, “This is my Son, the Beloved.”
In our baptism we are claimed by God… We are called by God into God’s world… And God loves us.
Individuals can inspire, but it takes a community to make something happen. Each one of us may have an amazing idea of what God is up to in our community, but unless there are other people who believe that it is a good idea too and get on board, it’s just an idea. Just because we are part of the same congregation or pastoral charge doesn’t mean that we are all agree on how to move forward.
And that’s great! Because the more ideas we have, the more options we have. Jesus wasn’t one to shy away from challenge and change, in fact, most of his public life was spent doing just that. Together, we will be the beloved community.
Together, we will hear God’s words for each one of us, “You, and you, and you are my beloved child, and I am well pleased.”
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity of following Jesus. Amen.
Isaiah 43:1-7, Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
January 10, 2016 – Elmsdale PC (C) Catherine MacDonald