Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent
Posted on the 18th Feb 2018 in the category Sermons
The First Sunday of Lent 2018 : The Baptism of the Lord.
Those who are baptized have disappeared under the surface of Christ's love and reappeared as different people. The waters close over their heads and then, like the old world rising out of the watery chaos in the first chapter of the Bible, out comes a new world. (p.112)
Archbishop Rowan Williams Tokens of Trust.
The Church’s teaching on Baptism is more radical than we would ever want it to be. It is a ‘disappearing under the surface of Christ’s love’ so that this love is subsumed into our innermost being. But our hearts are at best luke-warm and our wills often indifferent. Nevertheless the force of the Church’s teaching and the its identification with Christ remains completely immoveable and resolute : and in this solemn season of Lent, Christ has not come to us on the surface of things but in their very depth and essence. And so for Christians, Baptism admits to the principle of ‘taking the plunge’ in all those parts of life to which the art of difficult and patient and sacrificial loving can and will, in the pattern of Christ, create, “new heavens and a new earth”.
The Church helps us to understand its teaching as a lifetime’s exercise in understanding and trust, and, if need be, in experiences of pain and of loss, of joy and of healing ‘through all the changing scenes of life’ and ‘through thick and thin’. It is in this sense that Christian Faith, which we have in so many ways tamed and domesticated, still holds out for the call to embrace the radical love of Christ. God’s will, God’s Word, is sharp and keen, like the two-edged sword in the Letter to the Hebrews. The invitation to Christian Faith, is the invitation to enter rest, not by moral torpor, but in a state of fuller consciousness, of real awakenness, which readicalises Christian Faith :
The Word of God is alive and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him, no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Hebrews 4.12,13.
Mark tells us in this morning’s Gospel that Jesus receives the Holy Spirit “… just as he was coming up out of the water”. Jesus sees the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice then comes from heaven, 'You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.'
For Luke, The Holy Spirit does not come upon Jesus as he is coming out of the water! Rather, it does so when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying. It was only then that the Holy Spirit descended upon Him.
The difference is interesting. Clearly, the effect of it is to include the people with Jesus into the baptismal story: the voice from heaven comes after both they and he have been baptized! Their baptism required the completion in his. Jesu’ Baptism makes possible the significance of theirs. For Luke, it is not until the people are with him in baptism that he is adopted as a Son; and as he is adopted, so, by implication, are they. This 'sonship', - this daughtership! - is no exclusive matter: his relationship to God entails - requires, facilitates, brings about – theirs. And if theirs, then ours; because there is no point in the existence of Luke's Gospel, unless it invites its hearers and its readers to enter into its drama, to breathe its pages, to share the lives of its protagonists and to identify with Christ from out of the baptismal waters.
‘Can we live out our own baptism with courage?’ Will we commit ourselves, to such a life, to such selflessness, to a life defined by St Paul as the love which “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”. 1 Corinthians 13.7 - to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called ‘costly discipleship’?
Christian discipleship is to be marked by ‘cost’. That is the message that Lent heralds in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. In the Christian sense, ‘costliness’ relates not to the price of things and their values but to a truer giving of the self. This is a giving which will run counter to our desire for self-preservation at all costs. For it is the giving to those situations, those relationships and those people who do not automatically offer us immediate personal gratification. But it is this transforming love, which makes such a difference to our world. It is Rowan Williams’ ‘disappearing under the surface of the love of Christ’ and the re-emergence of the new life that it brings in its wake. When this happens a new world begins to open up.
Our witness to Christ this Lent will involve us in an unsentimental asking that this spirit of costly service may grow in his and make its home in us, and that we may rejoice in the life it promises and trust in its purposes.
Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
George Herbert (1593-1633).