January 12th 2020
Baptism of Christ
Isaiah Chapter 42 verses 1 – 9
Acts Chapter 10 verses 34 – 43
Matthew Chapter 3 verses 13- 17
Maggie Cogan - Reader
Many years ago Tom and I were on holiday in Devon with the three girls. As National Trust lovers we decided to walk from Lynmouth to Watersmeet – not a very long walk but when one of the tribe is 13 years old – then that is a walk far too far. And so the sulk and the dragging of the feet began only to be photographed by Tom. We have a photograph of this child perched on a bench refusing to move which was of course shown to her many years later. As a parent you have to get your own back sometime!
It’s not a flattering image of her; sulking isn’t a flattering attitude to adopt. But it is human. Perhaps one of the greatest fears is that we aren’t loved; or that perhaps there isn’t enough love to go round. Sibling dynamics, social gatherings and life within the Church reveal both the longing to be included, but see the inclusion of others as a rebuff. We are called to an alternative lifestyle.
At the heart of the Christian faith is the conviction that God’s grace is unconditional, his love abundant. Our gradual hymn was “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.” and that embraces us all. He calls each one of us by name. Yet we apply false limits of our own to that love and grace and mercy. We long to be included, forgiven, redeemed; but we fear the expansiveness of that call.
But generous grace is the point of God’s Kingdom: there is a relationship between God and the individual; between God and all people. The former reveals hopefulness about the latter. To be part of the people of God is to be part of that movement from the personal and particular, to the universal and radically inclusive. To be part of it means being formed in worship and deeply involved in the life of the world.
The words of Isaiah speak of the nature of God, who spread out the earth and what comes from it. We are created, he gives breath - and a spirit, we are precious, honoured and loved; we have been taken by the hand and kept. The Lord our God is with us. God is love; we are loved. Therefore we are not to fear.
God gathers up his people from every corner of the earth. Everyone who is called by his name is created from God’s glory. It is a profound statement about human dignity before God; and a radical statement about God’s relationship to us. Despite our human capacity to sulk, behave selfishly or get things wrong, God remains faithful.
Therein lies our hope. Therein lies a promise. God’s anointed one, the Messiah, would come. This longing for freedom and redemption intensified at times of occupation or exile. Hopes for a peaceable kingdom were tinged with assumptions about military might. John’s task was to focus the tide of expectation.
He called people to repentance; his baptism with water called them to prepare their hearts, minds and lives for the Messiah. He responds to their questions by pointing to one who is greater than he. The one who is to come will gather all people to himself; the one who kindles the flame of God’s love and power in us, and on the crowded, muddy banks of the Jordan, stands Jesus. He stands in the midst of the people; he is baptised; he prays.
In this prayerful moment of identification with our humanity, the words of his heavenly Father resound: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased.’
The boy, who returned from Jerusalem and grew in wisdom and grace in an earthly home, is now a man on the brink of public ministry. His baptism is the culmination of a process of deepening appreciation not only of divine fatherhood, but also of his own vocation.
Jesus is the light to Gentiles and the glory of his people Israel. Jesus, the long awaited Messiah, will call us by name. He is God with us; we need know no fear. We are called by name; he loves us.
Jesus’ ministry reveals that all are precious in God’s sight – the foreigner, the sick, the young, the powerful, the sexually exploited and the frail. He makes manifest the love of God; he establishes the rule of God. And he does so by patient self-forgetfulness. Accomplishing this mission is not a gilded path; it will entail indignity, misunderstanding, rejection and death.
Jesus is tied by kinship to all humanity; his mission is to all people. He identifies himself with us in our movement towards God. Jesus leads people into the Kingdom by standing alongside them and walking with them. The Church is called to do likewise.
We, who are called by name in our own baptism, are to rejoice that we are precious, loved, created, redeemed even if we do sulk on occasions. We are called to a life beyond fear. We, who are called by name, are members of one body, the Church.
We are to be a people who share in God’s creative, redeeming and sustaining work. That means taking a generous attitude towards each other – recognising that our differences are a gift from God. It means receiving forgiveness and mercy as a gift – but not seeking to possess it, but to give it to others.
This personal and corporate call is rooted in prayer and worship. We gather here Sunday by Sunday to meditate upon the Scriptures; in bread and wine, to receive what we are; we become what we receive: the body of Christ. We are gathered together in order to be re-shaped and dispersed in God’s service. We can only be who we are called to be in the power of the Spirit – facing the challenges, opportunities, as well as our failings and blessings.
Matthew’s gospel is infused with the Spirit; which excites praise, prompts insight and cultivates wisdom. Jesus’ baptism is marked by the descent of the Spirit; his baptism reveals the unity of Father, Son and Spirit in creating, redeeming and sustaining us.
The Church of which we are part is dedicated to the Spirit. That same Spirit calls us to participate in the world; to walk within it. We are called by name – called to reveal God’s loving kindness in our relationships; called to use our gifts in his service. There is glorious diversity amongst us; and enormous potential in our respective spheres of activity. Look at the many of you who work tirelessly behind the scenes to keep St Greg’s going day by day.
As individuals we make unique contributions to the particular work of this church: we are to be a centre of worship and mission in this town; we are called to support All Saint’s and St Andrew’s in the coming years, to support Storehouse – The Christopher Centre – and many other societies within Sudbury.
All of that is rooted in fostering Christ-like relationships at all levels: not just within the congregation. Clergy, PCC, Ministry Team, welcome teams and volunteers, but also across these spheres of activity. We have our core activity of worship and welcome; in order that we might be free to look outwards – to the diocese, to the town, to our partners in the world.
We are all part of one complex body serving one common good. Cultivating trust and understanding takes time. It demands an investment of our resources. For the sake of the Kingdom we are called by name. There is hope, not fear, and an abundance of love.
Our mission is that this remains a place of welcome, beauty, engagement, inspiration and and most of all spirituality.
Let us pray that we may grow in maturity and wisdom. May our vision be our prayer – that dedicated to the Holy Spirit, we may foster inclusivity in worship and hospitality, that we may ignite conversations that are generous and transformative; that in seeking the common good, we may build God’s Kingdom.
And remember that at our Baptism -Jesus called us to be his own.