The Baptism of Christ Sunday

Baptism of Christ ( Verrocchio and Leonardo)

This blog is basically my sermon for today. It carries on my thoughts from the previous blog: I’m getting into poetry. Below is a photo of my prayer/art journal at the end of my Saturday morning thinking and praying about the sermon. The poem and the bits down the right hand side were done earlier in the week. The left hand and bottom of page scribbles were the result of my Saturday morning prayer time.


Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43 and Matthew 3:13-17

It’s good to be back from holiday (I think!).  It’s always good to go away to rest and relax, to recharge the batteries but it is also good to come home, light a fire, put on the central heating and warm up the house.  While I was away I didn’t worry about today’s sermon as I knew I had one from a previous year that would be fine.  So I prayed and read through the readings set for today purely for my own edification but actually they didn’t really say much to me but I didn’t mind.  I’d got my Blue Peter sermon. …. here’s one I prepared earlier!

Those of us who used to watch the show will appreciate what I mean by a simple reference to the show’s craft activities.  The rest of you may be puzzled.   The presenters would always have one they had already made to show what it should look like, sometimes at various stages of the procedure.

But when I prayed yesterday morning I got a sense of wanting to share with you my thoughts from the week, rather than the sermon I already had.  So it could be that God’s voice has got through to me and that what I share this morning is from him.  I’ll let you be the judge of that.  But be warned I haven’t had hours to spend carefully crafting the sermon.

We often speak using phrases or expressions that sum up a whole lot in just a few words.  Poetry works like that.  I’m getting into poetry and much of my reading and thinking this week has been about poetry.   

I have started to re-read Mark Oakley’s book The Splash of Words.  I was impressed with his introduction and the phrase ‘poetry is the native language of faith’.  He argues, very well, that when entering a church [service] we should listen to the ‘poetic story telling of truth’ rather than ‘here is the news’ (page xxv). 

What he means is that when you watch tele and you know it is the news or a documentary you are expecting facts and figures, things to weigh up and decide if they are true or not.  If, however, you turn on the tele and watch a film or someone says… Once upon a time…. you know that you are going to be transported to another place and enter another reality and you will make connections between that place and your own experience.  This is true regardless of whether the story is based on something that actually happened or is purely fiction.   The words the actors are given are carefully crafted to give full impact.  

We listen to the voices and we are moved.  We listen with expectation of being amused, entertained, or informed.  We watch with expectation of it being worth the effort.  And sometimes you do need to put a bit of effort in to follow a plot, especially if it has sub-plots and twists.

How do you listen to the bible when it is read – either in church or in your own prayer times?  And it was written to be read out loud.  I admit that some of it could send you to sleep.  But some of it is actually poetry, whilst other bits are descriptive of events but still written in a manner to convey the essence of the action.  The bible is full of expressions a bit like my Blue Peter reference.  Many people of my generation will understand it – but for others it would need explaining.  And Jesus often used parables and expressions to bring his teaching alive, to make people think for themselves, and to get his point across.  

So when I read the gospel were you able to imagine yourself there? I had meant to suggest before I read the gospel, that you imagine themselves to be there and picture the scene unfolding.  But I forgot!  Just got on with doing it as normal.  Can you imagine the crowds gathering at the Jordan being baptised by John to show they had turned again to God>  Imagine John’s conversation with Jesus, who most people would not have recognised as being any different o the next guy?  John didn’t want to baptise him because he recognised that Jesus was special, different and not in need of turning again to God.   And then Jesus says he has to be baptised in order for it to fulfil all righteousness.

Jesus was baptised to align himself fully with us.  He was without personal sin of his own.  But he was human, 100%, and so along with the rest of humanity he committed himself to God.  It’s amazing to think that Jesus, who was with God and is God, and through whom all things were made should become of us.  Not with WITH us or alongside us, but ONE OF US.  He became 100% human, thus enabling us to participate in God’s presence in the world.   God became human in order that humans could be filled with God.

In the beginning was the Word…..  those wonderful first words of John’s gospel are poetic.  The whole first section is poetic and beautiful.

In the beginning Jesus, The Word, the son of God, was God, created all things.  He was life and light, full of truth and Grace displaying the glory of God.  And when we believe in him, in his words and life, in his death and resurrection, then we are given life as adopted children of God.

I’m reminded of the time that I went on a parish quiet day, many years ago, in a local church.  There was a window of Jesus’ baptism and as I sat and looked at it, I imagined that God was saying those words to me that he had said to Jesus.   “You are my beloved daughter, in you I am well pleased.”  That’s what we can do when we spend time prayerfully reading the bible, with an expectation that we will have a sense of what God might say to us through scripture. 

Matthew’s report on Jesus’ baptism contains the voice from heaven:  “this is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased”.

God’s voice is powerful, is full of splendour and is active in the world (Psalm 29, set for today, is very poetic).    Right from the beginning when he said let there be light, God has spoken to the world. 

In the Old Testament years it was through prophets who proclaimed his justice.  And some of them knew that actions speak louder than words and so they acted out God’s message.  For example Hosea married a prostitute, who was unfaithful, to illustrate Israel’s unfaithfulness to God.

Isaiah’s prophecies from God are often poetic.  In today’s reading, speaking about God’s Servant, who John recognised was Jesus, and we see fulfilled in Jesus, we have the wonderful words:

Thus says God, the Lord,
    who created the heavens and stretched them out,
    who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
    and spirit to those who walk in it:
I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
    I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
    a light to the nations,
    to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
    from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the Lord, that is my name;
    my glory I give to no other,
    nor my praise to idols.
See, the former things have come to pass,
    and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth, I tell you of them.

But God went one better than a voice through prophets.  His word actually became human to show us how much God loves us.  Jesus’ is God’s voice and word in person.  He is the glory of God. 

And he continues to speak to us when we allow the Holy Spirit to work within us, to inspire us, to guide and lead us into words and actions that continue to bring God’s message of justice, peace and love to a very needy world.

The New Testament reading from Acts contains part of Peter’s sermon where he explains who Jesus is and how they were continuing to preach and be witnesses by the power of the Holy Spirit working within them, and actually taking people out of their comfort zone and expectations of what God will do.  The gentiles were to be included as disciples of Jesus.  God had spoken to Peter through a dream to correct his vision for the future of the church.  He was taken out of his comfort zone. 

And we are invited to walk out of our comfort zones as we continue that work in the world.  We can only do this if we have a religion that is active, living, and open to hear from God, or as Jesus would say, have ears to hear.  If we are poetry in motion – if our lives are examples of God’s ways, attractive to others because of the faith alive within us, then we will be given the words by God to tell others of his love, and the courage to speak out for justice when it is needed.

The WORD became flesh
and dwelt among us
in the babe in Bethlehem.
The words of The Word
would baffle and confuse
those whose
religion had become static.

The Word became flesh
and dwells among us
by the Holy Spirit in hearts.
The words of The Word
come alive and resound
in those whose
religion has become poetic.

Words with added ‘decoration’ done after morning services and preaching done.

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