Sermons to Read
10 Jan 21: The Baptism of Christ - Rev Chris Casey
Readings Gen 1:1-5, Mark 1:4-11
The Baptism of Christ
At Christmas we have considered a new beginning as God steps into our world in Jesus; at Epiphany we considered the beginning of the revelation of Christ to the Gentile, and today we consider 2 more beginnings:
In our OT - beginning of creation. In the NT - beginning of Jesus public ministry at His baptism in the R Jordan. In both rdgs words are very prominent.
- In Gen - ‘And God said, Let there be light, and there was light’ – and so begins the creation of the world.
- In Mk the people hear a voice from Heaven ‘You are my Son, with you I am well pleased’ – and so begins the public ministry of Jesus.
Friends words are hugely significant in our lives, they possess immense power to build or destroy, you just think about how a little message in a Christmas card can mean so much. I came across a list of quite outrageous proposed entries for greetings cards which the Co ‘Hallmark’ quite rightly rejected, here’s just 2:
Christmas: ”If I get only one thing for Christmas, I hope it's your sister.”
Birthday: ”I must admit, you brought Religion into my life. I never believed in Hell until I met you.”
Imagine receiving one of them!!
For anyone taking brave new steps, words of help and encouragement can go a long way. How terrible it is when you see people stepping out on a new course – that may take some real courage only for people around them to criticise or undermine their efforts. Here at the Jordan we stand with Jesus as He goes public and steps out into His destiny and public ministry. Jesus, He who was fully God but also fully human – with all its attendant vulnerabilities and feelings. Maybe, just like us, He too felt quite vulnerable as He sets out on a new course in life; maybe He too wrestled with feelings of inadequacy or fear that He wouldn’t be able to do it, but He takes His stand in the water and He goes for it. And how is it launched? It is launched by His own Father drawing near, giving a tangible sign of affirmation in the form of a dove and speaking to Him words of love and affirmation from heaven:
“You are my own Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased”
I suspect that when He heard that voice His heart must have leapt as He experienced a wonderful surge of encouragement, peace and assurance.
His identity was affirmed,
His inspiration assured and
His intentions fortified!
Maybe He thought “If my Father is for me who can be against me?!” – and off He goes. SUch knowledge will have been very important because St Luke tells us his very first port of call was not the temple in Jerusalem, but the temptation in the wilderness.
Now I often use this text at baptism services and I take a special moment to say to the baptismal parents, that life may not always be kind to your child, there may be some hard times ahead, times when they doubt themselves, times when their self-esteem may falter, times when they feel utterly useless. But if they have loving words of affirmation, ringing in their ears that will make all the difference. They may not accomplish the great feat they set out to achieve, they may not gain the recognition of the world nor its adulation – but if they carry with them that affirmation of their parent in their hearts and they know they are loved for who they are and not for just what they can do, that can liberate in them the power to press on.
Some of you may be parents, or grandparents or even gt g.parents! We are all the friend of somebody – and we have the opportunity to land words in people’s lives that can be amazingly important. It might be a simple compliment when people made a real effort – ‘oh you look lovely’. It might be a word of thanks or affirmation – ‘I’m so grateful for what you did, it made a difference in…explain how, that little explanation can make the difference between a compliment that just bounces off and one that really lands well. It may be a word of encouragement – ‘I watched how you handled that tricky situation – and you did really well, or really made a great effort”. It could even be a word of love and care, “You mean a lot to me and I don’t want to see you you upset – how can I help”? Surely words like these can only make the world a better place.
Perhaps we need to stop and reflect upon the words that proceed from our lips – are they constructive or destructive? Do we deprive others of affirmation or encouragement simply because we feel uncomfortable about saying nice things to people? If we do then we need to be more courageous and perhaps a little less proud ?
Of course, words always have to be measured – they can bite back, verse “Be careful of the words you use, make them soft and sweet, for you never know from day to day which ones you’ll have to eat!”.
Straight after His baptism Jesus entered the wilderness where he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights and endured the most powerful temptations – I suspect there were several instances where the words His Father rang afresh in His ears made all the difference, it wouldn’t surprise me when 3 years down the road as He was bowed low in Gethsemane and soon after when everyone had abandoned Him that the same words rang out once more ‘you are my own beloved Son, with you I am well pleased’!
And today we rejoice in the outcome of His baptism, as we celebrate our new birth with all its promise for the future.
3 Jan 21: Epiphany Matt 2:1-12 - Rev Chris Casey
Carla was just 15 when she discovered that she was pregnant. Her mother was very distressed to discover this and immediately whisked her off to the doctors for a check up. Their doctor was a wise and aged man. He questioned Carla about how this happened and she was adamant that she had not been with anyone, similarly the Mother insisted ‘My Carla would never do anything like that’!! The Dr rose from his seat and stood staring out the window seemingly looking for something. After a while the mother said, Dr what are you looking for? He simply replied – ‘well the last time this happened it was followed by the visit of 3 wise men from the east’!
Of course, this season of Epiphany celebrates the revelation of Jesus – the Son of God, to the gentiles – that moment when it became evident that Christ was not merely the Saviour of the Jews, but the Saviour of all people, including non-Jews, as represented by the men from the east. The Good News is and always has been an inclusive message – it excludes no-one – all sinners are welcomed, all sinners are called to repentance and all sinners can know the forgiveness of their sins and the restoration of a living, loving relationship with God. But it will be on His terms not ours – there is no special pleading for any one group or another, that somehow their particular weaknesses should be overlooked and permitted whilst others must repent of their particular sins and weaknesses. The gospel is a leveller. It applies equally to all, regardless of status, race, sexual practice, or whether we are male or female.
That is rich and revolutionary Good News!! I rejoice that in this message the poor, the underprivileged, those whose voices society would seek to censure and silence, those who are marginalised or who do not fit the look of the times, who don’t experience the same intelligence or mental wellbeing as others, those who are looked down upon by the young and the trendy of our age – they all get a voice in the courts of heaven – they all have and Advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ the Righteous – and He is the propitiation for our sins – the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the whole world!! Epiphany is a good moment to clock all of this! And we should rejoice.
Now this morning I want us to focus some wisdom. In a quiz I recently took part in there was a section dealing with Christmas questions and there was one on the wise men – how many wise men were there? The immediate answer is 3, but the Bible never actually states how many there were – only that they presented gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh – and from this we assume 3, so watch out when it next comes up in a quiz!!
The journey the wise men went on becomes a great metaphor for us – we are a journeying people and it’s a helpful way to look at life. It was the wisdom of these men that first made them take the journey. In the OT Book of Numbers we find a very fascinating prophecy on the lips of Balaam the prophet, that says this:
“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the people of Sheth".
Of course this may well be where we get the Star of David from because he would be the one who would crush the heads of his enemies, but in the Babylonian captivity this prophecy still stood with others that looked towards the coming of a Messiah and it may well be that the wise men of Babylon came to be aware of this prophecy and took it to point towards their own practise of astrology – so they began to search the heavens, and suddenly there were signs of a great conjunction of the stars on its way and it may well have been the same we saw a few weeks ago with Jupiter/Saturn. Astrologically, Jupiter stands for optimism, growth and expansion and Saturn stands for Structure, Law, Ambition. 2000yr ago, these ‘stars’ appeared in the constellation of Aries the Ram which covers Israel. Hence the interpretation that a new ruler would arise out of Israel. Some may ask if this vindicates astrology? Answer – NO! Christians are not to be those who look to the stars but to the Lord for their guidance and wisdom; and in this instance in Matt it was not the stars that affected the birth of the child, but the birth of the child that affected the position of the stars!! AFterall, He was the One through whom they were made!
Now on any journey we need a means of finding our bearings, the wise men may well have used the north star, and today we still use that but also a compass that show us magnetic north and a map that shows us grid north and true north. One is on an metal instrument, the other is on paper; both communicate truth – but it will be by the compass we walk. One charts the ideal, the other the actual journey.
Wise Christians will understand that there are 2 destinations in life - the ideal and the actual. The ideal is what we are aiming for, the actual is what we might achieve due to our human frailties and imperfections. Christian wisdom and maturity dwells between the two, it always holds before it the ideal, but recognises the actual – not that this is a compromise, we never let go of the ideal because if we do we will lose our direction, we will lose our aim – and if you aim at nothing you will hit it every time!! We need a point to aim at, to press on towards, but we do recognise that without God’s help and guidance we will lose our way from time to time, we will screw things up, we will miss the mark. Missing the mark is a definition of sin. But there is a way to wisdom.
How do we become wise? We live with the tension of the ideal and the actual. We keep a hold of the ideal – the life we see outlined in scripture and we press on towards it, but we recognise will falter and fail along the way – that is our common experience of life. But wisdom is born when experience is reflected upon and learnt from.
What this means is that all Christians should be people who are, by second nature, reflective people. We don’t just experience life in all its ups and downs and press on to the next experience – we stop, we press the pause button – we dare to ask ‘why did I react to that person in that way?’, ‘why did I chose that rather than this?’, ‘why have a I made this mistake again??!’ Only when we do so do we become wise.
Someone has observed that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Developing a deeper capacity for reflection is the way out of such insanity.
In Pr9:10 we read, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”
The writer has in mind one who stops to reflect on the way that they should go, they are aware of the passions that rage within themselves, their aware of their own frailties, their own personal weaknesses and temptations, and they look away in reverence to God’s Word and God’s Wisdom to shine as their guiding light in the darkness. We are all familiar with the words of Minnie Louise Haskins, used by King G 6th in his Christmas broadcast for 1939
“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East”.
Friends that’s still true. We live in a world that screams so much knowledge at us, so many stats, so much from google and yet there seems to be little wisdom.
True wisdom will not only stir us up, it will build us up and cheer us up into people who navigate their way carefully, prayerfully and successfully into the future.
May we put our hands into the hands of God and discover His blessings as we face the future together as a church, as we learn from Him, follow Him and work with Him to build His kingdom. Amen?