Tag Archives: Jesus

Sermon – Matthew 11:2-11(Lesley)

2 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[a] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

John the Baptist baptizes Jesus. The artist Ad...
John the Baptist baptizes Jesus. The artist Adi Holzer created this handcolored etching The baptism in 1997. Today is his seventy-fifth birthday. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

7 As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,

    who will prepare your way before you.’[b]

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

A Vicar was fed up, waiting for the plumber to come. Eventually he sent him a note that simply said Matthew 11:3. When the plumber  looked it up he found the verse “Are you the one who is to come or look we for another”? So the plumber sent a note back, simply saying Isaiah 50:2a  “why did no one answer when I called”?

Sorry – couldn’t resist the dreadful joke.

John the Baptist was undoubtedly a great man of God – one of the greatest prophets that the Jews had seen.  In fact the New Testaments work hard to say that although John the Baptist was great, Jesus was greater, because there were many groups who followed John the Baptist as their leader even after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

John the Baptist had huge numbers of disciples, his teaching was transformative, he challenged materialism, challenged injustice, challenged the dreadful leaders of his time and was well respected by everyone for it. He ended up in jail, of course.

And jail is not an easy place to be. Not that I have personal experience of it, but in my rebellious teens I dated someone who had been in and out of jail, as had his friends. They spoke of it with horror. To do six weeks was unbearable, to do a long stretch such as a year was unthinkable. In jail they lost their freedom, their choices, their family, their girlfriends, their sense of self, their self-esteem, their ability to distance themselves from those who hurt them. They became completely disorientated and fearful.

So this passage does not show John the Baptist in his best light – Jesus is different than what he expected – are you the one or are we to look for another?

Perhaps it is the difference between his rather sober, austere outlook and rather angry God, who condemns things like adultery, compared with Jesus and his disciples having fun at parties and Jesus whose God forgives things like adultery. Jesus wasn’t doing religion in the same way as John.

And this is of course a huge challenge in the church today – people failing to understand others and the way they worship God – the various factions all too quickly throwing stones.

But the other thing to learn from this is how difficult it is not to lose our way when we are in situations that feel like prison. Of course they may not be actual prisons, we can get imprisoned in thought patterns, imprisoned in negative relationships, imprisoned by pain.

Being alone can impact on this too – have you heard the story of the man who went to his priest and asked why he was feeling so cold, so far from God. The priest simply got the fire tongs and took one of the coals out of the fire and put it on the hearth. The coal went from burning white hot to red hot to black. The priest then put it back in the fire. And within minutes it was on fire again. We need each other. The spiritual journey is not undertaken alone.

Jesus is very gentle with John – pointing out the evidence and then commending him. He does say that John is lacking something though, those who are least in the Kingdom of God are greater than John – perhaps he is the sense of the Holy Spirit at that time. If you compare John’s experience in prison with Peter’s experience when he was imprisoned then perhaps it is different – they sing hymns and an earthquake releases them, or Paul’s experience of ministering to his jailers. I don’t know.

But perhaps today is an opportunity to ask ourselves whether we have any prisons in our lives and whether we need to ask the Holy Spirit into them to transform them. I’m going to finish with that beautiful poem by Bonhoeffer, articulating his experience of imprisonment:

Who am I? They often tell me

I stepped from my cell’s confinement

Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,

Like a squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They often tell me

I used to speak to my warders

Freely and friendly and clearly,

As though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me

I bore the days of misfortune

Equably, smilingly, proudly,

Like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?

Or am I only what I myself know of myself?

Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,

Struggling for breath, as though hands were

compressing my throat,

Yearning for colours, for flowers, for the voices of birds,

Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighbourliness,

Tossing in expectation of great events,

Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,

Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,

Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I? This or the other?

Am I one person today and tomorrow another?

Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,

And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?

Or is something within me still like a beaten army,

Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine!

Pentecost Sermon 27/5/12 (Lesley)

Icon of the Pentecost
Icon of the Pentecost (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Holy Spirit can sound a bit scary:

 

Holy Spirit – Holy Ghost

 

One of my friend’s husbands called it the Holy Spook.

 

And also it can make us think about people who seem a bit weird:

 

In one church which was quite formal a woman who had just become a Christian, and she was really excited about what she’d experienced, about the Holy Spirit. And in the middle of the service she shouted out, `Hallelujah!’ And the churchwarden was standing at the back, and he came up to her and tapped her on the shoulder and said, `Madam, you mustn’t say that here!’ And she said, `But I’m so excited! I’ve got religion!’ So he said, `Well, you didn’t get it here, madam.’

 

It might be worth looking at the Bible to see instances of the HS.

 

The Holy Spirit was in creation – brooding over the waters… it is creative and brings change.

 

The Holy Spirit gives gifts – in Exodus one of the craftsmen was named as filled with the HS to perform all sorts of crafts – creative again.

 

Gideon was afraid until he was filled with the HS.

 

The HS enabled Samson to break free of his bonds.

 

In Joel it says that the Holy Spirit is for all people – all people – you, me, everyone.

It will result in old men dreaming dreams and young men having visions, and all of us, women too will have this fantastic sense of God within us and of God’s dreams and visions.

 

I was talking to someone this week who told me that she suddenly realised that she had faith, and with this realisation came this sense of God within her. Wow! It made me realise how exciting being a Christian is – sometimes we just take it for granted. We compared notes – I feel the HS in my heart, for her it was partly in her heart and in her gut too – this sense of God with us.

 

Remember the Holy Spirit is for us all – every one of us, those of us who are near and those who are far away, and it will cause something new to happen, something creative, something that frees us, something that gives us a vision for the future.

 

When we try to be Christians in our own strength then it is like a balloon filled with air –we have to hold it to keep it up. That is sometimes called muscular Christianity – we toil, we struggle, we do it in our own strength. But if we have a balloon filled with helium then it will rise up to heaven unless we keep it down. Perhaps it is our fears, or our sins or our circumstances that keep it down. Perhaps we need to be freed of some of this stuff.

 

I believe that the Holy Spirit come to give us freedom. The Bible tells us that it was for Freedom that Christ has set us free, no longer to be subject to a yoke of slavery. It seems to me that it is mostly the fears that stop us being free.

 

When I was preparing for this sermon I looked in a book that gives quotes or thoughts for each sermon and it used an essay about the film Shirley Valentine as the example for Pentecost. Which surprised me rather. If you haven’t seen the film then it is a gentle comedy of a woman, middle-aged wife and mother who is stuck. Stuck in her life. Rather unhappy. She goes to Greece, I think, on holiday with another woman who is her friend and meets a Greek called Costas and has a torrid affair. Then at the end of the film she calls for her husband and he comes out and walks past her on the beach. She calls to him and he doesn’t recognise her and she responds:

“I know. I used to be The Mother. I used to be The Wife. But now I’m Shirley Valentine again. Would you like to join me for a drink?”

The last line of the film is from him “Er… thanks”.

 

I was a bit non-plussed – I’m used to Christian books moralising at me. What was this story saying?

 

I think it is that the Holy Spirit frees us to be truly and wonderfully ourselves. And the real us is beautiful and happy and open and free and finding that person and letting her or him out of the cages that we put her or him in is part of the work of the Spirit.

 

Each night I use an Ignation style of prayer, and in this prayer the first part is Consciousness – becoming aware of God, then the second part is freedom – which still surprises me. God is not foreign to my freedom – God wants to set me free.

 

But the HS also is about sending us out. It is interesting that the HS enabled everyone to speak in languages that others could hear. It was like a reversal of the Tower of Babel curse, where people could no longer understand each other. The HS allows us to connect more deeply with others. Psychologists tell us that the most important thing for us all is to have connection. As Christians we might say love.

 

So where is the HS leading us as a church? It makes sense to try to see what the Spirit is doing and join in.

 

Unlike the vicar who enjoyed sitting at the bottom of his garden where a train line ran past. And when asked why he liked watching the trains he replied that it is the only thing that moved through his Parish without him pushing it.

 

It isn’t like that here – much is moving, it seems like loads of trains are happily moving and building up steam and it is nothing to do with me or Alan – we didn’t touch them!

 

Let us watch and pray and asked to be filled and freed and join in with what God is doing to serve those who we live alongside.

 

Amen

 

 

Baptism Sermon – 22/4/12 (Lesley)

Well today we are welcoming Jesse to the Church or more specifically to the Church of England, but what does that mean?

I heard that there was a very good programme on the telly called “Midwives” or something like that… where a nurse inadvertently applied for a job at a hospital run by nuns. At the interview she was asked the question whether she had a faith, and she replied “No, I’m Church of England”.

We might think that is funny but when I was a teenager I asked my dad whether he was a Christian, to which he replied “well I’m not Muslim, am I?”

Mmm… I think there is more to being a Christian than that. I think there is even more to being a member of the Church of England than that!

We don’t become Christians by an accident of birth – it is a process of new birth. Jesus says that we become Christians by being born of the Spirit and Water. And I don’t think he was talking about having a Scotch on the rocks, as uplifting as that might be!

We become Christians by something we do – which is turning our hearts and minds to God,

Something that God does – which is giving us the Holy Spirit and Something that the Church does – which is Baptism.

So today we are baptising Jesse and we hope and pray that when he is old enough he will find God and decide to turn to God. He will then have the opportunity to be Confirmed and the Bishop will pray for him to receive the Holy Spirit.

For some people here there has never been a time when they didn’t know God in their lives through the Holy Spirit. For others, like me, the decision came later. I was an atheist, and quite an ardent atheist before I stumbled upon the church, and little by little it seemed to make sense, until the day when I had to admit to myself and to God that I believed in God. This wasn’t insignificant for me – it was a massive change in my worldview and also, I believed that if there is a God with a plan for my life then I should seek that God with all my mind, heart and soul…. And look where I ended up!

There are many metaphors in the Bible for the Church and I thought it might be helpful on this special day when we are welcoming a new member into the church to think about these Metaphors.

The first is that we are a Temple made of Living Stones. This is the only reference to a building in the New Testament – We are the Temple – us. Church doesn’t mean a cold building with uncomfortable pews and stained glass windows. Church is the people inside. Talking about uncomfortable pews – have you heard the quote by Abraham Lincoln where he said that if all the people who fell asleep in churches on a Sunday were laid end to end they would be a lot more comfortable?

But it is more exciting than that – we are living stones and when we come together we make a Holy Temple – a place perhaps where we can sense the presence of God.

Another metaphor for the church is that it is the bride of Christ – becoming part of the church is like being married to Christ. We seek to Love Christ, to walk alongside Christ. St. Augustine prayed, `You have made us for yourself, and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.’ Finding the community of the church where together we express our love and joy in Christ is something that answered a need in me – people talk about having a God-shaped hole, and for me I found that becoming fully part of the Church answered my restless heart. It was a falling in love for me, a marriage, when I worship in church it is a desire to tell God how I feel.

The final metaphor for the church is the Body of Christ, and I think this is favourite for many of us. Each one of us has gifts and skills that we bring to the church, and today Jesse is part of this family, part of this body. Together we aim to be Christ to each other and Christ to the world.

I have found the church to be the place for authentic and profound relationships and the place where people who need healing, love, forgiveness can find it.

I’ll finish by quoting Teresa of Avila who lived way back in the sixteenth century:

Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world,

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,

Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,

Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

compassion on this world.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Let us together be the Body of Christ. Amen

Sermon – John 12:20-33 (Jennifer)

Corcovado jesus
Corcovado jesus (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Lent 5 2012 St.John’s

Jeremiah 31.31-34       Hebrews 5.5-10     John 12.20-33

When I first heard that my mother had been diagnosed with bowel cancer I was distraught.

That night, in terrible distress I curled up in bed in a tight ball sobbing

‘Oh no not my Mum’

‘This can’t happen to my Mum’

‘Oh God no!’

The universal human cry when something terrible is happening!

Jesus in his humanity was not exempt from this desolation.

In today’s reading from John’s gospel, we’re told that Jesus was troubled in his soul.

– “Father, save me from this hour”

Many people seem to work on the assumption that if you worship and follow God, he will make sure nothing bad happens to you.

Then they are disappointed and ‘loose their faith’.

Because it just doesn’t work like that.

Life is just not like that.

And Christianity has never been an insurance policy.

God sends the rain and the sun on the good and the bad alike.

We all have good times in life and we all have bad times in life.

What God does give Christians, is the assurance that he knows what we’re going through because he has experienced it himself.

When God himself was on earth in the person of Jesus, he experienced all our emotions from the very best to very worst.

But hang on a minute – when we are in the depths of suffering ourselves

and we gaze on the suffering of Our Lord Jesus

Is it really so comforting to know that Jesus went through exactly the same routine.

“God, this is awful, please stop this happening to me,” Jesus prayed.

But it didn’t stop, and the process continued with worse pain for Jesus.

In the garden of Gethsemane on the night before he died he spent the whole night in prayer,

but still it wasn’t over for him

and he had to endure the physical agony of crucifixion

and the emotional and spiritual agony of believing that God himself had deserted him.

How can the God of Love,

God the Father,

allow this to happen to His Beloved Son?

And if God does not even seem to answer Jesus’ prayer what chance do we stand of being saved from our agony?

Oh God no!

Oh God why!

The most intriguing verse in today’s reading from Hebrews is verse 7, where the author says,

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”

Was he heard?

On the cross Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And then he died.

So how was he heard by the one who was able to save him from death?

He wasn’t saved from death.

He died just as we all die

and the appalling circumstances of his death make it look as though the reverse is true,

that he wasn’t heard no matter how much he wept and prayed and no matter how reverent his submission.

When somebody is very ill,

one of the problems with praying for healing is that they so often don’t appear to be heard,

because the person dies.

That can leave those who pray feeling very guilty

or very insecure,

as though their prayers weren’t good enough

or they didn’t have enough faith.

But this was exactly what happened to Jesus.

He prayed for life and he died.

Yet the author of Hebrews sees this as “he prayed to the one who was able to save him from death,

and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”

Perhaps the answer is that we can’t take the cross in isolation.

It can be understood in part if it stands alone,

for we all go through times of mini-crucifixion when awful things happen in our lives and in which we experience horror and agony and darkness and often the absence of God.

At such times we can identify with Jesus and face our own mini-crucifixion armed with the knowledge that Jesus has been there before us and knows how it feels.

But to look at the cross in its entirety we must include the resurrection.

This is the point of view of the author of Hebrews.

He sees Jesus as very much alive in a new, wonderful, radiant sort of life in some different dimension beyond death.

And this is the message which God is so anxious we should hear.

God is so anxious that we should hear it that he sent his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Just think – when we pray to God in the agony of despair

‘Why don’t you do something to end this!’

‘Why does it have to be like this?’

Just think – it was at that moment of supreme agony

Up there on the cross

That God in His Son is saving the world!

This is how he ‘does something’

24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit  –  explains St.John.

Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.

32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’

The exact nature of this salvation remains a life long mystery

What we do know is that we do die in this life, many times.

We all have mini-deaths or mini-crucifixions because that’s the nature of human life.

We have good times and we have bad times, just as Jesus had good times and bad times.

Our bodies eventually die, never to be used on this earth again, just as Jesus’ body eventually died and was never used on this earth again.

But Jesus hung in there, facing the bad times and refusing to give up on love or forgiveness,

and as a result Jesus was seen again after death,

in a new body which was rarely recognised even by his closest friends

and which was healed and fit and well.

What we call “death” was but a gateway into a new and different and wonderful life.

We frequently experience this on this earth.

Things go horribly and appallingly wrong and it feels like the end of everything we hold dear,

but eventually…….

now let’s not be naïve about this

for some the suffering does go on and on until it overwhelms them – poor souls! – pray that they find consolation on the other side of death

But usually if we hang in there,

things get better and new and different doorways open into a new kind of life

which is often even better than the former life.

The same thing happens after our final death in this life.

A new doorway opens and we move into a new and different and wonderful life.

So perhaps the writer of Hebrews was right after all.

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”

And God promises the same for all of us.

Ash Wednesday Sermon (Lesley) John 1:1-8

Deutsch: Christus im Hause des Pharisäers, Jac...
Image via Wikipedia

John 8:1-11
but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about sin, in preparation for this sermon…. And a memory came back to me that characterises sin for me. I was eighteen and an engineering apprentice. We had to learn how to weld and used various techniques, and it all went pretty smoothly, but the final type of welding required very, very high electric currents. I was with my friend Audrey and we were in a booth that had a metal table and a metal cage around us. The idea being that the welding stick had a high voltage that was earthed when it touched anything metal. So we were wearing protective clothing with a visor that was so dark that you could literally see nothing – it was pitch black and I stood in the total blackness in the booth waiting for her to begin welding. I did see one flash on the table and then after that there were flashes of light from over my head, to the right, to the left, back on the table, then over in another corner… all over the place – accompanied by crashing and banging. I was terrified. I couldn’t run because I couldn’t see and I couldn’t take the visor off because of the flashing arcs of light that would blind me. When Audrey had finally stopped she told me what had happened. She had accidentally welded the welding stick to the specimen, and then she was trying to shake it free, in the process she managed to crash it into the cage in various places and everywhere it made contact with the metal it earthed and so the arcing started.

Why is this like sin? Well because I think what happens to me, and sometimes to others, is we have some issue that is perhaps unseen, a bit like getting the welding stick stuck to the specimen. Let’s say that issue is crushing unworthiness, or fear of the future, or a bad marriage, or a deep grief, or perhaps a desperate shame. But you don’t see any of that, you don’t know about it because it is hidden so deeply. What you perhaps see is me grumpy with my kids, super sensitive about certain things, you see me overworking, or eating too much, or you see me sullen in meetings… All these things are like sparks flying all over the place, and sometimes these are the things that we focus on as sins… but they aren’t ever going to be solved because they aren’t the real problem. The real problem is what happened in the darkness, the wrong thing got welded..!

Turning to the passage, I have struggled more and more with it as the years have gone on. I’ll try to explain why.
For a start Jewish Law says that people can only be accused of adultery if they were caught actually in the act. The law also said that both parties were guilty. So why is only the woman accused of it. Where is the man? It isn’t as if he wasn’t there when the Pharisees turned up. Why did he get away Scot free? Well presumably because being a man he was worth more than her. But what sort of betrayal is this? Betrayal of justice, betrayal of love….?

Or is it worse than this. Is this whole thing a set-up? After all it is only the Pharisees who accuse her… and it seems very convenient that a bunch of Pharisees catch a woman in the very act of adultery in close proximity to where Jesus is teaching so that they can publicly test him and force him to choose between obedience to the Law and the mercy that characterises him. Perhaps she was forced to commit adultery?

Then she was brought before Jesus. The text tells us that Jesus was sitting down and that she was forced to stand. My guess is that as they brought her straight from the act that she was naked, which is why Jesus mostly seems to be leaning forward, bowing his head, drawing in the sandy soil and protecting her modesty.

It is a horrible scene of betrayal and humiliation, all with the aim of catching Jesus out. As a woman and as a priest I have heard horrific stories of abuse and humiliation such that I don’t think I can be shocked any more. For me, these stories wash over my consciousness as I read this story and I am transfixed and appalled by the scene that has developed.

Perhaps you too know stories of shame and humiliation. I confess that as I read this story I have a growing anger towards the Pharisees. We don’t know whether the woman has transgressed in this way or not. But what about the sins of the Pharisees? What about the way they let injustice rule and they let the man go? What about the way they are publicly humiliating this woman just so they can continue their vendetta against Jesus? If they were concerned about her sin and thought Jesus could help then why not let her be clothed and go to him privately? Anger begins to burn in me.

But of course I am doing exactly the same thing as the Pharisees. They are drawing tighter and tighter circles of sinfulness around her and I am doing the same to them.

Jesus is different. He drew an expanded circle of sinfulness that included everyone present and then an even more expansive circle of forgiveness in the words “Neither do I condemn you”.

Once we judge someone then it is difficult to hear God over the clamour of our own ego. Once we have judged then it is difficult to change our minds without losing face. We are called to be open and expansive, not to judge, that we might be able to discern God in amongst our everyday lives. To do this we need a soul that is at peace, not one that is awash with judgement, anger and pride.

But two questions remain for me:

“Is the woman really guilty?” I find myself asking – I’m still struggling to get away from this judging mentality. Jesus said “Go and sin no more” – does he think she was caught doing something wrong? And how could he possibly know if he was clothed in the same humanity that we have, how could he know without asking more questions?

Well, the truth is of course that all of us sin, including her. All of us fall short, and we flail around creating sparks here and there… perhaps some of us have deeper hurts that drive these things and we need to find the courage to deal with them.

I heard a story about a woman who said to her Orthodox priest that she thought confession was useless for her – she didn’t do all those disgusting things that other people do. The priest replied that she should tell this to her husband and children and come back in the morning to tell the priest her decision on whether she wanted to confess. In the morning she came back a different person… and with a very long list.

It is easy to let pride get in the way of our relationship with God. This is why in every mosque, when they do those beautiful mosaics, they always have some flaw in the pattern somewhere – to remind them of their humanness, their brokenness, their incompleteness.

My second question is why the woman remains there once all her accusers have gone. Jesus is sitting down, the woman is standing there, possibly naked…. the text says that everyone goes – including the disciples and all the people who Jesus was teaching. They all slip away and the woman is alone with Jesus. What has happened to her? At the beginning of the story she was dragged along and forced to stand, now she is there voluntarily.

Somehow, in all her nakedness and vulnerability, being with Jesus is safe. Knowing that she was a sinner and an accused woman, she still remains.

I find this surprising, and then I wonder why.

I wonder whether I can be naked before God, real and vulnerable.

Is that an issue for all of us… and if so why?

I wonder whether this Lent we can hear the words of Jesus “Go and sin no more” but also hear the words “neither do I condemn you”..?

Sermon on John 1:1-14 (Jennifer)

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...
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1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

In the beginning……..

During this last week we have been reminded of at least two reasons to celebrate 2012.

It’s 200 years since Charles Dickens was born.

And it’s 60 years since Princess Elizabeth became our Queen.

In order for us to appreciate these occasions
and to celebrate them fully
it seems necessary to go back to the beginning of these events.

We have heard that Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth,
that he experienced poverty in his childhood.
That his father was locked in the Marshalsea prison for debt,
and that he was put to work as a boy in terrible conditions in a factory.

And because of this beginning,
Charles Dickens used his narrative genius,
his brilliant character portrayals,
and vivid sense of humour,

not only to give us a series of gripping good reads,

but also to raise awareness of the dark, murky, side of Victorian England,
and to help bring about social reform.

This week we have also seen, pictures of the young Queen, on hearing the news of the death of her father, flying home from her holiday in Kenya.

Dressed in black, she is met at the airport by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and the members of her Government.

We have once again seen pictures of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation,
when she dedicated herself in service to God and her people,

And because of this beginning, 60 years later, we can thankfully celebrate this faithful dedication to our country.

In today’s readings we are invited to go back to the beginning

to be reminded of all that we celebrate here in our worship today.

In the beginning God created……

So begins the Bible….

The Old Testament reading from Proverbs is full of light, beauty and joy
as the voice of Wisdom talks about rejoicing in the world at the very beginning of creation.

“Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.”

One version of the Bible uses the word “playing” and speaks of Wisdom being God’s darling and delight.

It speaks of a new creation where everything is as it should be and anything is possible.

A world created with wisdom,

Personified as a desirable woman,
holding the symbol for life in one hand
and riches and well-being in the other.

An image of order, justice and righteousness.

God’s beautiful creation we can surely celebrate today.

The tragedy is that things are no longer as they were at the beginning,

Unspoiled.

There is darkness around us:

in the damage we have done to our world;
in the tragedies and disasters we hear about daily;
in our own lives and in the lives of others.

But God seems to have taken this into his planning as well!

In the beginning was the word…..

So begins John’s Gospel

Unlike the other Gospels, John begins not with human time, but with eternity. .

Here we find wisdom personified as Jesus
the eternal word of God.

Jesus who embodies wisdom in his person and his teaching.

This Gospel message is that even in our battered world the light of life and beauty still shines
– the darkness has not overcome it.
– God still delights in the human race, in each one of us.

And it’s in the nature of love, in the nature of God,
to want to enjoy fellowship with us,
to want the very best for us.
For us to become children of God.

So he comes to live among us, to draw us to himself in Jesus.

In Jesus we see what God is like in human form – concerned about people’s lives and welfare;
willing to forgive and heal;
always ready to offer a new start,
with new possibilities opening before us,
as it was in the beginning.

And if God delights in us then surely it matters to him how we respond .

Cardinal Basil Hume says, in his book “Mystery of the Incarnation”, that we mustn’t worry about whether or not we have love for God.
We just need to remember the simple truth that God is in love with each of us.
It’s an amazing thought – that each of us can say “God is in love with me” “God delights in me”.

It’s a mustard seed of faith which grows and begins to change us and our lives.

It’s not something that happens overnight.

We’ll probably each of us spend our whole life receiving God’s invitations
and we’ll probably miss a few because we can’t or won’t watch and listen.

Or maybe we’ll recognise the invitations but are afraid of saying “yes”, because that would mean having to change and grow
and change and growth are very often uncomfortable or downright painful.

But we are not alone.
Jesus, the Word and Wisdom of God made flesh, is with us.

He is our light and his life is the life that will never die.

No darkness in our lives can overcome that light

Sometimes though, it does seem as if the darkness is all there is
and that’s when we need each other.

Our own light may go out for a while leaving us lost in the darkness.
But being part of the body of Christ means that someone else nearby is carrying a light
and can hold that up for us until our darkness passes.

Then it may be our turn to hold the Christ light for someone else.

There is darkness around us: but in that darkness a light shines and refuses to be overcome.

A light which offers us new hope, new strength, new courage and new starts.

The light of eternal life.

God delights in us: there is no darkness that can overcome that light.

So here and now in 2012, let us celebrate God’s love for us,
his delight in each of us,
His light which cannot be extinguished by any darkness of this world.

Sermon on John 1:1-14 (Lesley)

Image of Jesus, the Divine Word.
Image via Wikipedia

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Light and Darkness

I must confess that I struggled with this sermon all week. I had a hunch that I wanted to speak of light and darkness… and eventually I realised why I was struggling to preach on this… it is the concept of darkness – what does it mean, and are the models helpful?

So the passage speaks of light shining in the darkness, and the darkness not overcoming it… but what is the darkness?
Is the darkness evil? Perhaps, but for me, I find the concept of evil doesn’t help me very much, it tend to make me fearful, or paranoid. Sometimes it makes me project all my problems outwards instead of dealing with the root cause which is probably me. Sometimes I find Christians a bit illogical – they will say that you can tell something is worth doing because it is very difficult and the devil is clearly attacking it…. And then about other things they will say that you can tell that the Spirit is blessing it because it is so easy. I end up wondering if the Spirit or the Devil has anything to do with it or whether it is really their own desires….

Is the darkness sin? Perhaps, but for me, I find focussing on my sinfulness can leave me feeling guilty and worthless. Of course, there are times when I feel convicted of something that I have done wrong and I change my ways, I make amends, I confess what was hidden, I know God’s love and forgiveness and I feel so much better. “Better out than in” is an expression that comes to mind, but perhaps that is not such a nice expression….
But there are other times when I find that I just mess up a bit every day. I find a flash of anger and I shout at the kids, a flash of resentment and I get shirty with my husband, a moment of stupidity and I hurt a friend, a time of business and I neglect my own needs. For me, every day, there is the sincere desire to be the wife, mother and priest God has called me to be, and every day I mess up. I love that quote by Samuel Butler that “Life is like playing a violin in public and learning the instrument as one goes on.” I feel like I am a slow learner… but is that really darkness?

Another possibility is that darkness is unbelief. But, I also find this concept of darkness unhelpful… because I think doubt is critical for growing in faith, and I believe that too many churches try to suppress doubt, saying that it is either sin or from the devil…

You see, most of us, at some stage in our faith journey experience agonising doubt. It feels like we have lost our faith. It is a period of questioning, exploring, falling apart, doubting, dancing around the real issues, sinking in uncertainty, and indulging in self-centeredness. People around us think we are utterly lost. This sudden uncertainty is normally precipitated by a crisis, it makes former truths look like sham, we can’t make any sense of God and we can find no new direction, every route we take only results in more questions. Faith is no longer a support for us, it crumbles before our eyes, we feel remote, immobilized, unsuccessful, hurt, ashamed, or reprehensible. Prayer doesn’t work, church doesn’t work, whatever formula we previously had is now useless.

This is a stage of faith and at the end of it, we hit something that some researchers call “the Wall”. It is impossible to go over, around, or under the Wall. One can only go through it. For me, when I had this experience, I called it “the abyss”… a sense of letting go of faith and of God and falling into the utter darkness. We don’t know it at the time, but it is the point where we integrate the spiritual part of ourselves with the rest of us, where we face our own and other’s demons… it is so unpleasant that we only enter this phase when we are forced to because of a crisis.

The only end to it is when we fully and completely surrender to God’s will, even though we don’t even know whether God exists, and even though we remain in the dark. After the Wall we are never the same…. Is this darkness? I don’t think so.

And so what is the darkness? Let me digress for a moment.

A few of us watched a video by a preacher called Rob Bell up at St Mark’s the other day, and he had a concept of faith that is like a rhythm. And this song, this rhythm has been playing since the dawn of time, it is a song that moves us, and people throughout the ages have heard this rhythm and played along with it… and when we do something mean or we gossip or we steal or we lie, it is discordant… and when we see something kind or loving, it lifts our souls because the person is playing the song, the song that is within our soul. And it can be that people who say they have no religion play to the sound of the song, and others who are very religious confuse us because they seem to be hitting all the wrong notes…. And the song just keeps on playing.

I think this type of idea fits well with the passage that St John wrote…

In the beginning was the “Word”… what on earth does that mean? Well it has strong resonances with the passage in Genesis… In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth… the passage takes us back to the beginning of time, when the song was playing, even before anything was created… But why “the Word”? What does that mean? Again, it takes us back to Genesis, where things come into being when God’s intentions are spoken. St John chooses to call Jesus “The Word” rather than “The Son” because in a sense, “The Word” makes Jesus and God more closely associated than “The Son”, after all many fathers and sons are quite different in nature. The Greek word translated “Word” in this passage is Logos, and it was common in both Greek philosophy and Jewish thought of that day. In the Old Testament logos was personified as the instrument of God’s will and in Greek philosophy logos described the intermediate agency by which God created the world.

I see “The Word” as God’s breath, God’s intention, God’s song, God personified.

The passage then tells us that in the Word was life and light and the light shines in the darkness… the song plays whether others are playing it or not… it resonates through everything.. through us…

Now John the Baptist came as a witness to the light… and that is the same for us. Our job is to try to listen to the song and to try to play in tune, even if we aren’t joined by others.. we need to keep playing. And we are the priesthood of all believers – each of us has a priestly duty to try to listen as best we can for the song, listen for God, look for the light and then to order our lives to that rhythm.

It is my belief that we are most ourselves when we are in tune with God. We are Children of God – it isn’t that we have to repress our personalities, or put a Christian mask on… when we are most in tune with God we are most ourselves. I don’t think that when we are in tune with God we are all clones of Jesus either, we are all created differently, unique, each like a different instrument in the orchestra, playing our little bit as best we can…
And so what is darkness? I believe that it is the places in our communities, in our families and in our hearts where that tune doesn’t seem to reach. It isn’t the odd wrong note, more it is the places where fear or hatred or hopelessness dominate. But we have hope – we need to keep playing the song.. and we have hope – in the words of St John “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” or in the words of Desmund Tutu:

Goodness is stronger than evil;
love is stronger than hate;
light is stronger than darkness;
life is stronger than death;
victory is ours through God who loves us.
Amen

Sermon on Mark 3:13-19 (Lesley)

English: Jesus calling Simon Peter and his bro...
Image via Wikipedia

Mark 3:13-19

Jesus Appoints the Twelve

 13 Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons. 16 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Jesus chose twelve people to be his apostles, to be his closest band of disciples, those who would do what he did. Those who would learn from him closely, like the disciples of a great artist or a great violin maker; those who would watch and listen and listen and watch and become like the one that they were following.

There is a great tradition of rabbis doing this, of training others to follow in their footsteps, but first they had to make it all the way through school.

The Jewish people sent their boys to school. They would memorise the Torah – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy…. all off by heart. This was called Beit Sefer. At the age of 10 the best ones would stay on at school, those who had managed this feat. However, most would go off and learn their father’s trade at that point. I think Jesus was still at school aged 12, because we learn about his visit to the Temple, when he was left behind, and how amazed the rabbis were amazed at his questions and his understanding. Presumably he was asking them about the scriptures.

Those that stayed would go on to memorise the rest of the Hebrew scriptures – Genesis all the way through Malachi, off by heart. This was called Beit Talmud. They would stay at school until they were fourteen or fifteen, and then most would go and learn their father’s trade. However, the very best, who had accomplished this would carry on with their learning. I imagine it was many, a tiny percentage.

These few would go and find a rabbi and become a disciple – I disciple doesn’t just want to know what the rabbi know he want to be like the rabbi is. This was called Beit Midrash. Now the rabbis had different understandings of the scriptures, different interpretations, and that rabbi’s teachings were known as that rabbi’s ‘yoke’. So if you wanted to follow a particular rabbi, you wanted to take on that particular ‘yoke’. So, aged fifteen a boy would find a rabbi and go for an interview. He would be grilled, and at this point most would fail, however, if they were really impressive, then the rabbi would say ‘come and follow me’. And then the kid would leave his family and his village and his friends. Each rabbi would travel, and go from town to town, teaching the scriptures, followed by his disciples. By the end of the day the disciples would be covered in whatever the rabbis would have stepped in. And so there was a saying ‘may you covered in the dust of your rabbi’.

I believe this is what happened to Jesus. I don’t think he was ever a carpenter. He was the best of the best of the best at school – he knew and understood the scriptures like no other lad. I believe he left Nazareth aged fifteen, and he was a disciple until he was thirty, which is the age at which they were expected to find their own disciples.

However, when Jesus called his disciples, he called fishermen like Simon Peter and Andrew and James and John. People that were no longer in school – they were learning their father’s trade – they were not the best of the best of the best.

In this passage Jesus chooses the twelve for three purposes:

1. to be with him

2. to send them out to preach

3. to drive out demons

There could only be twelve that were close enough to observe Jesus closely enough to become like him. To live with him, listen to him, watch him, be with him…. To do what he does. And then those twelve would make disciples, passing on the message, the “yoke”.

This has passed on to us now. We are called to be with Jesus. We have the ability to be with him through the Holy Spirit and through the Holy Scriptures. But we also need to learn from each other, learn from those in whom we can see God acting. In each community of Christians we all have gifts and we can learn so much from each other, if we are close enough and real enough and open enough.

It is a tremendous honour to be disciples of Jesus. Let’s see if we together can be covered in the dust of our rabbi Jesus, let’s see if we together can be transformed such that we can know Jesus and do what he does.

Amen

Note: much of this comes from Rob Bell’s Nooma video “Dust”

Sermon – John 1:43-end (again) – Lesley

Byzantine icon of the cursing of the fig tree.
Image via Wikipedia

John 1:43-end

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ 46Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ 48Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ 49Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ 50Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ 51And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you,* you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

The operative phrase in this passage is “Follow Me”. It is an exciting passage, right at the beginning of John’s Gospel and Jesus is calling his disciples…. but what is ha calling them to?

They are called to be part of a loving, growing, spirirtual community, centred on Jesus.

As we are. The ripples that started way back then, distant in time and space have come and overtaken us too. We are called to part of the same loving, growing, spiritual community… and we call it “church”.

Church is not a building

Church is not services

Church is us – this community – we are church.

Church is exciting – Jesus said we would see great things – church is healing, it is challenging, it changes us.

Church is a place where we are free to be ourselves.

Let’s face it. Nathanael was a bit mouthy. What would I say to my kids if they said “Aldershot, can anything good come from Aldershot?”

No guile, but tactless too.

But Jesus commends him, he knows him, he loves him, he speaks words of affirmation over him – in Christ’s church Nathanael is free to be himself.

I was on retreat at the weekend and I think God was challenging me about this.

How authentic am I? Am I free to be myself in church? Are others?

I began to get a general feeling that things go unsaid….

I watched a film the other day where a twelve year old boy called Gabe in Manhattan finds his first love and the film is beautifully observed, all the pain and trauma he goes through. And his parents are divorcing but living together with Gabe in an apartment, and Gabe turns to his dad for love advice, he says:

Gabe: Dad, what’s the deal with girls? I mean, why are they the way they are?

Dad: You’re talking to the wrong man.

Gabe: Well, how come all love has to end?

Dad: Let me tell you something about me and your mom. Once upon a time, we really loved each other, but as time went by, there just got to be all these things, little things, stupid things, that were left unsaid. And all these things that were left unsaid piled up, like the clutter in our storage room. And after a while, there was so much that was left unsaid, that we barely said anything at all.

Gabe: Well, why didn’t you just say them then, dad?

Dad: I don’t know, Gabe. I kind of wish I had.

In the end his dad does say some things and the marriage is restored. But it got me thinking about myself and in particular the way people are in churches, is there a lot of stuff unsaid, and what would happen if we said some of it?

This can affect our marriages, our churches and our relationships with God. I became a Christian when I was 14 and I was full of joy, full of hope, delighted to be part of the community that is the church. But I had a no-go area where I wouldn’t let God in, a bit like some couples have no-go areas, subjects over which they always fight,so they don’t go there…. But it can be like a disease, slowly infecting the rest. And that was how it was with me and God… slowly I lost my joy until when I was 19 I was really just a nominal Christian… until I had a spiritual experience where I could confess this thing, for it was something about which I was deeply ashamed.

And in our communities we have a magic gift that Jesus gave us to help our communities, our marriages, our relationships heal…

..and I’m not going to say the Holy Spirit, although we have that too

..it is the teaching on forgiveness.

Central to Jesus’ teaching.

Central to the Lord’s Prayer

“Lord forgive us our sins” and that is what we need so often, it is what I needed as a teenager

“as we forgive those who sin against us” – this is what heals our communities.

Forgiveness is like having broken glass in our hands (clench fist)

It hurts so much we can’t look at it, we can’t open our hand…

And if anyone comes near to us we go “Grrrr” because it hurts so much.

But to get better we have to unfurl our fingers and look at the wound and take out the pieces of glass, and sometimes we need someone to help us…. And forgiveness can take a long time, it can be a long and painful process because there may be many shards in there and it is no good to just get one shard out and leave the rest in…

But then it feels so good when we can use our hand again.

And this community, this church is meant for fruitfulness….

If we go back to the passage we find that Jesus says that he saw Nathanael under the fig tree, and as it is John’s Gospel we can probably take all the details as symbolic in some way. The fig tree represents Israel in the scriptures. The unique thing about the fig tree, unlike all other trees, is that the fruit appears before the leaves. My mum had a fig tree and although the fruit appeared before the leaves, it took all summer for the fruit to ripen. But the point is that as soon as you see leaves on the fig tree you can look and see the fruit ripening too.

I believe the fig tree is a sign of Israel because the Jews were not just meant to be showy about their religion, not just observe the feasts and worship and pray, but they were also to bear fruit – to love one another and reach out to the poor and the widows etc.

Hence when Jesus sees a fig tree without fruit he curses it. Our religion, our feasts, our festivals mean nothing without us bearing fruit and loving one another and the stranger in our midst.

So what does it mean to you, to us when Jesus says “Follow me”? What is he calling us to?

And are we free to be ourselves, in our churches? Are they, are we loving like Jesus sufficiently that we can be known and loved as we are?

And do we forgive, do we need to know that God forgives us? Do we have areas where we need to forgive others?

And can we be fruitful as a church? Can we respond to the call on our lives to love God and love others too?

Amen

Sermon – Mark 1:4-11 (Jennifer)

Jesus baptism site - River Jordan 015
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Mark 1.4-11

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

 The baptism of Jesus.

 Aren’t there times when we all feel like a fresh start

– a new beginning.

Our New Year’s resolutions – slim down, eat less, exercise more,

Give up smoking,

These are relatively straight forward,

though sometimes difficult enough to put into practise

But what about those more difficult issues

Life isn’t perfect, we’re not perfect.

We make mistakes, we have regrets,

There are time when it would feel wonderful to leave all these behind us – in the past –

and start again.

One of the great comforts and joys of the Christian faith

is that we know and love a God who by his very nature is forgiving

who allows us

encourages us

to let go of past failures and begin again.

And because this is what our God is like,

this is how he would have us be as well.

‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us’

During every regular act of worship there is an opportunity to remember our failures before God

accompanied by assurance of His forgiveness.

When we are very troubled we can seek a private opportunity for the consolation of confession.

And indeed the very moment of the start of our life in Christ is a moment of new beginnings

Of turning away from evil – towards Christ

Of being washed clean in the waters of Baptism.

For each of us these are very personal, precious moments

moments between me and my God.

But just think, as we say the words of confession together,  aren’t we also to consider our failings as a community,

To bring these before God and to find a better way.

At the time we read about in today’s Gospel it seems that a vast number of the Jewish nation were seeking a new way.

People went out to John in the Judean desert from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.

Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the river Jordan.

Not one or two people, but almost the whole nation.

There’s practically no reference to any form of baptism in the Old Testament

So at this time baptism was a very recent development.

We know that the Jews of the Qumran community, made famous by their writings we call the Dead Sea Scrolls, living beside the Dead Sea not far from John,

attached great importance to ritual washing.

They viewed the Temple worship of Jerusalem as corrupt.

And refused to take part in the Temple sacrifices.

They compensated for this by immersing themselves daily in a communal bath – in a spirit of repentance for cleansing of sin.

It’s not really surprising then to find John the Baptist,

just up the road,

demanding Israel’s repentance,

signified by a once for all baptism in preparation for the coming judgement of the Messiah.

John was what we would now describe as a “hellfire preacher”.

He demanded total immersion from his followers,

which symbolised that inward purity and repentance which would deliver them from immersion in the coming river of fire.

John was thought to be the last of the old prophets who preached about the coming day of reckoning,

and who visualised it as something utterly terrifying.

The images of purification are always of refiner’s fire,

as though the badness and evil could only be burned out of people’s souls.

Hence the medieval images of Hell.

The people revered John’s preaching,

and although some left him to follow Jesus,

he still had plenty of disciples of his own at the end of his life.

In fact his following continued long after his life,

some, called Mandeans, survive to this day.

So John’s baptism was a turning to God baptism

‘a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’.

A conversion baptism

– this link between conversion and baptism remains constant throughout the New Testament.

Jesus was one of those who came to John for baptism by total immersion.

And this seems to have been a transforming moment in Jesus’ own life,

for it was after this that he began his own ministry in Galilee.

Indeed, St.Mark, with his characteristic immediacy, starts his Gospel with this very moment in his account of the Life of Jesus,

he doesn’t record anything before.

At this moment St.Mark describes the heavens as “rent asunder”, torn apart,

using this identical phrase again at end of Jesus’ ministry,

when Jesus is hanging on the cross and the curtain of the temple is torn apart.

At the same moment a dove,

a symbol of the Holy Spirit borrowed from Genesis,

from the creation of the world when God’s spirit hovered like a bird over the waters,

is seen hovering over Jesus.

It is tempting to suppose, as many modern commentators do, that this experience awakened in Jesus a consciousness of his unique relationship to God, and of his vocation as Israel’s Messiah.

This may be so, but it is not a safe interpretation.

– it is a conjecture inspired by a modern desire to enter into the psychology of the religious experience of Jesus.

In the texts we’re never given any hint of the way Jesus’ mind works.

This is not what the Gospel is dealing with.

The message to us here, lies in that Epiphany word – Manifest

God in Man made manifest

Manifest – to reveal – to show clearly

For this moment of baptism is primarily about revelation.

Here we have revealed before us

Jesus the Son of God.

And look at the wonderful trinitarian imagery

God the Father in heaven

Sending his Son Jesus into the world

Empowered by the Holy Spirit coming in the form of a dove

Here we have God’s supreme fresh start

That which we find in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Let us pray

Lord of all time and eternity,
you opened the heavens and revealed yourself as Father
in the baptism of Jesus your beloved Son:
by the power of your Spirit
complete the heavenly work of our rebirth
through the waters of the new creation;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.