The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:

s113g09 Epiphany 1 the Baptism of Jesus 11/1/2009

'you are my Son' Mark 1.11

It seems all a bit superfluous, God telling Jesus this. In the account of Jesus' baptism that we read today - the words are directed to Jesus alone. Other writers have God addressing the crowds with the words: 'This is my Son'. But Mark recalls these words are to Jesus alone, and presumably God is telling Jesus nothing he doesn't already know.

We do not often hear God speaking in an audible way, so the message is important.

If we were to think what God might have usefully said it might be something like: 'Your sins are forgiven' or 'Don't break the commandments' or 'Love your neighbour' or 'Beware the leaven of the scribes and Pharisees' or 'Don't trust Judas' or 'You know where all this will end, don't you!' or 'Don't forget to say John 3.16 and 14.6!' When one listens to the church one might conclude God should have alerted Jesus to the need to practice sexual abstinence, to oppose IVF and contraception, and to avoid any contact with gay or lesbian persons!

Today's gospel tells us what happened with a minimum of commentary. We could assume that baptism was and is a magic ritual that changes us from being children of the devil or children of the flesh into something else into children of God - into someone extra-ordinary, denied to others.

Now clearly Jesus was not a child of the devil, or a child of the flesh - so baptism for him didn't change him into anyone extra-ordinary - setting him apart from other people.

So perhaps it was not the baptism that prodded God into declaring Jesus to be the son of God - perhaps it was his actions in joining the rest of the crowds in their humanity coming to John to be baptised that prodded God to say this.

It is not unusual for people, when faced with an opportunity to gain something personally to be 'in it'. We are told that even the scribes and the Pharisees joined in the crush to be baptised by John. But Jesus' motivation is entirely different. He did not have to worry about his personal salvation. His concern was to identify fully with the rest of humanity, and it was this identification with others that made him so extra-ordinary. For who else does this in the name of God and religion?

I often see people with religious delusions - as well as some who faithfully attend church - who would not stoop to be associated with other people indeed even people of their own communion!

If baptism is just a ritual to mark us off from the rest of humanity the heathen the impious the ignorant the sceptical the lazy or whoever what makes us any different from any other religious system with similar aims but by different methods? The unique thing about Christianity is that it unites us to all other people or should I say could be - if we choose to read the gospel in this way.

But there is another unique thing about this encounter of John the Baptist and Jesus. Jesus acknowledges the God-given mission of the Baptist and submits himself to it! Again, how often do Christians recognise and affirm the ministry of others even to the point of willingly partaking in their rituals - accepting the validity of anothers' baptism and eucharist? Again this points us to God's approval on looking for blessing from others who are different from us, especially those different in faith to us.

In the end it all depends on what we want! If we choose an exclusive religion then guess what we get? More global division and antagonism and we do it in the name of some god or other. Or we can choose an inclusive religion and guess what we get? Just as much antagonism from those who want to assert an exclusive God Jesus was killed for just this reason! However at least we can be happy that we haven't caused anyone else to turn away from the idol of an angry god.

Many people I talk to speak about their faith in God as if this were the most important thing. However I often think, and sometimes I say, it is a far more important thing that God believes in us.

God has made us to stand on our own two feet and to think and reason for ourselves. If God made us this way then surely the Almighty is not afraid when we do so. I often think that atheists hold their views because so many 'christians' seem to make a virtue of compliance rather than reason, and they want no part of a god who demands this. But nor would I! I have begun re-reading: 'On being a Christian' by Hans Kung and I was taken by one statement: 'the Enlightenment, which Kant described as "man's emergence from his self- inculpated tutelege"' (p81). Perhaps we still need to find more of this Enlightenment!

Recently I was thinking of the text Romans 1: 16 'I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.' In some ways I think that atheists have more faith to do what God wants rather than some people of faith who are content to comply with prohibitions (usually directed towards others!) rather than think and do useful things for others. If this were the gospel then I certainly would have cause to be ashamed of it for it offers precious little to a world aching to have some affirmation. Paul's words about both Jew and Greek imply that there is more than one way to believe but how often do we find this said from the pulpit?

God speaks to Jesus to re-affirm that he is already God's son. He is God's son because he identifies fully with others, rather than distancing himself from others.

God doesn't give Jesus directions as to how Jesus ought to undertake the ministry, indeed of course, Jesus was already doing all that God would want, identifying with others. God is content to affirm this.

Of course, this complete identification with others is the ministry in its entirety. St Paul wrote that he tried to be all things to all people; he too glimpsed this mission. (1 Cor 9.22)

And, again, it was precisely this identification with others that led Jesus to be killed.

I started with the assertion that these words of God to Jesus at his baptism were somewhat superfluous, and you know, if humanity treated one another humanely God would in fact be somewhat superfluous! If we identified with the victims of aggression then we would cease our own acts of aggression. In this sense the atheists are right. The God I worship is far more concerned that we identify with others than be forever proclaiming how wonderful 'our' god is, how especially kosher the details of 'our' faith are, how uniquely divinely inspired 'our' form of worship is, or suggesting that God will condemn others to eternal damnation unless they identify with us! We are, like Jesus to identify with them!

Baptism and Holy Communion are the sacramental ways we affirm our God given identity with others. Of what earthly use is an intellectual acknowledgement of our 'unity' if it doesn't extend to what we do in the name of 'god'? What does it say to others about our 'god' if we can co-operate in everything except in our most sacred of rituals? It places us on a slippery slide towards terrorism and child molestation in all of its forms.

'You are a son / daughter of God' this must be our proclamation to one and to all, whether they be baptised or not, whether they are confirmed or not, communicant or not and immediately I say this I wonder if we can really describe we ourselves as 'communicants' when our communion is essentially with God alone and we are like Jonah fleeing in the quite opposite direction of real communion with others!

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