Sermon by Reverend Trevor Jamison, preached 13/01/2019
Isaiah 43:1-7; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Preached on a Sunday when the power company had turned off the electricity in order to carry out work in the area around the church.
So, here we are on the first Sunday after Epiphany. If you were here last week, you’ll remember that “epiphany” is about making something that has been obscure apparent or manifest; that there are three Sundays in this short epiphany season where we remember three occasions where something is made apparent about Jesus. Last week it was the light of the star that revealed Jesus as a king. Next week it will be about Jesus’s first public “sign” in John’s Gospel – turning water into wine. This week it’s about Jesus’s baptism. What does the baptism of Jesus tell us about him? What does that tell us about our own baptism? Also, how does having the electricity turned off help us with any of that?
Well, the baptism of Jesus tells us about how he was well-connected (unlike the church this morning): with the world, with people, with God. And that in turn suggests that when we think about and so “remember” our baptism we too should consider our connection to the world, our connection with other people, and our connection God.
‘When Jesus also had been baptised …’ (3:21) What do you need in order to have a baptism? Water! No water = no baptism; it’s a very simply equation. Actually, you need a bit more than water. You also need the earth, the land. Fish don’t carry out baptisms, if for no other reason than that they are always swimming around in water. For the water to be notable you need it to be different. Jesus’s baptism takes place in the Jordan river – water – but the Jordan is known for coming between two bits of land, one of them the “Promised Land” that the Jewish people had entered centuries before.
Not only do you need water and land, you also need a living creature for there to be a baptism. No God-created creature, no baptism. So, in being baptised, Jesus is connected with creation. He, a created being, is standing on land in the midst of water, which itself depends on an eco-system of rain falling and springs rising. Jesus is well-connected with creation.
And Jesus is revealed to be connected to humankind: ‘when all the people were baptised, and when Jesus also had been baptised.’ (3:21) This was no private baptism for Jesus got baptised in company with other people. Other people were looking on, and witnessing it. If you want to find one of the reasons why in the Reformed Church tradition baptism normally takes place in the context of public worship (as we are due to do both in February and in March this year) then you could do worse than look at this event in Luke’s Gospel.
We often say that in Jesus Christ God came to be with us fellow human beings; the name “Emmanuel”, which is attributed to him in Matthew’s Gospel, means, “God with us”. And here in Luke’s Gospel we see Jesus at his baptism in the company of others, and the others, according to the Gospels were a pretty varied crew, not just the religiously observant and respectable people of their day. Yes, the focus is on Jesus’s baptism, but it’s a baptism undertaken in company with, connected to, other human beings.
And Jesus is revealed not only to be connected to creation and connected to humankind but also to be connected with God; so closely connected that it seems like we are connecting with God, “godself” when we connect with Jesus: ‘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.’ (3:22-23)
It’s often said, because it’s true, that the phrase “The Holy Trinity” is found nowhere in the Bible. But there are several places in the New Testament – and here’s one of them – where you can see why the Church has developed this doctrine. Here we are, as far away from God, from heaven as you can get. In fact, even trying to describe earth and heaven in spatial terms – here and there – does not really express the difference. So how do we connect with God? We connect with God because God chooses to connect with us through Jesus; to step into or unto the earth in a human being. Then, when Jesus has gone from the earth – crucified, risen and returned to “heaven” – we still have a conviction of the continuing presence of God in our lives; God’s Spirit at work in us.
To try to explain all of that we come up with something like understanding God as Trinity – Father [Parent], Son and Holy Spirit. And Jesus’s baptism is a biblical occasion when we get a glimpse of divine interconnectedness – a voice from heaven, a person in the Jordan, the Spirit on him in the form of a dove.
So, since Jesus’s baptism reveals or makes apparent that he is connected with creation, connected with humankind, connected with the God of heaven and the God still here on earth, that should make us think about our own baptism.
You and I have been baptised with water here on earth, as God-loved, God-created creatures – we are connected with the rest of creation. We are baptised in the name of Jesus and in imitation of Jesus, and in the setting of the public worship of the Church; we are connected with humankind. We are baptised in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; our baptism connects us to God.
To know that we are connected with creation, with each other, with God, then, needs to effect how we see and how treat and respond to the world that we inhabit; affects how we relate to the other people with whom we share that world; affects how we understand the God who created all of us; made known to us in Jesus Christ, including upon the occasion of his baptism.