Thoughts on the Word:
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize 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 baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 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.’
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 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.’
Today we remember the Baptism of Jesus. As we recall this event in the life of our saviour, and the epiphany - or manifestation of God - that accompanied it, I wonder if it is not a time for us all to recall our own baptism and the promises that we made - or that we confirmed later if we were baptised as infants. As we remember Jesus baptism I want us to focus on something in our reading that is unique to Luke's account, and what it tells us about Jesus, and about how we should live as his followers.
Let's begin by remembering our own baptismal promises. In my own church, those who seek baptism are asked the following questions, I ask them of you as a reminder of what Baptism is and what we are called to as baptised Christians. If you have never been baptised, but are desiring to become a follower of Christ these questions will give you an idea of what you would be committing to through baptism.
1. Do you turn to Christ?
Response: I turn to Christ.
2. Do you repent of your sins?
Response: I repent of my sins.
3. Do you reject selfish living, and all that is false and unjust?
Response:I reject them all.
4. Do you renounce Satan and all evil?
Response: I renounce all that is evil.
5. Will you each, by God's grace, strive to live as a disciple of Christ, loving God with your whole heart, and your neighbour as yourself, until life's end?
Response: I will, with God's help.
When we are baptised it is a new beginning, it is a burying of the old and rising of the new. We are reborn - remade- through the waters of baptism. However baptism is a beginning, not an end. Our baptism, whether as an infant, or as an adult was the beginning of our journey as Christians, a journey that is lifelong and not a one time event. As we read of Jesus' baptism, you'll note that it is not something that happens to complete his ministry, it is not a culmination but the beginning. The last of the questions for baptism candidates reflects this - we are asked to strive to live as a disciple of Christ - to love God with our whole heart and neighbour as ourselves... sound simple enough? The thing is it isn't simple at all, living a life of dedication to Christ in today's world marks you as an outcast. Mainstream society, at least in the Western world has moved away from God, those with faith are increasingly derided, and seen as legitimate targets for ridicule and outright hostility. No it isn't easy to live our lives as faithful disciples, when we encounter so much pressure to conform to the norms of this world - we need help.
As we reflect on our own journey so far, I want us to notice something very important, and unique to Luke's Gospel in the recounting of Jesus' baptism - after he is baptised, Jesus is praying. It is while he is praying that the spirit descends on him, and it is during prayer that the epiphany in this account occurs, and that is important.
We know it is important because as we read about the life of Jesus we find that he spent a lot of time in prayer. Throughout his Gospel, Luke shows us Jesus praying. He prays before he calls his disciples (6:12), before asking them who he is (9:18), at the time of his transfiguration (9:29), before teaching his disciples how to pray (11:1), on the night of his arrest (22:41), and at his death (23:46). Luke has a strong emphasis on prayer in his writing on Jesus, and this emphasis is carried on in the Acts of the Apostles, where the burgeoning church seeks to follow the model of Christ by being a church of prayer.
You see what we begin in our baptism we live through prayer, for it is through prayer that we receive the guidance of the Spirit, it is through prayer that we receive strength and encouragement on our journey. If our faith was a car, then prayer would be the fuel. Without the fuel that car goes nowhere. Likewise without prayer our faith stops growing and becomes stagnate. When we fail to pray regularly, we begin to view faith like the car without fuel - it was great while it was moving, but now it is stuck, it won't move so we leave it and start walking - we set out on a journey without the car. Without prayer faith stops growing, our journey of faith stops, and we find it to hard or pointless staying on a journey that seems to be getting us nowhere. This is when people walk away from faith, it is at this point that people strike out on their own, to the relatively easy journey of conformity with the world. I tell you that no-one who has a strong prayer life, who lays before God all things and trusts their journey to His care will ever find themselves in a stagnate faith.
If your faith journey has become stalled, I am willing to wager that your prayer life is not healthy. How much time do you dedicate to prayer each day? A very large number of Christians only ever pray at Church on Sunday, and when they find themselves in desperate need. That is not the model Jesus gave us, and it is not the model of the early church. Many will say that they simply don't have time - that my dear brothers and sisters is rubbish. You can find 10 minutes of your day to start a regular prayer time - it might mean waking up a little earlier, it might mean turning off the radio in the car on the way to work so you can pray, it might mean missing some tv time... The thing is, it is about priorities. What priority are you giving God in your life when you can't find just 10 minutes a day for Him?
So, let us all, as we remember Jesus' baptism, recall our own and recommit ourselves to being faithful, and prayerful disciples of Christ. Let us commit to making time with God a part of our daily routine, so that we are strengthened and fuelled for our journey, so that we all reach our final destination.
May almighty God bless you and yours this week.