Sunday 9 January 2022, St Paul’s, Durban. Sermon by Revd Andrew Warmback

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Sermon by Revd Andrew Warmback (Isaiah 43:1-7; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22)

Introduction

Jesus’ baptism as well as our own baptism are significant events with life-long implications for our spiritual growth. We want to live Spirit-filled lives; at the beginning of this New Year we recommit ourselves to God and to the community of faith here at St Pauls.

Jesus’ Baptism

Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist – this marginal person, coming from the dessert, and who was not part of the mainstream religious establishment.  Jesus’ baptism was like a commissioning for his public ministry.  After his baptism Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness where he is tested; and it becomes a time of preparation before his ministry begins.

After that we read: “Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee”,

The very next thing: When he came to Nazareth…

He read in the synagogue: ‘The Spirit God,
who has anointed me
to bring good news to those who are poor, etc, etc

The Holy Spirit guided Jesus to a ministry of bringing personal freedom and justice for the world.

The Spirit at Baptism

The Holy Spirit is also closely associated with baptism in the baptism service in our Prayer Book.  We pray for those to be baptised: “Send your Holy Spirit upon them to bring them to new birth in the family of your Church” And in one of the prayers we use for those baptised, we prayer: “grant…that all things belonging to the Spirit may live and grow in them.”

Our spiritual grown depends on being receptive to the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit leads us towards change and greater freedom within ourselves as well as empowering us to work for freedom, justice and peace within our society and the world.

When Jesus was baptised he prayed, as he did on many other occasions.  Let us be people of prayer too.

Baptised into a community

From what we have read it seems that Jesus was baptised together with other people as well.  What is clear is that baptism introduces us into a community – a beloved community, a community of equals we could call it in which people are no longer categorised and discriminated against.

Reflecting on the nature of baptism, the writer of the letter to the Galatians writes: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is no Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3: 27 & 28).

At St Pauls let us welcome one another, continue to know one another and to work at deepening our relationships of care and trust, and to have this same mind-set towards those beyond the church, as we widen our circle of concern.

Baptism: A Way of Life

While we may renew our baptism promises at Confirmation and at other times, like Easter, baptism is once off. However, we spend our lives working out and living out the promises and commitments made at baptism.

Baptism signals a change from the old to the new. We promise to reject all that is evil –  we could name evil as including abuse, deception, corruption, violence, discrimination, and oppression of any form.  We are to reject any evil we may find within ourselves as well as in our society.

Recently I was reading some of the Social Justice and Nation Building Project Interim Report of Cricket South Africa.  It is an enquiry into racial discrimination and the lack of transformation in its structures and was published last month. It makes for very sobering reading; painful to read of those who have testified to the use of racist language and behaviour displayed by some of our cricketers, and not so long ago – attitudes that need to be challenged and changed for the sport to really flourish.

From another source, in Part 1 of the Judicial Commission of Enquiry into State Capture Report, dealing with SAA and related aviation companies one can read stories of deception, cover-ups and the lack of open and fair processes.

Who are we to make a difference? How do we make a difference, in rejecting evil wherever we find it as well as in expressing our belief in God the Trinity: the creator, redeemer and giver of life?

 Affirmation

At his baptism the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus and he heard the words confirming that he is God’s Son. Jesus is affirmed for who he is: the voice said ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

We too are accepted as we are of great value to God.

Let us recall some of the words from our Old Testament reading from Isaiah today, words spoken into the concrete situation of the people of Israel’s struggles with exile, captivity then freedom:

Let us listen deeply and attentively to the words of Isaiah 43, from verse 1: But now thus says the Lord, [People of St Pauls – I’ve added this!]
the one who created you, O Jacob,
the one who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned…
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour….
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honoured, and I love you…
Do not fear, for I am with you…
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.’

Very affirming words!

Conclusion

We conclude. God’s purposes for the world were worked out through the nation of Israel, then through Jesus, and now though us. We are each called and commissioned to bring change. Let us know that our lives are significant.

The Holy Spirit, active throughout history, enables us to fulfil the mission of making God’s love a reality in our own lives and in the world. Let us be open to the Holy Spirit, which we believe we receive at baptism and on an ongoing basis. The Spirit leads us to freedom and enables us to change and to transform our society.

We pray that 2022 be a year of much spiritual growth for us. So then let us allow the Holy Spirit to fill us anew and bring forth much fruitfulness in our lives. Amen

 

During this difficult time of the global pandemic, you are invited to make a contribution to the ministry and mission of our church by making a donation to the following account:   Account Name: St Paul’s Church      Account Number: 50854628623     Bank: First National Bank (FNB)     Branch Code: 221426