The Baptism of Christ.
So why did Jesus get baptised? Was it necessary for one who railed against empty posturing and cheap words?
There are three reasons why we think Jesus submitted to baptism:
First, he wanted to be identified with this new movement which John the Baptist had publicised. People were going out into the desert to witness this eccentric preacher whose mission it was to encourage the locals to identify their shortcomings and seek forgiveness through ritual washing. Jesus needed to identify with these ordinary folk who knew they could do better in their lives. They knew their shortcomings. That is a good place to start when we consider improving our game.
Second, if this sign of baptism was to be seen as the gateway into a new community then Jesus had to enter himself. It was a badge of authority given by God. At the baptism of Jesus, we are told that the voice said two things: “this is my Son, “, a phrase from Psalm 2 proclaiming the anointed king. The second message, “with whom I am well pleased” is from Isaiah which prophesies the suffering servant. So Jesus’ authority is given by God to reign through humble service and eventual suffering.
Third, Jesus was no longer a child. He was a young man, probably aged 30 and had spent the hidden part of his ministry being equipped for this moment which had been orchestrated by John. He was now convinced that this was the time to strike out and complete the work which his Father had prepared for him.
Why Baptism Today?
The sociologists of religion – and among them Professor Grace Davie – identify 3 phases in our religious adherence: believing, belonging and behaving. The first two can be inter-changeable. We come to church because we believe or want to believe. What would attract you to this community of faith? Well, the oft-quoted answer is the music, the architecture, the stimulating sermons (although there are always exceptions!). However, there will be deeper reasons and among them our need to be wanted, our need to find a deeper meaning to life than the superficial motions of existence. We should never get complacent but so many visitors and newcomers comment upon the warmth of welcome which they experience in this Cathedral.
So, we join a community because we believe – or we want to believe – and then follows a sense of belonging. Both these phases are more difficult to discern in a cathedral community because we don’t have all the trappings of mission evangelism (alpha courses and the like) and neither do most of us live in the same proximity so identification during the week is more hit-and–miss. And believing is not a Damascus Road moment for most of us. It is something which comes gradually. So in the 11th century St. Anselm, in one of his prayers says this:
“I do not seek to understand so that I may believe, But I believe so that I may understand”
We don’t usually baptise people who know all there is to know about God and his dealings with humanity. No! We are pilgrims together! We learn from each other and from the teachings of the church. I well remember a conversation with an elderly lady in my village church when I was about 11. She taught me to look for Christ in everyone. What an important lesson that was! So we can expect to pick up aspects of belief from each other, from sermons – though Lent Bible Study Groups organized by Canon Stockton are a much more effective means of learning.
So believing and belonging are to be found at the start of our journey together as a church. Then comes behaving – leaning the implications of our faith for daily living. During the Victorian period of colonialism, Christian missionaries encountered different cultures such as polygamy or cannibalism which were modified by the morals of the gospel. This is a continuous process which will be highlighted for us next week at The Anglican Primates’ Conference in Canterbury where clear divisions between the liberals and conservatives will emerge and no doubt be exaggerated by the press. Indeed, they have already started.
So much for behaviour on the grand scale but for each of us, behaviour will be modified by good examples all around: grace at meals, regular prayer, going the extra mile, sacrificial living and giving as we try to follow more closely the footsteps of Jesus. The informal influence of family, friends or church acquaintances is so important in this phase of Christian behaving.
How then does this exploration of Christ’s Baptism affect us today? I would like to suggest that there are 3 implications for us:
Firstly, the Great Commission at the end of St. Matthew’s Gospel directs us to go and make disciples and encourage baptism. That is not just my job but yours too! At the end of each Eucharist we pray together the Diocesan Vision Prayer – that we will be witnesses, make disciples and grow leaders. We need to attend to that challenge… so why not write on a ‘post-it’ the name of a friend who could be a member of this congregation and stick it in your regularly used bible or prayer book as a focus for your prayers and your own personal evangelization?
Secondly, we are currently collecting names of both adults and children who would like to be Confirmed this year on 15 May or to explore further the Christian Faith. Confirmation is the conclusion of the Baptismal Rite. Canon Stockton will be guiding the adults; Mike Kirby will be teaching the juniors. Please see any of the clergy if this invitation may be relevant to you or your family.
Thirdly, much of our discipleship is measured by our stewardship of time, talents and money: how we use them to the glory of God and the benefit of His Church. In 2 months’ time we shall be starting our annual stewardship campaign. This gives us all an opportunity to look critically at our discipleship and consider how much more of our lives we can surrender to God in gratitude for his love to us. From the moment of his baptism, Jesus gave himself totally to the Father’s will. We are called to do the same, to pour ourselves out in the service of the One who will make us fully human.
May I finish by sharing with you a little more of St. Anselm’s prayer?
“Teach me to seek you,
And as I seek you, show yourself to me,
For I cannot seek you unless you show me how,
And I will never find you
Unless you show yourself to me.
Let me seek you by desiring you,
And desire you by seeking you;
Let me find you by loving you
And love you in finding you.”
Proslogion 1.135. Amen.