The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r168.htm

s168g98 Internet only Baptism of Jesus 11/1/98

"Now when all the people were baptised, and when Jesus also had been baptised and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."" (Luke 3:21-22).

This year we begin our journey with Jesus (in his adult ministry today) through the eyes of St Luke. Immediately we see one of the trademarks of St Luke's account, an emphasis on Jesus praying. We are so used to Matthew and Mark's account of the baptism of Jesus, where the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus at the very moment of his baptism, and the dove and the voice seen and heard publicly (perhaps because these more clearly affirm the orthodox doctrine that the gift of the Holy Spirit is conveyed in baptism) we fail to recognise St Luke's rather different account of the incident. St Luke recalls the gift of the Holy Spirit being given after Jesus was baptised, and when he was praying. It was away from the crowds, and the voice spoke to Jesus alone: "You are my Son ..." - not to the crowds: "This is my Son ..."

I suppose that there would be many things that God might have wanted to say to Jesus. God may well have wanted to assure Jesus of the constancy of the divine presence, guidance and love as Jesus chose his disciples and began to travel Palestine. Or God might have wanted to instruct Jesus about that ministry, and most likely about the cross and resurrection at the end. God may perhaps have given Jesus the essentials of God's message - to love God and love neighbour. God may well have thought to impart warning about the authorities - traps to avoid - places where he might be welcomed. All of these things might be good and useful stuff to impart.

God chooses, at least on this occasion to divulge nothing of this, but to say only: "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

This is the essential message God wanted Jesus to know.

The first thing to notice is that this tells us God cares for Jesus, not just for what God is going to achieve through Jesus' ministry. God "takes the time" to reassure Jesus personally of the special relationship between them.

The next thing I would point out is that as far as the gospel accounts are concerned Jesus had in fact done nothing either publicly or privately as an adult prior to this statement to deserve such a comment. Chronologically in St Luke's account - the last we heard of Jesus was aged twelve in the Temple, discussing matters with the clergy. Jesus hadn't earned this special relationship by anything he had done or by avoiding one or other particular temptation in his early life.

How often do we as the Church, in our pressing desire to convert people to our way of thinking or to get them to reform themselves from their sinful ways, forget to impart that same essential message? To take the time and make the effort to reassure people of their special relationship to the Father. That people's importance is not in what we will do for them or they for us, for what they have done, or for avoiding this or that temptation along the way.

But the same applies as much to ourselves as to others. When we pray, I guess we would like God to give us the divine directions in life - do this - don't do that - believe this - don't believe that ... Should I become a missionary or a priest in the Church of God? I have no doubt that the desire to have a simple faith, and commandments like the 10 is based on this too. Some people look "to give God a hand" by taking the words of Holy Scripture and trying to discern God's will through reading.

Let us make no mistake about God. If God wants us to do something, then God is quite able to tell us in no uncertain terms precisely what that is. If God wants us to be a priest or missionary then in my experience God is quite able to sort it all out - all by him or her self.

The first thing that God wants us to know, is that we too are sons and daughters of God. We too are "the beloved". God is well pleased with us. The divine assessment of humanity made at the beginning of creation (Gen 1.31) is repeated to Jesus.

It is a message that bears repeating, again and again.

In baptism God calls us children of God, members of Christ and heirs of the kingdom of heaven.

However it is not that baptism makes us these things in the sense that an individual was a child of the devil beforehand but now is brought into the kingdom of light. None of us would suggest that Jesus was "of the devil" before his baptism. In baptism God calls us and makes us these things, that we might be encouraged to live with ourselves, live with others and live with our God in the light of this knowledge.

In Holy Communion the same statement is made. As the Prayer Book assures us after receiving the sacrament - "Father we thank you that you feed us who have received these holy mysteries with the spiritual food of the body and blood of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. We thank you for this assurance of your goodness and love, and that we are living members of his body and heirs of his eternal kingdom ..." (AAPB p 150) It is not that other people aren't these things, but it's a lot easier to live life lovingly, knowing these things are true - about us and about others.

There is nothing more that we can be, but children of God, members of Christ and heirs of the kingdom of heaven. Neither the Pope in Rome nor the Archbishop of Canterbury is one iota more than this. There is nothing less than this either, from the starving refugee to the AIDS sufferer, the follower of another religion, the atheist or agnostic ...

Even as I type this I feel impinging on me the constant temptation to turn around God's blessings. We are ... therefore some other aren't ... or aren't quite yet ... In a report in the Advertiser about the forthcoming Franklin Graham crusade (5/1/98) the statement is made: "During the rally many people will give their lives to Jesus". It is not just these evangelicals. This is what the Church has been perceived to be on about for centuries - getting people to give their lives to God. Our text today shows God expressing to Jesus delight in him, just as he was, without any agendas. God giving life to Jesus.

The Church is the place where we are baptised and where we gather around the Lord's table and, on each occasion, whether they are contained in the words of the sermon or not, God says to us: "You are my son, my daughter - with you I am well pleased!" Again it is not that others aren't, the Church is but the place where we are told in a regular formalised way. God can and does touch other people's lives in different ways and in different places.

I am taken back to the prayer of the Baptismal Service: Let us pray ... that he will grant to this child that which by nature he cannot have, that he may be baptised with water and the Holy Spirit ... (AAPB p 520) a prayer which my cursory look at A Prayer Book for Australia (1996) seems to have (mercifully) been deleted. What is it that by nature we cannot have, if God sees Jesus amongst outcasts and sinners, and can save the prostitute before the pharisee? Of course the answer is staring us in the face. The gift of the Holy Spirit is given to enable us to see also Jesus amongst outcasts and sinners. The unchurched person (the Samaritan) can indeed often act in a more compassionate way, but it is the duty and the joy of the Church to see with God's eyes, to acknowledge, proclaim and celebrate, Jesus amongst the outcast and sinners.

To continue to proclaim that message, which bears repeating again and again: "You are God's son, God's daughter - beloved - with you God is well pleased!"

With you God is well pleased - not for coming to Church, for what you might or might not have done in the past, not for the precise details of what you believe or not believe, not for what temptations you might have been able to avoid or not, not because you express your intimate affection with someone suitable or not, not for what you will be able to contribute to the cause of the extension of the kingdom of God or not, not if you become a priest, a missionary or a religious person or not.

"We are God's son, God's daughter - beloved - with us God is well pleased!" These are live-giving words, divine life-giving words. If God's Church is not heard to be saying these words plainly, where else will the people God loves hear them?

 

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