Sermon for the Baptism of Christ, Sunday, 8th January 2012
“I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mark 1:8
Saint Mark tells us of one of those photogenic moments in the Gospel story – the baptism of Jesus. It is a moment filled with colour and drama and a sense of something special. Jesus ‘saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him’, says Saint Mark.
As with much of Scripture, it is easy to read the account as we would read a story in a book and to fail to see what might be its implications for us. ‘I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit’, John the Baptist tells his listeners and we are challenged to move beyond the images of the moment and to think what it is saying to us.
As the days of January pass, how many of our New Year resolutions remain after one week? How much evidence is there of the presence of Jesus in our lives?
If anyone asked me what sort of person I was, I would tell them that I was OK. Maybe not the best, but certainly not the worst, not the greatest of saints, but nor the worst of sinners.
Wouldn’t we all see ourselves in that way? We wouldn’t profess to live perfect holy lives, but we would feel greatly aggrieved if we were accused of being seriously in the wrong. If I came down the church and accused one of you individually of being a miserable sinner, I think you would feel somewhat annoyed.
We don’t feel we are sinful people, yet maybe there is also an awareness that we are not the people we might be. The sins change but the human weakness doesn’t. Saint Paul seems to understand what I’m talking about, he writes in Romans 7:19, ‘For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing’.
I think most of us if we sat and reflected for five minutes could probably come up with a list of aspects of our life where we are far from perfect. Maybe there are unresolved wrongs from our past, things for which we never said ‘sorry’, maybe there are things now that we really should do something about, maybe there are things that no-one else even know about that need to be addressed.
The option we don’t have is to do nothing. We cannot pretend to be Christians and simply go on living unchanged lives. If we come to church week in and week out knowing that there are things we should be doing something about, and persisting in doing nothing, then we are making little of God and we are making a mockery of our faith.
Writing to Timothy, Saint Paul writes that the Lord, ‘has saved us and called us to a holy life’. We are called to live lives that are different, different from the life we have lived in the past, different from the lives of people around us who profess no faith. If our lives as Christians are not distinctive, are not different, then we have to ask ourselves, ‘are they Christian?’
The problem we face is the very problem that Saint Paul faced, we mean to do things that are right, but it’s so much easier to do the things that are wrong. It’s easier not to say sorry, the excuses come readily to us, we don’t want to rake over old ground again, let sleeping dogs lie. It’s easier to carry on thinking the way we have always thought; sure, who knows what we’re thinking anyway? It’s easier to carry on doing the things the way we have always, done them, we’re too old to change now or we’re no worse than the next person. It’s very hard to change. Maybe, there is the odd thing that pulls us up and makes us think, but generally we just carry on.
In his baptism, Jesus is identifying with us, saying he realizes what human life is like and that he realizes what we are going to be like, he realises that left to our own choice we will just go our own way, so he says, in Saint John Chapter 14 Verse 16, that the Father will give us a Counsellor to be with us forever – the Holy Spirit.
‘I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit’, says John the Baptist.” Being a Christian is about more than what we do. It is about what God does. The Holy Spirit is God with us, the Holy Spirit is God in us.
What about an extra New Year resolution? Resolve to take five minutes this afternoon, this evening or tomorrow, and reflect on our own life and honestly ask, ‘what needs to change?’ What do I need to do to become the person God wants me to be?
‘He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit’. John the Baptist’s words are as much for us as they were for the crowds on the banks of the Jordan.
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