Baptism and a new start. Mark 1.4-11

Mark 1.4-11

A new year offers us the promise of new beginnings, of fresh starts.

We can press the reset button - so long as it is reset and not overload!

Today our reading is about a new beginning, a fresh start.

We read about Jesus baptism, and the promise that Jesus baptism has for each of us.

And we also celebrate Anna’s baptism and as we do that, we remember our own baptisms.
Because baptism is about a new beginning, a fresh start.

1. Baptism is about living under a new Lord, under the true Lord.

John the Baptist was a bit of a celebrity. He had a name. People looked to him as a spiritual leader.

And yet John recognises the authority of Jesus. He says, ‘He is more powerful than me’, ‘I am not worthy to even bow down and untie his shoelaces’.

In many Orthodox churches, in the dome as you look up, there is an image of Christ the ruler of all. That is the Christ who John speaks of here.

One of the questions that I am about to ask Anna - and of course Ben and Tatiana and John, her godfather, need to answer for her, because they do speak for her, and they will continue to speak for her for the next few years, or until she is able to say ‘no’ - is ‘Do you submit to the Lordship of Christ’.

In the UK if a shop is taken over by someone else, then often the sign will appear in the window, ‘under new management’. When a person is baptised, when they submit to Christ, they come ‘under new management’.

We make a decision that we will no longer live for the old ‘Lords’: for things like popularity, or work, or respect, or money, or comfort, or family, or children, or what the New Testament calls ‘the desires of the flesh’.

We are extremely inconsistent creatures. We have a pantheon of little lords, idols. At one point we live for one, at the next another. Here I try to please this person, there I try to satisfy that desire, in that situation I try to protect myself from danger, in this situation I try to please myself

But when we are baptised, we are saying that in all things, in all situations, our intention is to put him first.

We have a new Lord, we are under new management.

2. Baptism is about a new way of life

John calls people to repentance.

He ‘proclaims a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ (v4)

Repentance is not just about saying sorry for the past.
It is that, but it is also a decision to turn away from rebellion against God, from sin.
It is about making the decision to live facing towards God rather than facing away from God.
It is about choosing to begin to live life in the light of the presence and love and mercy of God.

I would love to tell you what the new way of life would look like for you, to give you a new set of rules to live by.
But when we do that, then - if you think about it - what becomes our new Lord is a set of rules, and not a person.

Yes, there are the 10 commandments; there are the many laws and commands that we are given in the Old and New Testament - laws that, rightly understood, teach us the way of wisdom.
But it is theoretically possible to obey all the commandments, to live a virtuous and upright life, and still lose God.
The Pharisees, the religious leaders of the time, were ‘good’ people. They did keep the laws religiously - but they had made the laws their God. They had come to serve the law, to put their trust in the law and not in God who had given them the law.

On one occasion, a rich man comes to Jesus and tells him that he has obeyed all the commandments, but that he realises that something is missing from his life. Jesus doesn’t contradict him. Instead he tells him, ‘Sell all you have and give your money to the poor. And - and this is the important bit - come follow me. Become one of my disciples. Literally walk on the road with me. Go where I go. Sleep where I sleep. Eat what I eat.’

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he was remarkably unhelpful. He said that the greatest command is not about what you must do, but how you should relate. He tells us that we are to love - to love God, and to love our neighbour as if they are one of our own.

So, No. I can’t tell you what the new life with Jesus will look like for you.

It is about a journey together with Jesus. An adventure.

Of course, while you can obey the commandments and lose God, it is difficult to stay close to Jesus and to break the spirit of the commandments.

But this new way of life is about an adventure - an adventure in which you begin to see God in a new way, this world in a new way, other people in a new way and yourself in a new way. And as a result you will live in a new way.

I was explaining to someone last week about how Orthodox and Anglican spiritualities can take you on slightly different journeys.
In Orthodoxy you go into a church, and are told to metaphorically get on your knees, and submit to the rules of the Church. You meet with Jesus as other than you, as Holy, as Lord. But then as you worship, you meet with the person of the Lord Jesus, with His love and beauty, and He lifts you up onto your feet.
In Anglicanism you go into a church, and you begin as you are; we treat God as our mate. We assume that God is like me, that he has the same values as me, and that he is in the business of making life better for me. But then as we worship, we encounter Him, the Lord Jesus, and we begin to glimpse His glory, His otherness, His holiness and we are driven to our knees.

Is one way is better than the other? I don’t know. What I do know is that as we go with him on this journey, we learn to both kneel before him as our Lord and to walk with him as one who is beloved and intimate with him.

3. And baptism is about a new presence

John says, ‘I have baptised you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit’

When we begin this new life, we are not on our own.
We are not able to begin to live this new way of life if we are on our own.

The Holy Spirit, the Spirit that comes from the Father, the Spirit that lived in Jesus, comes and lives in us and guides us into truth.

By faith we believe that the Holy Spirit will come to Anna when she is baptised, and that as she grows in the faith, supported by Ben and Tatiana, she will learn to listen to the Spirit, and to be guided by the Spirit. And at that moment when she is able to make a decision for herself, she will simply continue in the faith that she has grown up in. I pray that for her there will never be a time when she does not know Jesus.

Of course, many of us - for whatever reason: maybe after we were baptised we were not taught as children, or probably it was wilful rebellion - have walked away from Jesus, and we have extinguished the flame of the Spirit. And we are lost.

But I am not sure that the Spirit ever completely goes away. And Holy Spirit is constantly calling us to come back to the Lord Jesus, to turn back to him, to make a new beginning.

And while we hear God speaking to us, there is always the possibility of another reset, another fresh start.

4. Baptism is about a new identity.

‘A voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”

Jesus was baptised. And when we are baptised, we are joined together with Jesus.

Baptism is your funeral service - when you die to your old self.
But it is also your wedding service - when you are united with Jesus.

We have many identities in this world.
Our family relationships define us, our work defines us, our race or sex define us. Indeed, in these days of identity politics we are encouraged to think that our race or our gender or sexuality define us.

But as baptised people we put that aside, and we take on the identity of Jesus.

We are given a new dignity. Whether we are black or white, Russian or African, male or female, whether we have identified ourselves as heterosexual or homosexual or whatever else, we become instead sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters, fellow heirs of heaven.

A child was asked in an exam to write what John the Baptist said to Jesus when he was baptised. He couldn’t remember, so made something up. He wrote, ‘John the Baptist said to Jesus, ‘Well now that you are the Son of God, live like one’.

As baptized people we have a new identity. We are sons and daughters of God. We bear the name of God. And we are called, with the help of the Spirit, to live – in holiness and love - as sons and daughters of God.

I finish with an illustration.

Imagine that we are a ship at sea. We are using the wrong maps and we are sailing in completely the wrong direction.
Baptism is when we turn the boat through 180 degrees and sail in the opposite direction. It is a completely new start, a new beginning. Many of you here will have made that decision. But baptism is also a map that is given to us: a map that reminds those who have been baptized – whether as an infant or an adult, it doesn’t matter - that we have a new Lord, a new way of living, a new presence with us and a new identity.
But then as we sail, for various reasons, we begin to lose our way. Maybe we fall asleep at the wheel, maybe we get distracted by something, maybe there is a storm, and we veer off course. But we are not lost. As baptized people we can always turn again to that map, and choose to steer back towards the right way, towards God.

And maybe a new year is as a good time to do that, as any.

We can choose again today to make a new start.


Popular posts from this blog

Advent 2 Peter 3:8-15

Save yourself from this corrupt generation

An order of service for an Advent carol service