I’ve really struggled with this sermon. It was given to celebrate The Baptism of Christ this morning – but amid horrific events in Paris. I sat with the text most of the week, read widely and googled even more widely – but nothing. In the end this was what came, line by hard line. I had good feedback from the congregations this morning – other than people saying it was short at only six minutes!
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
It’s very hard to stand here today and talk about a celebration – a festival – after this weeks horrendous events in Paris. But today is the festival of the Baptism of Christ. We celebrate the Baptism of our Saviour – the moment that he decided, he made a choice that the time had come for him to face his ministry. He had decided that the time had come to follow his vocation. For thirty years he had lived in Nazareth, now was the time to step forward. Jesus made a choice and took up his inheritance.
In Mark’s gospel there is no nativity story. No story of where Jesus came from or where he was born other than to say he had come from Nazareth of Galilee. We barely get 4 verses into the gospel before Mark is telling us about his baptism – I think that’s very striking – the start of Mark’s gospel is about a man making a choice, not a man being born into a destiny already before him.
We are faced with choices all the time. Not all of our choices result in the heavens being torn apart and God speaking to us telling us he is well pleased with us. But those choices are no less important.
In our modern Baptism service the priest asks those who are being baptised, or via their parents and God Parents – Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God? Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil? Those questions are not just for that moment, are not meant to be discarded and forgotten about as soon you as leave church and head for the party. Those questions should sit with you every time you make a choice. Every time you make a decision you should ask yourself if you are turning your back on evil and facing Christ – because in that choice you mirror the decision that Jesus took that day – or in the lead up to that day – to face his ministry, his vocation – perhaps knowing exactly what lay in front of him.
So what can we take from Jesus decision, the example of the choice that he made? We know that because of our Baptisms we have made a promise – a choice, that we confirmed during our confirmations – to turn to God and turn our back on evil – and we have to do that in every single choice – every single decision we ever make – even when we may know that that decision will lead to a personal loss or challenge.
After Jesus was Baptised he was immediately driven (you have to love the language and style of the Gospel of Mark, if you wanted to make a gritty Norwegian version of the story of Jesus you’d surely start with the Gospel of Mark) ‘and the spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
We are in the wilderness with the wild beasts – every day of our lives. We’ve seen this week what happens when people make the wrong choices, when they let evil into their hearts.
For us, here and now on a smaller scale, one small bad decision leads to another, and then another and then another – before you know it you’re in a cycle that is almost impossible to break out of. ‘Oh, I’ve done this before and it was okay’.
This is one of the reasons we confess our sins each Sunday – doing what people were doing on the banks of the Jordan all those years ago. They were being baptised in the name of God, they were being washed clean of their sins and to be washed clean of their sins they had to face them and repent. Our confession on a Sunday shouldn’t be something we mumble through and read without thinking. Our time for confession is to allow us to seek out those choices we’ve made that week that were perhaps bad ones – and we all make bad decisions all the time – decisions that may have been good for us – but bad for others. A chance to break the cycle of bad choices and turn afresh to Christ.
I think that when we confess our sins, when we face our choices, when we turn our backs on evil and face Christ we perhaps try to be like Jesus that day. We make that declaration to ourselves and when we truly do that, when we truly ask God to wash us clean of our sins we invite the Spirit to descend on us – like a dove from the sky – a sign of peace and love, not war and hate – and in that moment God speaks to us and in our hearts says he loves us, and that he is well pleased with us.
So what do we do with that love and peace that we have been granted by God? Do we just bask in that glory? No, we take the words of the dismissal at the end of the service to heart… go in peace to love and serve the Lord… a good friend of mine in Wales used to say at the end of his services…. “go in peace to love and serve the Lord – the service has ended and now the worship begins”.