Sermon for Baptism of Jesus by Rev Canon Charles Royden
The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, "I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."
What would you do if ……..?
I was watching sky news and there was a reporter in a Romford in a news agents interviewing people buying lottery tickets. Why Romford ? This is because Romford in the luckiest place in the UK to buy lottery tickets. Since the inception of the National Lottery in 1994, more than £40 billion pounds have been distributed across the UK. The National Lottery via their operators the Camelot Group have released a table pinpointing the nation’s luckiest locations.
These areas have the largest number of ‘top tier’ winners (prizes over £50,000) per head of population.
Romford currently flies the first ceremonial National Lottery flag declaring its status as the UK’s luckiest town. Sunderland and Newcastle come next and fourth is Liverpool, so if I need to buy lottery tickets I should go up the M1
Anyway the reason why Sky News were interviewing people was because there was a rollover.
For those of you who like me never play the lottery that means that nobody had won the lottery for many weeks and so the prize had built up to 57.8 million
Lottery mania was sweeping Britain and Sky News wanted to ask the likely winner of the lottery who was going to live in Romford a big question in advance of the 57.8 million giveaway
What would you do if ……..?
One man said he was going to buy a shop. I think he meant a little shop for him and his wife to run, I wanted the interviewer to suggest Marks and Spencer
The Telegraph ran a survey for lottery hopefuls What would you do if …….. ? The options were
- Spend, spend, spend (15% of people had voted for that)
- Give it all away 6%
- Share with family and friends 36%
- Bbuy a house 17%
- Invest 26%
It is interesting to get people to think what they would do. If you had all that money at you disposal what you would do?.
What would we do as a church? Many churches use the money to invest in ministry opportunities with young people, I would like to think about how the church could become more involved in ministry opportunities for the care for the elderly, those people who are increasingly stuck at home and feeling isolated.
I would also like to buy acres of land and develop a huge expansion of our woodland burial trust .
It is a question of using your imagination and it is all a bit of fun. Now think back to the Baptism of Jesus which we had in our Gospel reading today. It is a magnificent occasion in the Life of Jesus. He see the ordinary folks, poor and downtrodden going out to see John the Baptist in the desert. We know immediately how Jesus would have felt when he saw them because we read time and time again that Jesus was moved towards ordinary men and women with compassion.
John the Baptist was a radical man, a prophetic figure. His father Zechariah had been a Temple priest in Jerusalem but John had left all of that behind and gone into the desert, rejecting the life of the city or any distinction and wearing animals skins and eating insects. People were angry with John some said that he had a demon (Luke7:33) but his message was a clear call for the people to turn to God, he called people to repent of their sins, start leading good lives. The basic message was easy folks should
‘care, share and be fair’
These ordinary poor folks took the message to heart and went into the water a sign of that commitment and promised to live better lives. Jesus would have been moved to compassion towards them.
Like John, Jesus too had left the pathway which his family had expected of him, we know that his mother and his brothers and sisters thought that he was a crackpot, 'gone out of his mind' and at one stage tried to have him put away.
Jesus understood what John was doing and we know that he was moved. He knows that John is putting his life on the line. John attacks those who think they are better than everybody else just because they were born Jewish. John also attacks the evil king Herod. Instead he offers calls the soldiers and tax collectors who were supposed to be sinners and he speaks to them of God forgiveness.
Jesus liked all of this about his cousin John and so when Jesus gets into the water with the radical John, it is a clear way of Jesus saying that what John was doing was right. Jesus makes a bold and clear statement of what his ministry was going to be like. He too will reject the old religion which condemned and made people feel miserable and exploited them.
The good news is that when he did this, Jesus saw the heavens opened and it was like he heard the voice of God saying 'well done!'
Not only did the heavens open, but we read that in some amazing way Jesus felt that the Holy Spirit was given to him by God to help him follow this course which he had set out upon. God was pleased with the choice which Jesus had made and God was going to resource him so that he could accomplish all that was ahead of him.
We know that early on in his ministry Jesus was on a collision course with the authorities which he understood would lead to death in Jerusalem. It must have seemed impossible to the poor carpenter from Nazareth, but Jesus trusted that God was going to give the resources which he needed.
Back to the lottery !
Instead of asking ourselves about a big lottery win ‘What if……. ‘ and imagining what we could do with all that money, as Christians we are supposed to ask ourselves what if we trusted in God’s promises to give to us his Holy Spirit to empower us with the resources which we need, what could we achieve his will for us?
Attempt great things for God, expect great things from God.
As Christians we are expected to prayerfully seek God's way for us and we should not be constrained by our own limited resources. Like the hopeful lottery ticket holder we are to ask,
What if ?
I believe that it was Robert Schuller a minister in the US, founder of the Crystal Cathedral who hosted a show called the 'Hour of Power' who said something like
What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail?
Now he did lots of motivational speaking, told people that if they tried hard and put in the work then they would succeed. Today we are reminded that our ministry as individuals and as a church is not just dependent upon our hard work. If we prayerfully seek God's direction then it is God who resources us and we will not fail. Therefore we must be prepared to dream bigger dreams. It is what Jesus meant when he spoke about faith as small as a mustard seed growing into a great big tree.
Let us use this day of the baptism of Jesus to be reminded of our baptism, our calling to serve God and prayerfully ask ourselves the question that the sky news reporter asked
'What if ....'