The Baptism of Jesus and ours

baptism-jesusWhen you come to reflect on the baptism of Jesus, the first thing that you need to take account of is how odd an event it must have been. The primary significance of the baptism that John was offering was a washing from sin and a ritual of repentance. It was in direct competition to the sacrificial system of the temple which was all about cleansing a person from personal sin and recognising how terrible sin was – to be cleansed involved the death of an animal – that should tell us how seriously people understood sin. And yet Jesus was here, asking John to baptise him. We profess that Jesus was like us in all things – except sin. So why is the sinless one presenting himself alongside all the other riff-raff of the day to be washed clean? There is no universally agreed answer – which is why the early church considered the baptism of Jesus as such a scandal – even if it is attested by all four gospels. Perhaps the best answer is that it was part of his call to be in solidarity with all people – especially those who knew themselves to be far from God.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am (10mins)
Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, Year C.

Connected to Life

cross+vineToday we hear the final of the seven “I am” declarations that punctuate the Gospel of John – “I am the true vine.” This declaration is also unusual because it is the first time one that is explicitly relational: I am the vine; you are the branches. We should be in no doubt after hearing this declaration about the sense of connection with the divine that has been opened up to us as a result of the ministry of Jesus.

Across the centuries, but especially since the rise of individualism and capitalism, Christianity has been infected with the same idea that ‘the gods help those who help themselves.’ This tendency reached a high point in the teachings of the British monk Pelagius, who was condemned by various councils and especially in the writings of St Augustine. Pelagainism as his school of thought was called taught that the first moves towards God were always our initiative and we could basically move towards a life of holiness and grace with just a little assistance from God. The Gospel today should clearly show that it is never enough for Jesus to be merely an inspiring moral figure or teacher for us. No the Christian life is not about our response to God – but about participating in the very life of God organically.

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Recorded at St Col’s, 9am (8min 53 sec)
Sunday 5 in Easter, Year B. John 15:1-8

My child in whom I delight

baptism-jesusThe transition from the season of Christmas and the gathering around the manger scene to the arrival of the Magi to this feast of the Baptism of the Lord and the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus is a rapid one. We meet the adult Jesus who is presented as the answer to all the hopes and expectations of so many generations of faithful Jews – and yet he arrives innocuously and simply – walking into the waters of the muddy Jordan River. It is only when he emerges out of the waters of repentance and identification with the rest of sinful humanity that there is even a hint of signs and wonders. The thin curtain that separates the world where the glory of God dwells and the will of God is always done – heaven – from the mixed existence that is our ordinary experience – earth – is drawn back and the voice of the Father is heard declaring “my son”, “my beloved”, “my delight.” The gift of the Christian faith is that these declarations – while unique initially to Jesus – are no longer declared to him alone. Through the incredible gift of baptism, the Lord has shared these declarations with the whole believing church.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, Camden (8am: 7mins, 30secs)
Baptism of the Lord. Mark 1:7-11.

Bruised but not broken

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The baptism that St John was offering in the Jordan River was a great challenge to the Jerusalem Temple. The main practical function of the temple was to provide a place on earth where worshippers could go and be cleansed by ritual baths and offering sacrifices. John was indicating that he did not accept the efficacy of the whole system of worship that his own father had been a priest for. Instead he offered a different way to be cleansed of your sin and to start in a fresh and new way, by being immersed in the waters of the Jordan River as a sign that you were turning away from a life of sin and choosing to follow in the ways of the Lord. So when Jesus presented himself for baptism in all his perfection and you-know – all that godliness stuff – it would have been a great shock to his cousin John. He knew that Jesus was different from everyone else in Galilee. He knew that his heart had never turned away from the ways of the Lord. He did not have anything to repent from. But Jesus will not listen to his objections and he wades down into the water and stands there in the middle of all the other sinners.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 5.30pm (8’05”)
Baptism of the Lord, Year A. Isaiah 42″1-7; Acts 10:34-38; Matthew 3:13-17

Image: © Plsa | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Baptisms and pillows

ikeapillowGathering to celebrate the Eucharist on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the liturgy provides fantastic images to reflect upon. From the prophet Isaiah who reminds us that the Lord will not crush the bruised reed, to the Lord Jesus who after he comes up out of the water receives the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are also given an opportunity to reflect upon our own experience of Baptism, and perhaps the best way to do this is through an Ikea pillow…

Recorded at Zero Gravity youth camp, with 185 teenagers at Mount Tamborine. (14’24”)

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Centre of history

One of the deepest deficiencies of our current age is that our religious education presents the person of Jesus and the teaching of Christianity as if they existed in splendid historical isolation. You experience this in part with the tendency to focus only on the stories of Jesus – the parables and the mighty deed narratives drawn from the gospels, and perhaps a few lines from the writings of St Paul – and little more. Although formally most Catholics would acknowledge that the rest of the scriptures, including the writings of the Old Testament were equally part of divine revelation, in practice they are regularly ignored.
As we celebrate the nativity of St John the Precursor, we have to take account of the fact that both the Gospels and the writings of St Paul place the life and example of St John as central to the ministry of Jesus. So we must begin by taking time to remember what it was that provided the context of John’s life and what he can continue to offer for us today.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, Vigil Mass (6pm, 8’27”)

Go make disciples

It is no wonder that the Gospel of Matthew ends with the disciples gathered on a mountain. Mountains are key in the history of Israel, as well as being key to the ministry of Jesus. So I am sure it was with light hearts that the disciples made the journey from smelly Jerusalem that sunny Spring day to the fresh air upon the slopes of the mountain, with the gentle breeze sweeping across the landscape from the lake below. As the eleven gathered there, Jesus appeared to them and the natural reaction for most of them was to fall down and worship (more…)

Wilderness and floods

As we journey through lent each year, the Church provides us with similar foundations. Each year, on the first Sunday in Lent, we journey with Jesus out into the wilderness as he is tempted; on the second Sunday, we travel with Peter, James and John up a high mountain where Jesus is transfigured. These two elements can help to orient us through the season of Lent and prepare us for Easter.

In this year, the church pairs the temptation in the wilderness in the Gospel of Mark with the end of the story of the great flood from the book of Genesis.  (more…)

Longing for the Lamb

In last Sunday’s feast of the Baptism, we saw that Jesus – despite the expectations of John the Baptist – identified with sinners and went down into the muddy waters of the Jordan River. This week in Brisbane we saw first hand the destructive power of nature in the floods that have devastated so many communities and destroyed so many lives and properties. The question naturally is asked – where was God in the midst of all this. In light of last Sunday’s Gospel, and our first reading today (1 Corinthians) we can see that God is where Jesus is – right in the midst of the water. Where was God? Well, where was the body of Christ – the Church? And we saw that the Church was right in the midst of the Brisbane community – helping people to evacuate, preparing houses, providing shelter, helping to clean up, offering counselling, praying for protection.
 
 
Sunday 02A.
Recorded at St Mary Magdalene Church, Bardon (9’11”)
Isaiah 49; I Cor 1:1-3; John 1:29-34

Baptism of the Lord

The Baptism of the Lord. When we celebrate the feast, we can forget just what it would have meant for those who were there the day that Jesus arrived at the Jordan River to be baptised by John. John preaches that the Messiah will come to cleanse and purify with his fire and power – instead, Jesus presents himself as just another sinner needing to be cleansed and purified. Rather than the Holy One of Israel, the first public action of Jesus is the sinner of Israel, joining other sinners like us in the muddy waters of the Jordan. What does this  teach us about our lives?

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Recorded at Emmanuel Community Eucharist, BEAT School of Music, St Laurence’s College, Brisbane (7’51”)