Today’s service has the theme of the Baptism of Jesus. We remember Jesus being baptised by John in the River Jordan. We give thanks that, by participating in that public act of repentance, Jesus identified with the human condition in all its brokenness. In this light, my sermon today has the title “Solidarity forever.”
In our gospel lesson today, we hear of the Baptism of Jesus. Jesus went to the
Jordan River, where John the Baptist was baptising people. There, Jesus was baptised by John. After Jesus was baptised, a voice from the
heavens said: “This is my Son, the
Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
In our lesson from Matthew’s gospel, there is a brief exchange - perhaps the outline of a much longer argument - between Jesus and John before the baptism.
· John said, “I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?”
· Jesus replied, “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.”
And after that exchange (or the longer argument which it represents), they proceeded with the baptism.
The issue was over what John’s baptism was about. (And let’s be clear that John’s baptism was different to what the Christian Church does when we baptise.)
· The gospels spoke of John’s baptism as a sign of repentance, while, in contrast, the Christian Church sees baptism less as an act of individual repentance and more as an act of identification with Christ, and with the worshipping community.
· As John’s baptism was associated with repentance, it was an act for adults. As the Christian Church baptises as an act of entry into a community, most Churches (although not all) baptise children as well as adults (and appropriately so).
· As John’s baptism was associated with repentance, it was an act for those who had made a radical and often counter-cultural decision about their faith and spirituality. As the Christian Church baptises as an act of entry into a community, most services of Christian baptism represent (and appropriately so) a far less radical and less counter-cultural step of faith on the part of the candidate or the candidate’s parents.
· The Christian Church baptises in the name of God as Trinity (and appropriately so), while this language - and the ideas behind it - would have been unknown to John.
So, John’s baptism was not the same thing as what the Christian Church does when it baptises.
As I said, the gospels spoke of John’s baptism as a sign of repentance. The question that would seem obvious to us may also have occurred to John: “What, if anything, would Jesus have needed to repent of?”
For us, we have been taught in
and Confirmation Classes, about the perfection and sinlessness of Jesus. As the old hymn says: Sunday Schools
A perfect life, of perfect deeds,once to the world was shown.
Obviously John would not have operated from anywhere near so highly developed a theology, but he would also have had some expectations about the Messiah. As Jesus began to seem more and more like the one who would fit that particular bill, John became understandably reluctant to baptise the person he felt should baptise him.
But still, the baptism took place. Jesus, the individual least in need of repentance, voluntarily participated in an act of profound repentance, saying “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.”
In seeking John’s baptism, Jesus expressed his solidarity - and by extension, God’s solidarity - with the whole flawed human race:
· in our brokenness,
· in our disunity,
· in our alienation,
· in our sin.
This word “solidarity” may just seem like a bit of jargon to some. (“Solidarity forever!” as the old protest song goes.) Or it may remind others of the recent history of
. Despite its jargon-ish sound, it is a useful
word: “solidarity”. It speaks of a person - or a group - so
completely identifying with the needs and aspirations of another person - or
another group - that it is as if the two were one. In a sense, the two are “solid”. (“Solidarity forever!”) Poland
This is an extension of the whole message of the incarnation - of Emmanuel - of “God-with-us” - that we celebrated at Christmas. “... [T]he Word became flesh and lived among us ...”. In the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the one living God dwells in our midst. Our human life is intimately known by God:
· in its joy and its pain,
· in its wholeness and its brokenness,
· in its hope and its despair,
· in its celebrations and its crises,
· in its certainties and its paradoxes.
Our human life is intimately known by God. (“Solidarity forever!”)
By seeking John’s baptism, a baptism that recognised the reality of our human brokenness, Jesus expressed his solidarity - and God’s solidarity - with all our human condition:
· not just the noble bits,
· not just the pretty bits,
· not just the presentable bits,
· not just the “religious” bits,
but the full monty, brokenness and all. (“Solidarity forever!”)
And Jesus, who was baptised in solidarity with our human brokenness, calls the Church - calls us – all of us as a community and each of us individually - to live in solidarity and in fellowship with all God’s world.
· The Baptised Christ calls us – those of us who are comfortable and well-fed - to live in solidarity and in fellowship with the poor, the hungry, and the homeless; with the indigenous people of this land and with those who seek a safe home within our shores.
· The Baptised Christ calls us – those of us who are healthy - to live in solidarity and in fellowship with the disabled, the addicted, and those suffering from diseases, whether physical or psychiatric, whose very names frighten us.
· The Baptised Christ calls us - we who honestly seek to be people of ethical integrity - to live in solidarity and in fellowship with the moral failures of our society.
· The Baptised Christ calls us - we who seek to be people of authentic faith - to live in solidarity and in fellowship with those who find it difficult to have faith . . . and with those who find it difficult to put the faith they have into any meaningful level of practice.
· And I also believe that the Baptised Christ calls us - we who place our faith and our confidence in the living God who reveals Godself in Jesus - to live in solidarity and in fellowship with those who place their faith and confidence in the same living God ... but who name that God with other names.
Jesus sought out John and asked him for baptism. In so doing, he expressed the solidarity of the divine wholeness with our human brokenness. He calls us, as people who have glimpsed his light, to continue to express - on his behalf - his solidarity with the world he has so completely embraced. (“Solidarity forever!”)
Thanks be to God. Amen.