Another look at John the Baptist. We seem to have seen him a lot in the last month. To be expected today, though, given that we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus.
Jesus’ public ministry in the gospels began with his baptism. There are all sorts of discussions we could have about whether we should be baptising infants in light of this or if we should – as the Baptists and many evangelical churches do – only baptise consenting adults who have come to a firm decision to follow Christ. But let’s not. Not now, not here.
We may not remember our own baptism at all. Some of us may barely even remember our confirmation, which we often today see as the moment of receiving the holy spirit in fullness of our calling (again, discuss), but we regularly hear those promises made when we baptise (one of the important reasons we continue to baptise in the 10 am service) and we make them again each week in the creed – whichever version of it we’re using.
What we probably don’t remember to do, or think when we hear those words of baptism, is to hear for – about – ourselves, is “You are my Son[/daughter], the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ It is all too easy to think of a God who tells us we have failed, sinned, turned away from him. But the God who creates, who judges, who is merciful also promises renewal when we turn to him in repentance.
This is the God who looks on Jesus at his baptism and tells us all that Jesus is his Son, the beloved.
The God who in each of our baptisms says the same. Beloved. With you I am well pleased. Even if/when we do fail, sin, turn away from him, we are still beloved.
Baptised, and in receipt of the Spirit, Jesus begins his public ministry. Having lived and prepared in the temple for his 30ish years, he is now kind of ‘commissioned’ to begin his ministry. Readers and Pastoral Assistants are ‘commissioned’ for ministry – as Jenn will be an a few months; clergy are commissioned /recommissioned in ordination, but we are all commissioned in baptism.
In our baptism services of infants, the commission can seem a fairly general prayer, but in the Confirmation services, where there may well have been adult baptisms as well as confirmations, the bishop, in the Commission, tells all those who are baptized (all of us, that is, whether our baptism was just then or 80 years ago)that they – that we are called to worship and serve God, and he (or, soon, she) asks them – us:
Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all people, loving your neighbour as yourself?
Will you acknowledge Christ’s authority over human society, by prayer for the world and its leaders, by defending the weak, and by seeking peace and justice?
And the Bishop then prays that Christ may dwell in [our] hearts through faith, that [we] may be rooted and grounded in love and bring forth the fruit of the Spirit.
As we celebrate the baptism of Christ and the beginning of his public ministry, let us also both celebrate and ponder our own commissioning in his footsteps.
Celebrate our own being beloved by God, and our own empowering of the Spirit to act. If we feel we do not act in response to our baptismal commission, then the new year is after all, a time for new starts and renewed efforts.
Ponder our own public ministry as Christians. Pray that Christ may dwell in [our] hearts through faith, that [we] may be rooted and grounded in love and bring forth the fruit of the Spirit.
Justin Welby said earlier this week “As God changes us in prayer, he drives us out to be justice-seekers, peacemakers, healers and bringers of good news.” That is part of the public ministry we are all called to by our baptism, by the power of the one who came after John, the one whose baptism we celebrate today.
We pray that our bringing forth of the fruit of the Spirit does include loving others as we recognise we are beloved; and of sharing that love. To be changed more and more into the image of him who would baptize us not with water but with the Holy Spirit.
And as we are changed by him, to see more and more who and where we are called to be, we seek also to discern where we might be being driven out to as a church, where each of our own ministries lie, perhaps where as yet untested gifts may lie hidden.
We are all beloved. In baptism and in receipt of the Holy Spirit, called and commissioned to love in return. This week more than ever, this is something to remember, and also to be prepared to stand up for.
The faith of Islam shares with us and with the Jewish faith one God, the one God we profess our faith in in the creed. Allah u akbar, God is great. The God who loves us and in whose name we are called to live in peace and in community, loving neighbour, serving stranger. That is the message to be heard and preached in the church, and in mosques and in synagogues around the world.
Today we join in prayer, in sorrow, in solidarity with all who mourn in France. With all who live in fear of persecution for their faith, taken in vain by extremists in the name of religion. Peacemakers and justice-seekers must work for healing in our world. This week didn’t just see 17 people killed in France, but over 2,000 killed in Nigeria. Militant extremists Boko Harem strike again, their victims men, women and children, all Muslim. How can this ever truly be in the name of the God who is great, the God who is blessed by Jews even in the pain of loss – for those killed shopping on the eve of shabbat, Baruch dayan emet. It cannot.
As we enter an election year, with a great deal of growth in right wing sentiment across Europe, as we remember that God looks on all his children and longs to say ‘you are my beloved’; our commission, more than ever, is not to shrink from expressing our faith to avoid discussion of how ‘religion’ kills, but to own, live and express our willingness to be visibly people of faith, sent out to be justice-seekers, peacemakers, healers and bringers of good news.