Sermon, St. Sauveur/Morin Heights, January 7th 2018
Today is the feast of the Baptism of the Lord or the Baptism of Jesus and we have read the story of the baptism of Jesus by John, of how the Holy Spirit came down to Jesus like a dove and the words were spoken “You are my beloved son; in you I take delight” or “in you I am well pleased”.
It is a strange coincidence that I was leading the service here, about a month ago, before Christmas, during Advent, when we read the same piece, or part of it, about the ministry of John the Baptist. I will remind you in a little while what I said about the ministry of John because it links with today’s celebration of the baptism of Jesus.
There are two themes that strike me in the readings. The first is of beginnings. The first reading from Genesis, which itself means origin or source or beginning; it talks of the creation of earth and all that’s on it, and the universe. The beginning of the physical world.
In the Gospel, we read of the baptism of Jesus and that is of course a major beginning. The beginning of the recognition of Jesus as someone with a close relationship with God, the beginning of his ministry.Baptism is the beginning of our Christians lives, even if for most of us, we don’t remember it or the commitments made in it.
The second theme that jumps out at me is of baptism being a recognition of being well pleased in the eyes of God. If baptism meant that for Jesus, then it means that for us too; there are responsibilities that go with that.
So let’s talk first about beginnings. We heard the first few verses of Genesis which recount the story of the creation of the universe, the Biblical story. Not the geographical story or the astronomers’ story or the astrophysical story; the Biblical story with all its level of meaning. The connection with Jesus, the son of the creator, is pretty obvious. The story of Paul in Ephesus is also a beginning, the very early days of the Christian church, its beginnings as a universal church open to not only Jews but also Gentiles.
We are hearing all this in the early days of the church year and at the beginning of the calendar year.
Mark’s account of the baptism of Jesus is short, sweet and to the point. It marks the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
I remember my own baptism in St. Philip’s Church, Woodford, Essex, in England. Unlike most, I was baptised as a teenager, with a conscious desire to be baptised. Was it because of religious zeal or because I wanted to be confirmed with all my friends, and to be confirmed you had to be baptised, which I hadn’t, I leave to you to surmise.
I said I would remind you of the service before Christmas, when we also read of John’s predicting the coming of Jesus. At that time, I said that John signalled the beginning of the Good News. Now, I quote from my sermon then. “What is the Good News? … We hope for God’s justice to be at home in the world. Jesus is inviting us to reconcile the whole world, each of us with one another and with God. Jesus gives us a vision of a world in which all of the barriers that separate us — the poor from the rich, the West from the South, nation from nation, religion from religion, race from race, men from women — will be no more. No more wage disparity, the 1% owning as much as the rest of the world combined. No more developing countries being crushed by debt to the European or Asian nations and banks. No more North Korea vs the United States. No more terrorism using Islam as a cover or so-called Christians burning the Koran. No more white policeman shooting black suspects or putting indigenous people out in the cold to freeze to death. No more sexual harassment. Is that not a (desirable) vision … ? … We are on the way to God whenever we further justice and … peace.” End quote. Now isn’t that something worth beginning?
Responsibility of being “beloved”
In today’s gospel reading, we hear God saying to Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus starts off his ministry with the reassuring words of his Heavenly Father.
These are encouraging words. “With you I am well pleased.” When spoken to a child by his or her parents, these words evoke a sense of belonging, of self assurance of competence, of self worth. Sadly, many children and teens never receive words of encouragement from their parents or their caregivers. They only know what it feels like to be reminded of their failures or to be bullied or to be ridiculed for their shortcomings.
Neglected and abused children often repeat the same behaviour when they become parents, because that is what they know. This is one of the tragedies of the past relationship between Indigenous people and the rest of us, one we are trying to change today.
“You are my beloved son.” To those who have never experienced the unconditional love of a parent, these words can evoke longing and emptiness. Such folks can only imagine what it must be like to be loved by a father or mother, let alone comprehend what it means to have a parent say, “With you I am well pleased.” What it must be like to live with the knowledge that someone is well pleased with you just because of who you are.
Sadly, many children grow up without a loving mother or father, without ever knowing the love of a parent. That may have been the case with some of you. The results are sometimes tragic.
According to research, young men who grow up in homes without fathers;
• are twice as likely to end up in jail as those who come from traditional two-parent families
• have double the odds of being incarcerated
• represent well over half of youth suicides, behavioural disorders, high-school dropouts and juvenile detainees.
This is cause for concern when one considers the inordinate percentage of homes where children are growing up without a father figure. I am sure that the same is true for mothers and daughters.
The church’s calling has ben set out in the Marks of Mission. One of them is “To respond to human need by loving service”. I cannot see how this would not include supporting vulnerable children and teens and single parents. Parental love isn’t dependent only upon biology. When there is no parent around to say “You are my beloved son or daughter; with you I am well pleased”, then emulating Jesus includes loving that child or teen or the single parent.
There is a caveat here. Loving someone also includes not interfering when your involvement is neither requested nor desired.
In our Baptismal Covenant and in Confirmation, we promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbour as ourselves. One way we do this is by reaching out to the unloved, the hard to love, and the rejected in our midst and loving them. Like Jesus did.
We live in a world of fatherless children, sons and daughters who have been rejected by their parents because they live on the streets, because of sexual orientation, teen pregnancy, disability, substance abuse or because of the parents’ own needs, legitimate or otherwise. These young people often lead very solitary lives and are easy prey for society’s predators.
When faced with life’s temptations, they often make wrong choices because there is no one there to guide them. If we truly take our Baptismal Covenant seriously, we must do all we can to protect and support those least able to protect themselves.
In the Sacrament of Baptism, we welcome new believers into the Christian family. As they are baptised, we are asked to do all in our power to support them in their Christian life and spiritual development. It is no small thing what we do around the baptismal font, since all of us take solemn vows for which God will hold us accountable.
God is saying to us today, “You are my beloved sons and daughters; with you I am well pleased.” Embrace each other in the love God has freely given us, and reach out to those who long to be loved.