Sermon – Baptism of Christ, 2019

Sermon Jan 13 2019 by Bernard Moss

Theme : The Lord is here.
Readings for the Baptism of Christ (Epiphany 2)
Acts 8 vv 14 – 17 & Luke 3 vv 15-17;21-22
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Well, the pantomime season is nearly over… no longer do we have to worry whether or not ‘they are behind you’ and whether Granny will get the sometimes risque jokes.
But you lovely people of Nantwich, before you get out of the habit of oh yes he is / oh no he isn’t, let’s try this for size:

The Lord is here – Oh no he isn’t Response OH YES HE IS x 3
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But how do you know – how do we know that what we declare has any truth in it?
Is the Lord here, as we so fervently at times proclaim?
This is hugely important because, to be honest, there will be times when maybe we are not so sure

Occasions when we drift off during the service, or during my sermon.. times when we wonder what on earth we are doing with the same old stuff week upon week.
And we are not alone in this – because if we turn to the book of psalms we will find, time and again, the psalmist lamenting about the perceived absence of God
My god my god why hast thou forsaken me? – a verse in psalm 22 , words used by Jesus himself on the cross
My God I cry out by day but you do not answer ( Psalm 22 vv 1-2)
My tears have been my food day and night while people say to me where is your God (Psalm 42)

So there is not, and never has been, anything automatic about any of this… we may use the words The Lord is here but that may not be how it feels.
Stuff happens to us, and sometimes it seems it is God- denying stuff, and when that happens, any suggestion of claiming that the Lord is here will ring hollow.
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And yet… and yet…. Without denying any of this we also instinctively know that when we use these words THE LORD IS HERE we are saying something hugely important, so important in fact that our very lives can depend on it…and that in the end all this is less about us, and far more about who God is and what God is like.

And this works at several levels.

We are richly blessed by the beauty of our church – although the beauty of the people of God for whom this is our spiritual home are far more beautiful believe you me!
But people come here / as they will to other places of worship/ and something somehow touches them – somehow something within them is stilled – they find themselves reaching out.. sensing something – someone dare we say it -greater than them to whom they are being pointed.
In a place where for generations prayers have been offered in good times and bad, something about holiness and mystery and wonder and awe takes hold.
It doesn’t have to be in a church, of course, for this to happen, and there are no guarantees.. but sometimes that holiness – that scintilla of God’s beauty – touches people, and whether or not they use the words, the reality is that “ the Lord is here”.

For others is may be in the beauty and mystery of music or art when they find themselves lifted up and beyond the ‘everyday’, and they realise there is far far more to this living and loving than they had realised… or in moments of deep joy they find themselves in touch with -they know not what -but it is as if ‘the Lord is here’.

Or even in moments of sadness /sometimes at the deepest level /something seeps through, and we know we are being held and loved and nurtured, and that … well, I don’t know how to put it into words, but it is as if ‘the lord is here’. Have you ever felt that ?
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In Christian tradition we are slipping into territory known as apophatic theology… now hang on – don’t go yet! This tradition suggests that because God is God – because God is greater than we can ever conceive or imagine , any attempts to grasp God – to explain God – to think we have got God within our grasp – is doomed to failure – the word apophatic means without or beyond words, As Augustine said, if you can understand it, it isn’t God.
And what we have been touching on this morning is exactly that – a range of people’s experience as human beings that they struggle /rightly so / to put into words
The mystery and wonder and glory of God that is beyond words nevertheless reaches out and touches us in often unexpected ways
And when we are talking about our faith with other people it is often these common shared experiences which are as good common starting point as any other.
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A moment ago I said that all of this is saying something more about God and what God is really like, than about us, in the context of what it means to say ‘the Lord is here’.

And what the 1500 or so people who crowded into this church over the Christmas period experienced was not just something of the joy and awe and mystery of God
But also the profound truth that God has come among us in Jesus Christ – that in sharing our lives in all their messiness Jesus has opened up our life in all its messiness to the wonder and beauty and glory of God. So that when we say the Lord is here we are giving voice to the fundamental truth of Christianity – that God has made his dwelling among us, and that nothing but nothing can separate us from that love beyond words.

And when we celebrate Christ’s baptism which we do today, it is about celebrating that complete immersion of Christ into our human life …God beginning to do something profound about who we are, what we hope to be, and how we might change. ‘The Lord is here’, doing something it.

And there is more – in the New Testament reading this morning there is the story of Peter and John going into the community of new Christians in Samaria and wondering why they were all a bit sluggish perhaps, and then realising that when they proclaimed that ‘the Lord is here’ they were not really being open to what that really means.

God the Father yes! God the Son yes!– but God the Holy Spirit ?– God is greater than they had recognised, and that gift of the Holy Spirit was the moment when they were really able to say as never before – you know what?! ‘the Lord is here’ – Oh yes he is !

So there is a promise here that we need to trust …the spirit of God moving among the people of God unlocking their praise – unlocking their love – unlocking their fears

In the strangest but most beautiful of ways God comes among his people and by the gift of his Spirit – however reluctant at a human level we might be to respond to it – that Spirit unlocks in us that most amazing faith-filled, hope-inspiring, and death-defying claim. The Lord is here Wow – good news indeed!!
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The Lord is here – oh no he isn’t Response Oh Yes he is

You are right – thanks be to God= The Lord is here – his gift to us of himself – Amen.