I hadn't intended to take a week long blog-break, and I've no decent reason at all...
I think it was just a side-effect of the thwarted urge to continue in hibernation for as long as possible, preferably with my offspring curled up in heaps nearby...Combine post Christmas inertia with freezing temperatures and even some real snow and the wonder is that I achieved anything at all last week.
Now, though, both the student young have departed to their universities, the stay at home is facing A/S module exams and I really do need to re-engage seriously with life.
The process wasn't helped by an unbloggable note that was handed to me just before worship yesterday - though in the light of its contents, the words I preached were almost comically ironic. The sermon came with a particular brief, as part of a diocesan strategy to encourage congregations to remember that they are part of something far bigger than their own parish church, - and I used some notes that were produced to help with this task. When I preached the abbreviated version at 8.00, it felt wooden and hopeless. Later in the morning the experience was quite different, and that had a positive impact on the rest of the day.
So good when that happens...
Sermon for the Baptism of Christ Year B, 11th January 2009
A New Year – a time of fresh beginnings, resolutions based more or less in reality, commitments revisited, revised, confirmed...
A perfect time, as we remember Christ's Baptism today, to recall our own beginnings in faith – represented by the baptism we share.
I wonder if any of you remember your baptism?
I know that at least one of you was baptised here so that the idea of joining a faith community has been very real as you've continued within the same church family.
Whenever I have the privilege of baptising a new Christian, as I will later today, I remind the birth family that this a second birthday for the candidate...that from now on, they will have to share their baby with a whole congregation of brothers and sisters in Christ.
I try, too, to remind the congregation that we have family responsibilities towards the new arrival...that it is up to us to help him settle down in the church, up to us to make her feel welcomed and at home.
And always, when I say this, I remember just how much disruption a new baby makes in any home...and hope that the church family remembers too, and is on stand by for what comes next.
Because baptism is very much about belonging.
Belonging to God – that signing with the cross, our badge of faith, is an indelible name-tape that not only sets the tone for the whole of our lives but also proclaims just whose children we are...
Belonging to the Kingdom, -”christened” so that we are little Christs, called to carry his light, joy and peace with us wherever we go.
We speak, do we not, of the priesthood of all believers...our shared responsibility to be signs of God's love in a troubled world, agents of God's kingdom each day of our lives...
And our ordination to that priesthood comes at baptism – though we are rather apt to forget it. Baptism changes everything...our relationships, our purpose, our destination and the route by which we get there...One way and another, (as I try to warn unsuspecting infants) it's not for the faint-hearted, - and certainly never a matter of form.
There may have been less visible drama for us, for it's unlikely that the heavens were rent on our behalf, or that a wondering congregation saw a hovering dove ushering in a new creation – but the new creation began right enough, a life centred on our relationship with God...
The voice that Jesus heard is for us too, though it speaks its reminder of our identity so quietly that it can be easy to miss that assurance
You are my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.
I love to remember that God speaks these words to Jesus BEFORE Jesus has accomplished anything in his ministry, indeed, in Mark's gospel this scene is the very first one in which Jesus appears...but from the outset God loves him completely and unreservedly.
And that is how God loves you as well...
Baptism changes nothing on God's side – but it represents the first step in our life long response..Henri Nouwen wrote
“The one who created us is waiting for our response to the love that called us into being.
God not only says, You are my beloved. God also asks Do you love me? And offers us countless chances to say Yes”
We take that chance, we respond and so baptism is for us the sacrament that commissions us to do God's work, just as Christ did.
For us, as for him, ministry begins there beside the water...and it is a ministry that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we exercise together. Together with Christ, our brother and friend, and together with one another.
Just think about that for a moment.
When we were baptised we entered into the mystery of dying and rising with Christ.
We were incorporated into the body of Christ – which has many members.
In other words, we belong to God, to God's Kingdom AND to one another...related to the whole Church of God across space and time.
Most obviously, of course, we belong to one another in our own church community and in our benefice...and that belonging means that we are as inextricably tied to the people whom we struggle to like as we are to the dear friends we hurry to greet each Sunday.
If church is a family, then it has its share of mad aunts ,embarrassing cousins, and tedious in laws – We’d do well to remember that we too might fill just those roles in the eyes of others......but you don't need me to remind you that we can't pick and choose our family.
We simply have to rub along together, doing our best to rejoice in our differences, that mean that together we are so much more than the sum of our parts...
As we often affirm when we gather around the family table
“We being many are one body...”
One body, with many members working as one
However, our Christian family is much wider than even the diversity that is Cainscross and Selsley. Our particular ‘family branch’ is the Church of England...and, more specifically, our own diocese of Gloucester, and Deanery of Stroud – where we work together with Anglican Christians in this corner of the country to bring the good news of Christ to our neighbours. In an age when community seems to be breaking down, and local identity is much weaker than in previous generations, the continuing presence of the parish church, as a local expression of God's love for that community is something to celebrate – as is our membership together of the body of Christ across Gloucestershire. Together we can do things we could never attempt on our own...Our gifts, our strengths and weaknesses are complementary and so we are truly interdependent...though we are sometimes bad at recognising this.
In our own families we are usually good at relating to and looking after the needs of our immediate family. We see the point of such mutual care on a small scale. After all, charity begins at home, we say....
We're not bad at large scale relationships either...We may make special efforts to keep in touch with relatives in Australia , (or take an interest in the work of the world church, delighting in our relationship with Christians whose lives are radically different from our own)...
But it's the mid term of the equation that we struggle with.
Just as we may rarely visit cousins in the next town our church life often seems to suffer from the same syndrome. It's easy to value our own parish church and to recognise a pivotal role for it in our home community. It's easy, too, to be inspired to respond to the needs of brothers and sisters who live far away, in situations that we can only imagine...but people a bit like us, up the road are far less exciting. Mostly, we'd prefer to ignore them – and may even see them as competition for the same finite resources but the truth is that we need one another.
But our baptism tells a different story.
As members of the body, we are interdependent – and bear responsibility for one another.
This may not fill us with joy to be accountable for the needs of our brothers and sisters, but in truth, since we are all alike the recipients of God's generous grace we are all bound to be generous in our turn.
Baptism – the sacrament of belonging.
Belonging to God, and belonging to one another.
Sharing together in the most wonderful work of uncovering signs of the Kingdom...of being Christ's hands and feet...of speaking his words, and doing his work of healing...of sharing together in Christ's mission, to transform the world till everyone, near and far, can hear that loving voice
“You are my child, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased”