Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 10 January 2021.
• First Reading: Genesis 1: 1-5 (In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth)
• Psalm 29
• Epistle: Acts 19: 1-7 (Baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus – the Holy Spirit came upon them)
• Gospel: Mark 1: 4-11 (Jesus came, was baptized, the Holy Spirit came as a dove, the voice from heaven: ‘You are My Son whom I love, with you I am well pleased’)
I wonder how often we have heard interviews of political leaders who are ready enough to be seen but not always so ready to answer the questions.
Some answer the questions they would like to have been asked, or reinterpret the question or the assumptions behind it, or they deviate entirely.
In many cases the expectations of the interview are just not met and the process is almost fraudulent. In other words, the assumptions of the interview do not follow through into the process of the interview as such.
And then we wonder why there is such dissatisfaction with our leaders.
But the beginning of Jesus’ ministry set the basis for its development right up to its climax on the cross.
He went to the river Jordan to receive John the Baptist’s baptism in order to identify Himself with the ordinary people of Israel as they confronted their sins and sought to turn away from them.
It was an act of solidarity with people who knew that their lives were short of what God required of them and who sought to start again.
At His baptism Jesus was making Himself one with those whose sins He would take direct and personal responsibility for on the cross.
And whereas at His baptism Jesus was committing Himself to the people of Israel, and indeed to humanity as a whole, at His crucifixion, He was committing Himself to their sins themselves.
And so His whole ministry was going to be about a proclamation of the Kingdom of God, and its otherness from the way of life of the world as people knew it then and still know it now.
It would be a ministry in which every detail of His life would be on display, and equally, in which His words and actions would all reveal something of the Kingdom of God.
It would be there in His meals and in His conversations, the friends and followers who gathered around Him, and the regime of life to which He committed Himself.
For this leads to the second aspect of Jesus’ baptism. John was administering a symbolic cleansing by water of a penitent’s way of life. It was definitely about personal repentance and it would reflect the will-power of the penitent in renewing his or her way of life.
But with Jesus there was a new element which has been with us ever since.
This was the coming of the Holy Spirit, the personal presence of God in the life and actions of the believer.
It started with Jesus at His baptism and on the Day of Pentecost it would endow the whole church.
For Jesus, the Holy Spirit would endow Him with the spiritual gifts and authority to serve God His Father as He moved among the people of Israel and even beyond.
He would have the discernment of what was happening in a person’s heart and life, the inner motivations and hindrances that would colour their actions, relationships and transactions.
He would discern personal evil and have authority to silence it and expel it. He would discern when natural phenomena such as storms on the lake contained an inner and personal malevolence, and this He would confront and expel.
He would have the power to divide an inadequate supply of food among a vast crowd, and yet He would be able to pass unharmed through a murderous crowd intent on His destruction.
Above all He would have an eloquence of speech and of teaching that would outclass and outrank the academic formulae of His critics.
Perhaps the central aspect of Jesus’ baptism was that it started with His personal humility in making Himself one with sinners and a refusal to stand on His dignity as the Son of God.
This was the whole point in His becoming flesh and abiding among us. To take on our flesh and then to avoid our condition would be a denial of the whole purpose of Jesus’ incarnation.
But no, Jesus was determined to make Himself one with those whom He had come to save.
But it was in the fullness of this commitment that God His Father then endowed Jesus with the Holy Spirit. In other words, it was in the light of His obedience that He was endowed with the power and the authority to fulfil His mission.
For us therefore, Jesus’ baptism is one with His passion and death. Just as He had already identified Himself with us in our sins at His baptism, so He also seeks for us to identify ourselves with Him, first of all in our own baptism but also as we also meet the cross in our lives.
That is why we also are endowed with the Holy Spirit – in being able to move outside our own comfort zones and to serve Him in the situations where we find ourselves.
Yes, we will meet denial, betrayal, false accusation and general abuse and exclusion. For some there may be systematic abuse and bullying. But God also looks upon us, looking also to be well pleased. At the end of it all, we may find ourselves being very surprised.