Taking The Plunge

Baptism of Christ – 11th January 2015

There’s a definite hint of “new beginnings” in today’s readings [ Genesis 1: 1-5, Mark 1: 4 – 11 ] – first the Genesis account of creation, the beginnings of time and the first day and then St. Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that, although we’re still firmly in the season of Epiphany, today we are being jolted forward in the life of Christ. Last Sunday we were still thinking of Jesus as an infant. Today we jump ahead to Jesus the man – aged around 30 – and the beginning of his public ministry.

Jesus’ baptism is clearly a significant event – documented by all four gospel writers. And in all four accounts there are 2 constant features – the voice of the Father and the descent of the Holy Spirit.

As Jesus surfaces from the waters of the Jordan, the voice of the Father is heard – “You are my Son, the Beloved: with you I am well pleased.”

In those few words two things are revealed – Jesus’ own identity and also the depth of the Father’s love for him.

And it’s for that reason that this episode is celebrated so early in the new church year – during Epiphany – the season of revelation.

Traditionally there are 3 elements to Epiphany – the visit of the magi, the Baptism of Christ and then the Wedding at Cana, where Jesus performs his first miracle, turning water into wine.

And so the Church presents a kind of “edited highlights” of the gradual process of revealing Christ’s nature and mission – which in reality must have unfolded over some time for those around Jesus, and arguably for Jesus himself.

You’ve heard me before suggesting that if Jesus was truly human – if he really came to live “like us” – then he must have passed through the same process of gradual realisation – from the helpless dependence of a baby, through childhood innocence, through adolescence, to adulthood – so that his own understanding of who he was would have changed with his growing maturity.

His Baptism then, may indeed have been be a moment of startling revelation for Jesus the man – as the Holy Spirit reveals both the identity of the Son, and the enormity of the task that lies ahead of him.

Just as well then that the Father’s words include the reassurance of love – that the Son is well pleasing in his sight:

If the task ahead is daunting, Jesus will not face it alone.

Perhaps this episode in the life of Jesus is meant to offer us the same two-fold revelation – both the challenge of our true identity and the assurance of God’s love.

If ever we feel confident that we know what our church is about, where we fit into society, what we Christians are meant to do – IF we think we’ve got those things neatly sewn up, then there is a danger that we’ve stopped listening for the voice of the Father and started relying on ourselves.

Ours is not a comfortable – nor always a comforting faith – it is one which involves always seeking God’s call and rising to the challenge.

The Spirit who reconciles us to the Father in Baptism goes on revealing new insights, calling us to new tasks and new ways of living out our faith. The comfort – the strength – comes from knowing that in reconciling our own lives to God’s will for us WE may be pleasing in God’s sight, and he will equip us for what lies ahead.

I said earlier that today [“The Baptism of Christ”] is about new beginnings – and there is a particular resonance for us today in the life of our own churchwarden.

On Thursday, Julian will be leaving us to begin a 9 month contact in Mogadishu – working with the European Union Mission in Somalia – helping with training and facilitating the Somali Army, advising the Director General of their M.O.D. and mentoring key personnel in the country’s broader infrastructure.

He will be working in a country locked in its own battle with Islamic extremism – in the shape of al-Shabaab – and the events in France over the past few days serve only to highlight the importance of that work. And there is also the added challenge of reconciling different tribal tendencies in order to establish an effective government there.

Although I don’t wish to push the analogy with Christ too far! – Julian has been asked to take this job because of who he is – because of his unique skills and experience – and has responded to that call. It’s for us then to support him in this task and so to share in this ongoing revelation of God’s love and challenge.

Being an honourable chap – Julian offered his resignation as Warden – but without too much effort was persuaded that this that would not be necessary. After all, if clergy can spend time out in South Sudan – as an expression of our Christian solidarity – then surely a churchwarden undertaking high profile work in Somalia is an equally legitimate and powerful expression of both his and our faith in action. And if Julian will report back periodically on life in another Mogadishu then can be a valuable experience for us all.

Yes it may prove inconvenient at times – and yes there are certainly challenges aplenty for Julian himself – but for all of us there is also a unique opportunity for spiritual growth as we seek to respond in faith to those challenges.

I will be asking some of you to offer practical support for Ann, our Warden in residence, as and when it is needed – and I will be encouraging ALL of us to support Julian, and his family, through prayer during this mission.

It will be good for US – to know and pray about the reality of life in Somalia – to broaden our own perspective and focus on specific issues and people outside our own community and nation.

In recognising the work that Julian will be doing and supporting him through it, we may discover more about ourselves as a community of faith and that our confidence in the unfailing love and grace of God may be renewed and strengthened.

I began by talking about “new beginnings” – and so, although we’re a little way in, I want to end with a prayer for this new year and all that lies ahead.

God of all time, who makes all things new,

As we enter this new year

and take our first few steps into the future,

where nothing is safe and certain except you,

we ask for the courage of the wise men

who simply went and followed a star.

We ask for their wisdom,

in choosing to pursue the deepest truth,

not knowing where they would be led.

In the year ahead, God of all time,

be our help and our company.

Uphold us as we journey onwards

and may your dream of shalom,

where all will be at peace,

be our guiding star. Amen.             (Francis Brienen)