10th January 2021

Baptism of Jesus
Acts 19. 1-7
Mark 1. 4-11
Rev. Cheryl Collins

Once upon a time there was a diligent cleaner, who worked hard every day to keep her employer’s beautiful house and many valuable possessions clean and well cared for. Her employer had seen her work, and not having any family, decided to leave the house and everything he owned to the cleaner. When her employer died, and the will was read the cleaner could not believe her good fortune. She had to be persuaded to move into the house where, instead of enjoying everything she had been given, she spent her days obsessively cleaning  for an employer who never came. She continued to live as if she was the cleaner and not the heir.

I have a suspicion that we’re more like that cleaner than we realize. That when we read the story of Jesus’s baptism and hear the wordsthat come from the open heavens that ‘You are my Son, the beloved, with you
I am well pleased’ we imagine that they only apply to Jesus instead of recognizing that, in and through Jesus, those words are for each one of us. And so, we continue to live lives in which God is like an absent employer, periodically checking on our efforts, and not a loving parent who delights in each one of His children and is glad to be with us. This season of Epiphany is not just about seeing more clearly who Jesus is, it’s also about seeing more clearly who we are in Jesus and what that means for our lives. Being ‘in Jesus’ is how we live our lives as Christians. And it begins with baptism. In our story from Acts Paul baptizes the Ephesian disciples ‘in the name of the Lord Jesus’. They had received the baptism of John which was about repentance for past mistakes, but baptism in the name of Jesus invited them to look ahead to a new life lived with the very Spirit of God closer to them than they were to themselves. Their baptism was a symbolic entry into the story of Jesus. They died with him as they went under the waters of baptism, they rose to new life with him as they came up into the light again.

His story was now their story and they became living Temples, that is places where God lives. They discovered that the language of God’s love for Jesus, is actually the language of God’s love for the world- You are mine, I love you, you give me pleasure. Mark’s account of Jesus’s baptism comes immediately after his announcement of the good news that in Jesus God has come to be with us in the most intimate way, He has become one of us. So, Jesus joins the queue of those who had come out from Jerusalem and the whole country of Judea looking for a fresh start, a new beginning. He is described simply as an inhabitant of Nazareth in Galilee, an insignificant little town far from the centre of power and religion in Jerusalem. He does not claim the exemption of sinlessness from John’s baptism of repentance, instead he makes baptism about the new identity that we receive from God- ‘You aremy child, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.’

The whole story of God and creation in the Bible speaks of God’s love for us. God is described over two hundred times in the Old Testament as being hesed, that is steadfast in lovingkindness and faithfulness. God’s presence is constant, even when people refuse to see it. God delights in us, as the prophet Zephaniah writes ‘he will calm you with his love, and delight over you with his songs.’ Throughout Jesus’s life we are shown the strength of his attachment to the Father. There is the young Jesus wanting to be ‘in my Father’s house’, there is the adult Jesus regularly taking time apart to soak in the Father’s love, there is the dying Jesus who cries out in the agony of that moment of detachment from God on the cross, and there is the risen Jesus who tells Mary Magdalene ‘I amascending to my Father and your Father.’

This loving attachment of heavenly Father and beloved Son is more than just poetry. It is the very stuff of human identity. Neuroscience has uncovered the central importance of human beings receiving this attachment love right from the beginning of their lives. We learn how to be human through such attachment love, it is what develops our identity and character. And sadly, it is our damaged human attachments that often lead to our difficulty in understanding God’s love of and special delight in us. We are wounded by our experiences and feel unable to trust in the possibility of such a love. We continue to act like cleaners instead of the heirs we actually are. But the good news is that it is never too late to begin again. To return to thisstory until we hear God say to us ‘You are my beloved child, with you I am
well pleased.’

The more we are able to rest in God’s love for us, the more we will be able to love in our turn, and grow in Christlikeness. We are transformed by loving attachment. This with-God life is rooted in knowing who we are in Jesus. Everything that scientists tell us about healthy attachments between humans is true of our loving attachment to God. We are connected to the source of life and to the abundant provision that
God has for us .More and more we come to recognise the unique voice of the good shepherd in our lives. We can rest in the experience of knowing that we belong to God, who sees each one of us as special. We experience the joy of knowing that God is with us whatever our   circumstances. We repeatedly hear the offer ‘Come to me and I will give you rest.’ We discover that we can think with God, not just about God, so that we can do what God would have us do: the works God has prepared for us ahead of time.

We are strengthened by times of intimate closeness and by the ability to do things on our own, knowing that God has not left us. God’s loving presence in hard times helps us to cope with them. The security of God’s love enables us to be fully ourselves. We feel both connected and free. God gently stretches us to grow. And finally, God creates an identity group ‘once we were not a people, now the people of God.’
Jesus’s experience of God’s loving attachment at his baptism enabled him with the strength to cope with the wilderness experience that followed. Today in this third lockdown we face our own wilderness, locked in in our minds,fearing the outside, unable to identify the unseen viral enemy. Today, God still says to us, ‘You are my beloved children, I delight in you.’ Today we can practice some simple things to help us feel our attachment to our Father. We can read this story of Jesus’s baptism again and imagine ourselves as the central figure, hear God’s words of love to us. We can reflect on all that we have to be thankful for, counting our blessings to be surprised by God’s faithful love. We can start a conversation with God as simply as a child converses with a parent, tell God about your day, share your feelings with God, ask God for what you need to keep going. We can remember how God has been part of earlier chapters in our lives and we can remind ourselves of how God’s love works in the songs and stories of the Bible.

‘You are my beloved children, with you I am well pleased.’