Baptism of the Lord Sunday
January 12, 2020
Readings: Psalm 29, Isaiah 42:1-9, Acts 10:34-43, Matthew 3:13-17
In 1984 I was ordained as a minister within the Welsh Presbyterian Church in a little town called Pembroke, which was about as far away from my home Presbytery and home town as anything in Wales could be. So traveling across the country went a representative from my home Presbytery, David Evans from Clubmoor Church in Liverpool, England, and some of my family, including my late father, who throughout his life rarely set foot inside a church.
David Evans worked in local government. My Dad worked voluntarily as a Trade Union representative. Sometimes they had met on opposite sides of the negotiating table. They were both very surprised to walk into that church far from home and find a face they knew in the congregation.
"What are you doing here?" asked my Dad. David explained, "Adrian's one of our Presbyteries candidates for the ministry; What are you doing here?" Dad explained, “Well, Adrian's my son!" Although they had met on numerous occasions in a different setting, neither expected to meet the other in a church the other side of nowhere.
I'm sure you can think of situations when you went somewhere and met somebody you hadn't expected to see and were tempted to ask, "What are you doing here?" When Jesus went down to the shores of the Jordan to be baptized by his cousin John, such was John's first reaction.
John's baptism was a radical thing to ask the Jews to partake in. Baptism was usually seen as an initiation ceremony for converts to Judaism, but now there he was telling them to repent and prepare for the Messiah and the coming of the Kingdom, and as a sign of readiness be baptized. From what John knew of Jesus, Jesus had nothing to repent of and whilst he didn't at that point recognize Him as the Messiah, John knew that if any one was ready for the Kingdom to come, it was Jesus.
In the church calendar this Sunday is the one designated as recalling the Baptism of Jesus. When I first started thinking about it, I couldn't help but ask, "What on earth has the fact that Jesus went to be baptized by John around two thousand years ago got to do with anything that may be happening in my life right now?” One thought kept buzzing in my mind. A question, "Well, What are you doing here?"
Whilst theologians differ about how is the correct way and when is the correct time in a person’s spiritual journey that they should receive baptism, one thing they are united on; be they Catholic or Episcopalian or Presbyterian or Pentecostal or Baptist or whatever. That is this. Baptism is an external sign that we are people who belong to God. On that aspect of baptism there is common agreement among all the denominations.
If God is our God and we are God’s people, one thing is for sure. God is going to keep showing up, whether invited or uninvited, whether expected or unexpected. If we are God's people, then God is on our case. We may not be expecting God to show up. We may not recognize God when He does. God keeps showing up, despite our insensitivity to God’s Presence.
It doesn't matter where you are or what you are doing, Christ's promise remains, "I will be with you always, even unto the end of the age".
In the classroom.
In the Workplace.
In the Kitchen.
Shopping in Giant.
In your decisions.
In your dreams.
In your laughter and your tears.
God keeps showing up.
That's how it is in Scripture. God keeps showing up in the most unexpected places. Walking with the lepers. Spending time with a Samaritan Woman by a well. On a road to Emmaus. Down by the beach. At a tax Collectors house. In a stable in a little town called Bethlehem. In the High Priest's Court. On a road leading to Damascus along which Saul walked on his way to cause some grief to some faithful believers. And down by the River Jordan to be baptized by John.
Again and again the question is put to Jesus, "What are you doing here?” Even at times when we should expect God's presence to be there for us we are surprised that His love shows up. Let me share three examples I heard of this past week.
I read this past week of Robert Scott, who lost his life in his search for the South Pole, a deeply religious man. His final entry in his diary records how the presence of Jesus showed up for him when he reached the end of life’s road. He wrote: "As we sit here in this barren waste, we think of home and our loved ones. We are very lonely in these last hours. Yet we are cheered, for it seems there are three of us here, not just two. It is Jesus and His presence that comforts us. All along He seems to have journeyed with us. He faced death alone and unafraid. He is with us now." The unexpected Presence of God when all was lost.
Some of the youth who were here just after Christmas for the TYC reunion weekend, went over the New Year to a large conference for college age youth held at Montreat, NC. One shared on social media "For me, it was all very uneventful - until the very last evening service. During that service the presence of God fell on the meeting, like out of nowhere, unexpected, like nothing I'd ever experienced before. Amazing!” We can worship with thousands of others, and still be surprised when God shows up.
During last weeks service we celebrated communion and shared our Epiphany Star stories. One person told in the week, "You know, I really felt the Presence of God during that service." What? God showing up unexpectedly at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church? Believe it. What are we doing here if it isn't to meet with Jesus Christ?
‘This is the Day” we are called to meet with Him. We, who are the baptized people of God, can know the assurance that wherever God leads us, He promises to be with us. Sometimes that realization unexpectedly breaks through and takes us by surprise. Treasure such times.
Don't be afraid to seek such moments and realize that the more time you spend applying God's Word to your life, sharing with God in prayer and worshiping God in the company of God's people, then the more prepared you will be to encounter Him.
My late Father and an elder from a church I once served traveled half way across Great Britain to discover that they had a connection to each other that they never realized existed. They looked at each other and declared, “What are you doing here?”
We have come to this place today. We have come for different reasons. We are all very different people. “What are you doing here?” John describes Jesus telling us that while he baptizes with water, Jesus will baptize us with the Holy Spirit. Jesus needed the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to be within Him and around Him as He commenced His ministry.
The picture on the bulletin cover shows Him emerging from the water as the dove of the Spirit hovers over Him. “What are we doing here?” We gather here today to be empowered for mission. We are called together so that we can go out into the world to serve.
There is Kingdom work to be done. Our world is divided. People are hurting. Some are ready to give up. Some are suicidal. People need a healing touch, a gentle word, a demonstration that there is a God who loves and cares and sees them. A God who shows up.
We are called to be the hands and feet and hope of Jesus to this world. And to do that we need all the power and presence of God's Spirit that God can give! Every service of worship is a time to encounter the God who asks us the question, “What are you doing here?”
What are we doing here?
Please join me in this ...Affirmation of Faith
Please stand if you are able
OUR RESPONSE TO THE WORD
*Affirmation of Faith (Affirmation of Baptism)
What are we doing here? We are baptized brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. He has called us to sit around God's family table. We are called to remember who we are and whose we are. We are unique creations of an awesome God. We belong to Jesus Christ. We call to mind the price Christ paid That we may be called His own. His death on the Cross. The unexpected glory of His resurrection. The promise of the Holy Spirit's Presence Within and around our lives. The hope of His coming Kingdom. Thank You Lord for making us Your own. Help us to discover Your love, every time we gather together in worship, and wherever life’s journey may lead. Amen.
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.