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Sermon: Eucharist - Baptism of Christ

Sunday 11th January 2015
Cathedral Eucharist
Acts 19: 1-7
Mark 1: 4-11

Four figures are silhouetted on the stage; the music begins.
From the rooftops shout it out.
The lights go up; they take their seats; the song continues.
I'm back and ready to go.
A woman comes onto the stage in silence.
No one knows what to expect; but she too starts to sing.
Buzzers are pressed and chairs turn: potential mentors respond to her voice.
Decisions are made; she hopes her life will change.
The Voice is back on BBC One.

In today's Gospel, Mark is raising the curtain on drama which is world-changing.
His announcement is bold: this is the beginning of good news.
These are words of proclamation; and Mark is startlingly specific.
This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
But who is this Jesus?  Today, on the feast of his baptism that is revealed.

The wilderness is the stage; a voice has cried out.
In this moment of revelation, we recognise who God is.
In this moment of recognition, we come to a deeper knowledge of ourselves.

John is a strange yet compelling figure.
It's not his dress or his diet that draw people to him.
It is his message that brings them to the wilderness. Men and women respond to his voice.
He calls them to repentance: to literally turn their lives around.
Like the prophets before him, he urges them to recall the vision and expectations of God's kingdom.
God's people were to live lives that embodied justice, mercy, compassion and love.
His message is uncompromising: they need to turn back to God and make a new start.
This voice speaks of repentance: the people confess their sins.
This baptism speaks of forgiveness: it is a symbol of renewal.

Here, in the wilderness, on this modest stage something decisive is happening.
This human voice is the herald.  John is waiting too.
He points towards one who is more powerful than he.
The one who is to come will baptise with the Holy Spirit.
John has called people to look look back - on their lives and on God's promises.
Now in this moment they are called to look forward - to the fulfilment of those promises.
We look forward to the transformation of human lives by the power of the Spirit, not on human decision alone.

That reality breaks in, today: Mark introduces Jesus to the main stage.
The details are sparse: Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.
There is no Christmas story with angels addressing Mary, Joseph and shepherds.
There are no genealogies tracing Israel's story; no magi kneeling to adore the light to the nations.
A millions miles away from corridors of power; in the place where crowds are gathering; here is is.
Coming from the obscurity of Nazareth, Jesus make a low key entrance that will change the world.

A river flows through this wilderness: there is potential for refreshment and renewal.
Jesus steps forward, standing with us on a muddy river bank.
God with us: he is not another prophet, not a merely human messiah.
He is the Son of God: affirming John's message and restoring our humanity.
His power is revealed in human frailty; his love is made manifest weakness.
The one who created all things does not turn his face away from his creation.
The one who is the image of the invisible God stands alongside us.

Heaven and earth meet; time and eternity are caught in a span.
The waters break over Jesus; the skies above are torn apart.
There is a voice: You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.
Mark's human proclamation is affirmed by a divine pronouncement.
This Jesus from Galilee is indeed the Son of God.

This moment of revelation reveals to us the nature of God.
God made known as Father; pouring forth the power the Spirit; dwelling with us as Jesus Christ.
Mark conveys the sense that these words of assurance are for Jesus.
He is God's Son; he is beloved and favoured.
The assurance comes on the cusp of Jesus' time alone in the wilderness.
The voice from heaven confirms his earthly ministry: God calls us to himself not by coercion but by love.

Mark will reveal love that love as he recounts Jesus teaching and preaching; in healing and restoring.
Peter, James and John will hear a voice from heaven when they witness Jesus' transfiguration.
As Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem, we are called to listen to him.
We are to walk with the Son of God, step by step, day by day in our world.
Baptism marks the beginning journey towards the cross; to the manifestation of the breadth and depth of love.
Love that is utterly self-giving.  And at the moment of Jesus' final breath, we hear another voice.
The voice of a Roman Centurion: This is God's Son, he says.

Revelation unfolds before us. There are moments of recognition.
There's a depth of assurance that enables us to place our hope and trust in God.
We come to know ourselves differently: as forgiven and full of potential, as beloved and blessed.
God is transforming us, our lives and the world.
He is our Father; we are his children by adoption and grace.
We have been baptised in Jesus name, in the power of the Spirit.

Participants on the BBC'sThe Voice long for their voices to be heard; but they face a human judgement.
But not every mentor will turn to face them; not everyone is good enough.
Today God's voice declares that in him, everyone is called to something new. 

Paul's conversation with those he encountered in Ephesus reveals the hope of this message.
The key question for him is: did you receive the Holy Spirit when you came to faith?
John's baptism expresses contrition for all that separates us from God.
Our hearts and minds and souls are moved to repentance; we long for forgiveness.
But we are called to look forward as well as backwards.
So Paul encourages others to accept an invitation into God's future.
To be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ is to take our place within renewed community; empowered by God's Spirit. 

That is particularly evocative and challenging for us, worshipping in this Cathedral Church dedicated to the Holy Spirit. What is God calling us to? As we urge people to save this building, are we also expressing a vision of God's salvation? We learnt, embody and tell God's story afresh in this generation. A vision of reconciled relationship as we pay attention to each other, in trust and affection; as we seek the common good and pursue wisdom.  All this is rooted in the attention we pay to God in worship - in silence, word, song and gesture.

We who are many are one body; we share in one bread. We are in Christ.
We who share in one bread are blessed by the gifts of the Spirit.
Those gifts build up God's kingdom; we all have a part to play.
In living our virtues of love, joy, patience and kindness; the practical callings of administration, teaching and hospitality. The skills we've practiced in music; the abilities we deploy in our work; the encouragement and challenge we offer each other.

Recognising the revelation of God's love; knowing ourselves as penitent, forgiven and restored, our baptismal calling is to bear witness to the light at moments of greatest darkness.

Forgiveness and the transformative power of the Holy Spirit; the call to love of our enemies; walking the way of the cross in the hope of resurrection: all these things are marks of life in Christ and Christian discipleship; all these things are demanding.  We may struggle to express it; we may have moments when it makes sense.    We are called upon witness to this liberating, redeeming and powerful reality. We are to proclaim God's peace in a world wracked with fear; we are to use a language of generous love that makes space for God's kingdom.  As we pray for people of Paris and Nigeria, Lebanon and Haiti, may the glorious liberty of God's children be made known in a depth of fraternity and a graceful equality. May God's Kingdom come.