“I come to you” was given by Elizabeth Binns at St John with St Mark, Bury on Sunday 10th January 2021. It’s based on Mark 1:4-11.
Do you know it is a year since I last did a Baptism? I have missed them, and I should – and so should you because Baptism is important. Now, you are probably thinking we know that, we really do. We know that it is about more than making granny happy and we even know that it is more important than the party after; although the lack of those is probably the main reason I (and just about every other priest) have not administered this sacrament for a while.
Unfortunately, we also know that as most of us were baptised before we could walk, let alone talk, we gave it – and probably still give it – little thought. Baptism is not quite the life changer that it is meant to be. And yet, this is how we become members of the Church. This is our new beginning, our fresh start, our clean slate.
Of course, in what we might call a “normal Baptism” the actual candidate is probably the only one present not actually in need of any of those benefits. The one being “done” is generally oblivious of the enormity of what is being “done” unto them. And, as for the rest of the people attending, well, they are mainly unaware that here is an opportunity for them to have that new start as well. That is why I always emphasise this opportunity in any Baptism service I take. You see, somebody might just hear, somebody might just respond, just as I did in this very church.
Now, all this might make us wonder if we should implement what other traditions do and reserve Baptism for adults; so that we have a Believers Baptism. However, many of these churches use Baptism primarily as a public declaration of faith in Jesus Christ not as a life changing and life-giving sacrament, which is what it really should be seen and received as.
Making a difference
Yes, Baptism is meant to make a real difference. It is not a solitary event; it is part of the ongoing journey of faith. When Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan, I do not think for one moment He thought it was just an event either nor was he ticking something off his bucket list. He both expected and found it to be life changing. From his Baptism Jesus’ life and ministry spring. It was important for him and so it should be important for us; it certainly was for John the Baptiser.
Just in case you are wondering, John did not invent Baptism. He just took a centuries old Jewish ritual and re-made it for a new purpose. Jewish purification rites involved, and still do, the use of water to cleanse and restore people. These rituals are performed following such things as illness or contact with death or disease. The faithful might go through these rites many times in their life.
However, the Baptism that John was offering was a new and radical thing; it was and is a Baptism of repentance. This was to provide the clean slate John saw as a necessary preparation for the coming Messiah. Clearly, John believed there would be a further Baptism; a Baptism not just with water but with the Holy Spirit.
What was he thinking?
I am sure John must have rejoiced at all those people coming down to the Jordan seeking that new start, but he was obviously not expecting one particular candidate. And why would he? If the reason to get baptised is to be forgiven for your sins and get yourself ready for the imminent arrival of the messiah then, what possible need could the actual messiah have for Baptism?
Yet clearly, Jesus does. After thirty years of nothing worth reporting and no one noticing him He is ready begin a new life – through Baptism. And for Jesus, as it is for us, that new life would no longer be defined by what we turn from but what and who we turn to.
Can you imagine what John was thinking as he saw the figure of Jesus coming through the waters of the Jordan towards him? You know, I think we can actually do that, because most of us have thought and felt what John must have.
God coming to me? God asking me to do something for him?
But there He is.
Here He is.
Joining US in the waters of Baptism.
I come to you
And I think this is how we can begin to understand the real importance and power of Baptism. We so often (even as Christians) live our lives believing God to be distant and uninvolved; we see ourselves as being unworthy or undeserving. Others (hopefully not Christians) might look at it differently; seeing God as not meeting their expectation or not giving them what they think they need or deserve. It is little wonder they and, sometimes us, cannot believe or refuse to believe that God will come to us. But when Jesus waded through the waters of the Jordan to John, he was coming to us all.
In Matthew’s account John says to Jesus: “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus’ answer, spoken or not, is: Absolutely Yes. Yes, I come to you.
That is Jesus’ answer to John – and to you, to me, to everyone. There is no one to whom Jesus will not come.
We have the power
That answer, however, is not without consequences because the issue is not Jesus’ coming to us – it is us preventing his coming. In Matthew’s gospel we also find the phrase (John) “would have prevented him”. John would have stepped up and denied Jesus Baptism because he felt unworthy.
Of course, we can understand that we really can – but it’s a pretty scary thought that God gives us the power to reject Him. He does so because he loves us so much that he will not force his love upon us. We have the choice. But Jesus does not; He has given up HIS choice so that He comes to us. He always has and He always will. Amen.
Almighty God, in our baptism you have consecrated us
to be temples of your Holy Spirit.
May we, whom you have counted worthy,
nurture this gift of your indwelling Spirit with a lively faith
and worship you with upright lives;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Beryl Cook’s picture of Madonna and Child is Elizabeth’s favourite picture and is shown here with grateful thanks. Copyright © John Cook 2021. www.ourberylcook.com.