The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:
s034g05 Lockleys 9/1/2005 Sunday 1 Baptism of Jesus
"I need to be baptised by you". Matthew 3.14
The reality is that we know next to nothing about the early life of Jesus. After his birth and sojourn in Egypt we have only the brief incident at age 12 when Jesus stays behind in Jerusalem, much to his parent's chagrin. In fact we only assume that Jesus began his public ministry at 30, because had he been any younger his opinions would have been even more disregarded by those who were not going to listen and hear anyway.
We have no idea of Jesus' education. People often called him "Rabbi" and again it is assumed from this that he had formal training. However the people with whom he grew up were astonished at his teaching, so that, had he had formal training, they might have guessed (probably wrongly :-) where that teaching had come from.
We are unsure of the make up of his family. The bible talks of brothers and sisters, and it would have been unusual in those days to be an only child. However their concept of family and ours might be rather different, and they could have been cousins. Why then James would have been singled out to be called "the brother of the Lord" seems strange to me, but we simply cannot know.
We do not know if Jesus had a girlfriend, suffered from acne, or struggled with his peers. The multitude of things that when I think about that have happened to me in my early life (and I cringe still) couldn't have happened to Jesus! I showed the members of the MU the cartoon from "Church Times" a while back. The curate was sitting on the sofa with a parishioner. The curate was looking up into the air but had his arm around the parishioner. The lady was looking furtively at the hand on her shoulder. The caption was: "the Mothers Union had to begin somewhere" :-)
There are books written with stories of the early life of Jesus, but they tend to be of the sensationalist sort. This is not to say that they didn't happen, but they tend to magnify the power of Jesus and to not contain the central message, to love others. It would actually be nice to think that Jesus had to learn to use, and not misuse his gifts, just as we all have to do. However these books were not included in our Bible and I suspect for good reason. There are enough ways to misuse the words of scripture already without including these sorts of stories.
My point for this rather long prelude to my sermon is that for all intents and purposes, Jesus had done nothing or said anything to warrant John the Baptist saying to Jesus that he didn't need to be baptised. Jesus' baptism was entirely unmerited; just as our own baptisms were entirely unearned.
Everyone who came to John was baptised by him. The only people he didn't baptise, or who he questioned their motives, were the ones who it could be reasonably assumed actually knew what baptism meant theologically: the scribes and the Pharisees.
There is no evidence that Jesus sat at the feet of John the Baptist, learning what baptism was all about. We are given the impression, certainly in John's gospel, that this encounter was the first public meeting of the two.
The baptism of Jesus did not mean that from thenceforth he came under God's protection. Immediately afterwards he was sent to the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, and eventually he was to suffer the most cruel of deaths.
So too our baptism doesn't mean that we have this nice cosy relationship with God. It is much more likely that we too will find that the grace given, is given not as a possession for ourselves, but something to be shared with others.
God does not cast all the babies we baptise into the wilderness. Most often they go home to a party and a celebration (or more likely a sleep.) God's paths for us are exceedingly diverse.
John the Baptist saw good in Jesus, which is really quite remarkable. I have been reading Bill Bryson's book: "A Short History of Nearly Everything" and time and again he notes professional rivalries between experts led to discoveries not been accepted. It was not just the Church who disbelieved people like Galileo. Personality clashes between clergy are rife. Just think of the then Bishop of Adelaide and Fr Wise. Most conflicts in parishes stem from those in the congregation who think that they could do a better job than the priest.
John saw good in Jesus. John saw good in lots of people. The only people John didn't see good in were those who were theologically and religiously trained.
This ought to make ring some alarm bells ring about Christian education. If it trains us to see the good in others, then this is excellent. If it gives us ways / reasons / ammunition, to look down on others, then for all its authority, it is not doing what it is supposed to do.
Children are the most treasured of possessions. Parents bring children to be baptised precisely because of this. Deep within everyone's psyche is the recognition that bringing to birth another individual is miraculous; is something of God. To refuse baptism is, for me, a rebuttal of this. It is to suggest that the parents are deluded and their child is not of God at all.
Jesus had done nothing remarkable to warrant John the Baptist commenting that Jesus was so much better that he not only didn't need to be baptised, but that he should baptise the baptiser. It certainly wasn't his education.
We too need to look to others and see good, the good that is inherent in others as individuals and not a product of their achievements; be they academic, social or spiritual.
It is a function of how I work, rather in advance, in order to be able to share what might possibly be helpful for others in a time frame that might possibly be useful; that I have not made reference to the tragedy of the tsunami of a week ago. Indeed I hesitate to do so, for I worry that anyone might seek to make "mileage" out of what is for so many, the apocalypse.
But the question might come: what about those who have died without having been baptised a 'Christian'?
The God I worship would take rather more notice of those so affected by a tsunami than those babies upon whose foreheads has been poured some water, in the name of the Holy Trinity, in whatever Church.
The outpouring of grief, as well as the wonderful contributions made to the relief of those who are affected, are a powerful sign that ordinary people recognise that people are precious, whatever their race, nationality, creed, gender, age or potential contribution. As such, amidst the utter devastation, that I for one certainly cannot even begin to comprehend, there is a sign of hope for the world. We continue to care for others.
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