ANGLICAN PARISHES OF ST BARNABAS, KALAMUNDA & ST SWITHUN, LESMURDIE
THE FEAST OF THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD – 12th January, 2020
+In the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
When it comes to the writing of sermons, there are probably as many methods as there are sermon-writers. Mine begins with prayer and reading of the passages set by the lectionary for the day. Then I read from books of lectionary commentary – my current favourites are those by Bishop Tom Wright and Jane Williams, wife of former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. I then look at a couple of books of sermons and read several sermons online. Often enough, I then take a nap to let “the little grey cells” do some work. Then, if all is well, I can commit fingers to keyboard and something moderately relevant probably appears.
Of course, it is rarely so simple. There are distractions – two in particular: playing “Words with Friends” on Facebook with several friends in Perth and New Zealand; and our two Cornish Rex cats, one in particular, a chocolate tortie, who glories in the name “Tibby”, and sees me as her slave for cuddles and tickles, impeding my access to the laptop keyboard.
Well, between distractions yesterday morning, I was struggling to get much committed to the computer. Until I glanced at my desk calendar. This year’s calendar is a Peanuts one, and yesterday’s edition has Lucy talking to Snoopy the dog. “You dogs don’t know anything about scripture verses”, she says. “You don’t know anything about grace or baptism or Moses or anything”. Snoopy thinks, “That’s right… theologically, we’re off the hook!” I imagine our little Tibby would think the same were I to hold a similar conversation with her. And she’d be right!
As human beings, made in God’s likeness, we are both blessed and burdened with the ability and responsibility of thinking theologically. And today’s Gospel reading, short as it is, challenges us about grace and baptism.
Jesus’ coming to be baptised certainly confuses his cousin John, and probably does us if we reflect on it. John says to Jesus, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’
John is baptising people in the River Jordan. According to St Luke, this is “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”, and Jesus – “incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary”, as we proclaim in our Creed – is without sin, “tested as we are, yet without sin”. 
So, of what does Jesus need to repent in order to be baptised?
One aspect of baptism, though, is that of turning one’s back on an old life and setting out on a new one. Those who came to John were seeking – and encouraged – to leave behind their sinful, self-centred lives and to start out afresh with new attitudes and actions. In Advent, we heard John telling the crowds, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Tax-collectors he told, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” And to the soldiers he said, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
While we acknowledge that John’s baptism is not the same as Christian Baptism – probably the subject for another sermon – there are parallels which we can note today: that of leaving behing the old life and starting a new one.
Our Baptism service in APBA asks these questions of the candidate (or of sponsors of those too young to answer for themselves:
- Do you turn to Christ?
- Do you repent of your sins?
- Do you reject selfish living, and all that is false and unjust?
- Do you renounce Satan and all evil?
Turning to Christ is turning away from Sins, selfish living and all that is evil – a 180-degree turn.
Jesus, in asking to be baptised, tells John, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.’
What Jesus is doing then is not about confessing and turning his back on his sins. It is about turning his back on the life of a boy from Nazareth, a carpenter and chief carer for Mary, his mother. Jesus now has a mission to fulfil, and it’s the journey to the cross and beyond. From now on, his life will be without a home and family and those responsibilities. His life be homeless, surrounded by unreliable followers, haunted and hunted by unfriendly and eventually violent members of the religious and political establishment, betrayed by a “friend”, and executed on a Roman cross.
Jesus’ baptism is all about what he takes on for us. At Christmas, we referred to Jesus both as Emmanuel – “God with us” – and Jesus – “for he shall save his people from their sins”.
Here’s where comes the grace. What we could not do for ourselves in our state of alienation from God, Jesus does for us in his life and death and resurrection.
Grace – as much as neither Snoopy or Tibby will ever understand – is God’s gift of love to an unworthy and often unresponsive humanity.
In our baptism, whether we were aware of it or not, God was dealing with all that separates us from God and the outpouring of God’s love, restoring us to fellowship and friendship and wholeness.
Today, then, we give thanks for our baptism and that of Jesus who “fulfils all righteousness” for us.
The Lord be with you.
We stand now, as we renew the vows of our Baptism and affirm our faith in the God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. [APBA pp 75 & 78]
 Hebrews 4:15
 Luke 3:10-14