Know yourself loved. Sermon for Adel Parish church on the feast of the Baptism of Christ 2020
Mark 1: 4 – 11
It was near the end of my first year at University – exams had just finished. They had been a bit of a shock…hard. People around me seemed much more confident than I was about how they’d gone. I rang home for my weekly chat from the rather public payphone in college…and told my Mum I thought I’d probably failed.
‘Ok’, she said calmly, ‘and..? What other news? What plans have you got now the exams are over?’ She didn’t talk about what would happen if I did fail, or try to persuade me all would be well…but I came off the phone feeling that in a way it didn’t matter…because I knew that our relationship didn’t depend on how well I did in exams…I was her daughter and she just loved me.
Today we celebrate the Baptism of Christ, and we’ve just heard Mark’s account of it. In this gospel, the baptism itself is mentioned only briefly. Mark focuses on what happened next. Jesus saw the heavens torn apart and a dove descending…he heard God’s voice from heaven, saying, “You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
This is the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry on earth…this is before he’s resisted demons, healed, preached, walked on water, died on a cross. God looks on him and loves him, totally and unconditionally, just because…Jesus has no need to prove himself, that has nothing to do with it.
The way Mark tells the story gives the intriguing thought that perhaps only Jesus heard and saw these things. Presumably – because we know about it – that wasn’t the case. But the way it’s recorded suggests what happened was for Jesus’ benefit, not for those around him. Jesus is being addressed here – not ‘this is my son’, but ‘you are my Son’. Not an announcement about who Jesus is – but a moment of pure love between the Father and the Son.
But in an important way we are more than just onlookers, it does concern us too – since we too are baptised or can be in the future. Baptism reminds us that, amazingly, Jesus’ death and resurrection give us the possibility of becoming children of God too.
As the introduction to the baptism or Christening service says, ‘In baptism we are clothed with Christ, dying to sin that we may live his risen life. As children of God, we have a new dignity and God calls us to fulness of life.’
So we can hear those words…’you are my child, my beloved, with you I am well pleased’, as meant for us too.
This is nothing to do with our actions…I was only 4 months old when I was baptised…I hadn’t had chance to do anything much. No, God just loves us totally and unconditionally. Incredibly, there is nothing we can do to make God love us more, and nothing we can do that will make him love us less.
There is nothing we can do to make God love us more, and nothing we can do that will make him love us less…I don’t think we remember this often enough. Just imagine for a moment those words being said, by God, about you. “You are my child, my beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
This doesn’t mean we don’t have to try to be better. I don’t think it means God will never be sad or angry at our actions. But I do think it can make a big difference to how we face the world. Jesus heard these words at the start of his ministry: as he went out into the wilderness to face temptation; as he began the journey of love that would lead to the cross.
We too, are once again at a frightening and difficult point in our lives. And unlike last March, it is cold and dark, and we are already weary. We are facing another period of home schooling, of not seeing friends, of feeling isolated, of worrying about friends and family, of being annoyed by restrictions, or by those who don’t stick to them.
We’re facing challenges that will not always bring out the best in us…which sometimes make us feel we are failing…or not considerate enough…or just can’t manage. Which is exactly when we need to hear those words. “You are my child, my beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
When I was training at Mirfield I loved to go into the church and sit on the floor by the font. There was a particularly good bit of underfloor heating there – but also the beautiful font reminded me of my baptism.
Now is not perhaps the time for going and gazing at fonts, and we certainly can’t boast underfloor heating, but there are other symbols of our baptism to hand at home.
You might like to get a small bowl of water – dip your finger in it and trace the sign of the cross on your forehead…remembering that Christ claims you as his own.
You might like to find a candle; some incredibly organised people may even be able to find their baptism candle – but any will do. Light it and sit quietly looking at it…and hear God’s words spoken to you…”You are my child, my beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
May be that will give us the courage and energy to, as the baptism service puts it, ‘shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father’, or maybe it will just help us get through the next day or two.
One last thing – important as fatigue and anxiety make us less patient with those around us – remember just as God says to you…”You are my child, my beloved”…he says it to the people around you too.