Saturday, 7 January 2012


Sunday 8th January 2012

Readings: Mark 1 v 4-11

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Mark 1: 4-11

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

On Friday night, later on, I decided it would be good to make some warming soup for the weekend. But we didn’t have all the ingredients I needed to hand, so a trip to Morrison’s was required.
Walking down Castlehill Road, I reveled in that thing you do when you’re out walking about at night – looking in folks’ windows.
Isn’t it fun to see folks in their lit up houses and wonder what their lives are like.
Of course we will never know the true stories behind the lighted tableaux that we glimpse – but it is fun, just for a moment, to fabricate our own scenarios.
Like one elderly couple, sitting facing each other over their dining table, both with heads bowed over separate reading material.
Perhaps they were doing the crossword from the newspaper.
Perhaps they were reading spell binding books.
They looked as though they were enjoying a comfortable companionship, each submerged in whatever they were reading, with no need for chatter.
In a number of lighted windows, I glimpsed folk dismantling their Christmas trees, packing up and putting away their Christmas ornaments for another year.
I could imagine the struggle with tangled lights and boxes that seem to have shrunk since the decorations were taken from them.
One of my colleagues posted, tongue in cheek, on facebook this week: “Well, that’s Christmas all packed away in boxes and placed under the stairs for another year.”
The sad thing is, that for many folk, that IS the way it is.
Few of us even wait until 12th night – which is Epiphany – to get cleared up and get things “back to normal”,
By the New Year, folk are tired of Christmas.
And, even sadder, they DO long to get it packed up and put away for another year.
Mark’s gospel, which we’ll be following this year, is a bit like that.
Down to business.
No fripperies.
In fact Mark’s gospel doesn’t even “do” Christmas.
It just launches straight in with an account of the grown up Jesus’ baptism.
And so, this morning, in our reading from Mark, we encounter, again, John the Baptist – Jesus’ cousin, sent to prepare the way – that strange figure who seems to have been a bit of a curiosity – living and dressing so differently from others of his day – but a curiosity who drew people to him.
For all his strangeness, perhaps BECAUSE of his strangeness, people flocked to the wilderness to see him and to hear his preaching.
It wasn’t even as if he was preaching a message of comfort or of solace.
John the Baptist’s was a message calling folk to repent – to change the way they lived.
And so, in Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ ministry begins quite abruptly - when he too goes to the wilderness to seek out John and be baptized by him.
 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

Its that message that I’d like us to begin the New Year with here at Castlehill today, a message that God speaks to each of us:
You are my child, beloved; with you I am well pleased”

Next week, in our service. we will celebrate the sacrament of baptism.
Every time we do that, here in our worship, we use these words as part of the liturgy:
“All of us gathered here represent the whole people of God; Sacraments bring us joy. They also bring us responsibility. Do you renew your commitment, with all God’s people, to share the knowledge and love of Christ?”

In assenting to these words, as we do every time we baptize, we affirm that Baptism, a huge blessing, also confers on us a huge responsibility.
It is blessing and responsibility that I’d like to focus on this early in the new year.
Blessing and responsibility.

The story of the people of God is one filled with the interweaving of blessing and responsibility.
God, from the beginning, called people, blessed them and led them into service.
Consider some of those Old Testament stories with which you might be familiar:
The story of Adam and Eve, blessed with abundance and, even when they abused that abundance, still being favoured by God and given work to do cultivating the earth.
The story of Noah, who lived in the knowledge of God and was commissioned to rescue his family and experience more blessings from God.
The story of Abraham, called at a great age, blessed with many descendants, commissioned to be father of a great nation.
Stories of Isaac and Jacob, of David and Solomon, of Ruth and Naomi, of Deborah and Rebekah.
All recorded in scripture as folk who were called and blessed by God and led into service that changed the lives of their contemporaries.
Called, blessed, serving.
Notice the order of that –
The calling.
The blessing.
The service.
That’s the way it remains today.
God’s blessing on our lives is not dependant on us, on how we live.
Although, often, the way we live might blind us to the abundance of God’s blessing, yet that blessing is freely given.
We are still, to God, beloved children.
Our response to the knowledge of the blessing of God, has to be – the willingness to serve.
And, indeed, we celebrate that, in baptism, we are blessed and commissioned.
The rite of baptism is our rite of passage into a life called by God into service.
Serving God is a response of faith and love to the blessing that God confers at baptism.
One of the best known biblical blessings is The Aaronic blessing – the one that we sing at baptism –
The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord make his face to shine upon you
And be gracious unto you
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you
And give you peace.

In our liturgy of baptism, we ask parents to profess their faith in the Triune God:
Do you believe in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
And on the strength of that belief, we baptize children into faith.
Baptism, as we celebrate it, is not conditional on us coming up to scratch – it depends, rather, on the amazing love of God being offered freely and without condition.
And, once the blessing of baptism is bestowed on a child of God, of whatever age, it is then that we seek promises of commitment – commitment from parents and commitment from all of us as the people of God.
Baptism is  not something we celebrate once and then discard.
The blessings and the responsibilities go on.
As does the blessing and responsibilty of Christmas.
Not everything is packed away - or can be packed away.
We still light the Christ candle.
We still celebrate Christ in our  midst bringing us blessing and prompting us to serve.
Christmas lasts forever.
Baptism lasts for ever.

This Sunday, at the start of another year, I invite you to reflect on God’s blessing.
God calls and blesses each one of us here today.
Our response to that – is to celebrate God in our midst by loving and serving God more in the days to come.
May that be the resolution of all involved in Castlehill Church this coming year:
A people called.
A people blessed.
A people serving God in love.
And to God be the glory.

1 comment:

Amy+ said...

A balm to my soul tonight. Thank you for posting.