Welcome to the celebration of Jesus’ baptism with the Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads congregations.
This service was streamed live from the Ocean Grove church via Zoom on January 9th at 10:30am
Below is the entire text for a service of worship for home use for those who are not ready to return to public gatherings. Even though the service is streamed live, those who are unable to participate online may use this material at any time for their private devotions. If ‘two or three’ are gathered with you, you may choose a ‘leader’ in order to use the responsive prayers and readings as you would in church.
There are also links to YouTube files for music and, should you rather listen than read, sound files for some of the text, including the sermon . [I’m sorry about the commercials that sometimes come with YouTube clips. Be sure to click on the “Skip Ad” box if and when it appears in the lower right of the YouTube clip] When a YouTube clip has finished, simply click on the ‘back’ button of your browser to return to this page. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.
“Sons of God are made not born.” (ref. St. Jerome)
R: I have placed my Spirit on him, he will bring true justice to the nations.
L: When Jesus was baptised, the heavens opened up, and Spirit came down like a dove; and there was a voice from heaven saying:
R: “You are my dearly loved Son, with whom I am delighted.”
L: The joy of the Lord be with you all.
R: And also with you.
CALL TO CELEBRATION
R: We come together in hope.
L: We greet each other warmly with our voices and our smiles.
R: We come together in peace.
L: We share our growth and our aspirations.
R: We come together in wonder.
L: We share our losses and our disappointments.
R: We come together in sorrow.
L: We share our concern and our compassion.
R: We come together in love.
L: We sing and pray and listen.
We speak and read and dream.
We think and ponder and reflect.
We cry and laugh and centre.
We mourn and celebrate and meditate.
We strive for justice and for mercy.
R: We come together to celebrate life,
all of life, in the presentness of God.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Most wonderful God, we have come from many separate directions to gather here as one community of faith. Please assist us to be one in peace and joy, that we may praise you with one voice and adore you with as with one heart, and be equipped to serve you in the world as the one compassionate body of Christ. For your name’s sake. Amen!
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
While one can say that a human being is created in the image of God, the image is not yet perfected. That perfection of this image endows human beings with a fundamental calling that pertains to their entire living history in God. In the New Testament, a remarkable transition takes place. While it is still the individual that makes the vocational response toward God, it is toward a new community that is no longer national, but ecumenical. And it is no longer a legacy from the past, but a promise regarding the future.
Let silence be placed around us now, like a mantle. Let us enter into it, as through a small secret door. May the mantle of silence become a cloak of understanding to warm our hearts this day.
(at least 30 seconds of silence)
WE CONFRONT OUR SIN AND TRUST GOD’S GRACE
Let us as the baptised community of Christ, confess to God our sin. Let us pray.
God most holy, God most discerning, God most merciful, you know the complete, uncensored story of this church and each of these people. You know our tangled motives and our times of open disobedience.
You understand our weaknesses and our strengths much better than we do. Please open our eyes to the truth, no matter how unpalatable it may seem to us.
Give us a moment of spiritual clarity and honestly. Forgive us for all our failings as a church community, and for all our private sins of commission and omission; bless us with your freeing, healing grace.
Revive our stodgy spirits and bring under control our unruly wants and anxieties. Let us make a new beginning, rid of the sludge of guilt and self-pitying regret. In the name of Christ our Redeemer. Amen!
L: Now the One who created you, the God who shaped your life, says this: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” People of God, trust the plentiful love of this Saviour, and know for sure that you are forgiven and restored.
R: Thanks be to God!
FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – Isaiah 43:1-7
43 But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name; you are Mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Saviour;
I gave Egypt for your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in your place.
5 Fear not, for I am with you;
I will bring your descendants from the east,
And gather you from the west;
6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
And to the south, ‘Do not keep them back!’
Bring My sons from afar,
And My daughters from the ends of the earth—
7 Everyone who is called by My name,
Whom I have created for My glory;
I have formed him, yes, I have made him.”
FROM THE GOSPELS – Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptise you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
21 Now when all the people were baptised, and when Jesus also had been baptised and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
FROM OUR CONTEMPORARIES – “At the Jordan”
Out of the crowd the young man came
filled with love, bearing no shame.
Into the water the young man went,
numbered with sinners he was content.
Out of the water the young man rose,
ready to go where Wild Wind blows.
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS
When all the people had been baptised, and Jesus followed, the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove. A voice came from heaven “You are my much loved son, I am most pleased with you. (Lk.3:21-22)
Through faith, in Christ Jesus you are all children of God. For as many of you who were baptised into Christ have, like a garment, put on Christ. (Gal. 3:26-27)
Not surprisingly, my theme today will be baptism.
Over the years there have been a number of parents who have approached me saying they wanted their baby ‘done’. Well, borrowing their phrase, we celebrate today that Jesus was ‘done’ by John the Baptist in the waters of the Jordan river.
But I want to start with one person’s definition of hell: “Hell for me would be to be one of twelve human clones sitting round a table and sharing the bread and the wine.”
A horrible thought, isn’t it? Twelve copies. No diversity.
Well, there is no fear of that kind of purgatory for the people of this church, eh? We are certainly not a saccharine fellowship of clones. We are not look alikes, think alikes, worship alikes, pray alikes, serve alikes.
I remember the late John Bodycomb, who was Dean of Theological Hall when I trained for ministry and who had a PhD in sociology, saying to me that one of the problems with building a church is that it runs counter to the natural human desire for homogeneity; i.e., people want to be with people like themselves. Being members of the church runs contrary to our natural inclinations, so it is some sort of miracle that we are together.
The church does not select members like Rotary, Lions, or the Melbourne Club. We do not select members because they fit in well together, or because we think they have something to offer us. We are not people of similar worldly status, interests, priorities or financial clout.
Think how much easier it would be to accept and work with, fellowship with, and worship with people of like mind. It would take little effort, leave feathers unruffled, make for short committee meetings.
How much harder it is to accept, worship and work with a hotch-potch of divergent personalities and convictions.
Have you noticed how we tend to respond to the image of ourselves in others; a bit like seeing our own reflection in another’s eyes and saying: Yes! The people we readily like to have around are quite literally our kind of people. It would like having sweet communion with…… ourselves(?).
Sadly, there are some people who split off from the church because they cannot find this likeness in other church members. They hive off and try to form a fellowship of pseudo-clones: a sweet communion of people with similar convictions and prejudices.
But this is not what is asked of us. It is not how the church is formed. God in Christ asks us to seek and accept the differences, to embrace the otherness of others, especially the bits that prickle, bruise or frighten us. God chooses us; we do not choose God. In Christ we are called from separateness and cosy relationships into sweet-sour communion. The one thing that links us together is Christ, which brings me back to baptism.
I’m not concerned with the outward signs, like how much water, dipping vs. pouring, child or adult. I want rather look at some aspects of Christ’s baptism and ours.
Among the crowds that responded to Baptist John’s call for repentance and baptism was Jesus of Nazareth. Why did he do it?
Now, I have heard and read other people hypothesise about Jesus’ purpose in going to John to be baptised, trying to come up with some reason other than the obvious one; other than the reason everyone else wanted baptism.
But why not the obvious one? That Jesus, like the others felt in need of cleansing, forgiveness, direction, belonging. I think it is important, theologically and practically, to understand Jesus as just as human, i.e. as imperfect, as you or me. Otherwise his way is beyond us, and if it is beyond us, why try? But if Jesus’ starting point is our starting point, then his end point remains possible for us.
When St. Paul talks about baptism, he says that it is an incorporation into the body of Christ. Or as in the Pauline text I have placed beside the story of Christ’s baptism:
Through faith, in Christ Jesus you are all children of God. For as many of you who were baptised into Christ have put on Christ like a garment, (Galatians 3: 26-27)
In our baptism, we who are unworthy of God, are placed in the new community of Christ, which is counted as worthy. All distinctions are annulled, so Paul excitedly tells us that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free person, male or female.
All the ‘otherness’, for which we tend to bruise and isolate each other, no longer matters. Race, gender and class, are dismantled by God, declared illegitimate by Jesus’ baptism and ours. We are placed together in the one body in spite of our perceived differences. A part of the meaning of baptism is that, in the community of Christ, we seek the ‘other’, care for the ‘other’, respect the ‘other’, serve the ‘other’, even though we may strongly disagree on issues or find the other person not to our natural liking.
The church is not ‘natural’ by this world’s reckoning. It is a supra-natural fellowship. No wonder the early Christians were sometimes called a ‘second race’ or a ‘new tribe’.
We could rightly add to Paul’s words by saying that when we are baptised in Christ, there is no longer married or single, Australian or Asian, clergy or laity, evangelical or high church, liberal or labour, conservative or radical, the young or the elderly, the clever or the ignorant, doctor or labourer, the clean or the unclean, social justice people or spiritual retreat people, life-long Christians or new converts, straight or gay, orthodox or heretical, millionaire or pensioner, Pope or choir boy.
That is not to say that we all must become alike, or sweetly agree on every topic. God forbid! We retain our differences. And these differences can of course lead us into stringent debate on awkward issues, and may cause considerable stress and pain. Witness the travail endured in the church over the issue of homosexuality. At times we might feel confused and threatened by our differences. But these differences are all subservient to the Spirit of Christ.
Nor should we ignore the fact that we have been given different gifts. The New Testament takes very seriously both the diversity of our gifts, varieties of ministry, along with our common value in Christ. Of course we have different abilities and opportunities, but none are classier than others!
The baptismal community of Christ is not to allow the world’s fears and prejudice (and its penchant for ostracising discomforting minorities) to shape us. The secular society is not permitted to dictate how we value (or more often devalue!) certain types and groups of people. In Christ the noisy infant is as valuable as a bishop, and an ex-prostitute as precious as a Sunday School teacher who received a certificate of honour for 50 years service.
For this reason, I prefer Christian names to be used in the life of the church. This is not because we should all gush around, pretending to be good mates in a religious club, but because our baptismal names signify the only essential status we have in the community of Christ.
Today then, we remember the baptism of the young man from Nazareth. With gladness we receive him as one of our number. We rejoice that the Spirit alighted on him like a dove, affirming the decision of this Son of God to stand among other sons and daughters of God: tax gatherers, usuers and prostitutes in those baptismal waters.
We rejoice also that we here are indeed a baptised people; not clones, but a diverse motley mob who are (unnaturally) one in Christ:
- An odd people, rejecting the world’s classism, racism, sexism, elitism; and sectarianism;
- An uncomfortable people, faithfully wrestling with issues we would have much preferred to avoid.
- A new race, drawn from the highways and byways of life to find ourselves face to face.
- A surprising community, treasuring one another in a fellowship that no social engineer could ever devise.
Right? For as many of you who were baptised into Christ have put on Christ like a garment.
WE OFFER OUR CONCERNS TO GOD
First, let us pray for the world-wide church: By the inflowing of the Holy Spirit may we become in practice more truly what we already are in faith and hope: the body of Christ and new family God.
Let us pray for the strong and the wealthy, the powerful and the ruthless; the famous and the idolised; that they may discover how easy it is to gain the whole world yet lose the soul.
And let us pray for all suffering, broken, and forlorn people around us in church and community; that the healing of Christ may reach into the soul’s depths where no human hand can touch or human word console.
And now unto the loving God who is always doing far better than we can think or pray or do, be glory in the church through Christ Jesus, now and beyond the end of time. Amen!
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us in the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen.
R: Thanks be to Christ, whose power is made perfect in human weakness.
L: The blessing of the Creator, Redeemer and Inspirer will always be with you.