As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptise you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison.
The Baptism of Jesus
Now when all the people were baptised, and when Jesus also had been baptised and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
When I was at my mums at Christmas time, she brought a box out of the wardrobe and asked: Do you know whats in here?
I didn't recognise the box but she got me to unwrap it and inside, nestled in loads of tissue paper, was the Baptism gown that both Ruaridh and Zara wore when they were baptised. it was made from my wedding dress. And, together with a beautiful fine shawl knitted by their other grandmother,it was all wrapped up and stored away - for who knows what.
Neither Ruaridh nor Zara remember their baptism, being only weeks old at the time but we have told them about their baptism and shown them photographs. That's one of the promises we ask parents to make when they bring their children for baptism - "Tell them of their baptism and unfold to them the treasure they have been given today".
I can remember a conversation with Ruaridh some years ago about his baptism. We met Neil McNaught, who baptised Ruaridh and when I asked Ruaridh if he could remember Neil, who had by then moved to Alloway,he said: " Oh yes thats the minister that put me under his arm and put water on me. " The stories we told him had clearly got through at some level.
This morning, we read again of the Baptism of our Lord. Though,since we are reading from Luke's gospel this year, details are pretty sparse. However the lack of detail allows what is important in baptism to stand out- The work of God. When Jesus was baptised, the Holy Spirit descended and Gods voice was heard, saying: You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.
When we celebrate baptism here in church, we can often be distracted by the peripheries of baptism - by the families gathering to celebrate, by the outfits worn, by the cuteness of the babies, by wondering whether or not we shall ever see the babies and their parents again in worship. As humans, caring, curious, often judgmental, we can't help being distracted by such things. But what is important in baptism is the work of the Spirit of God.
That is why, in our tradition, we baptise infants. Infants who do not understand what is happening. Infants who cannot make their own commitment to faith. Infants who are dependant on others for everything - just as we are ALL dependant on God.
Thankfully baptism is NOT dependant on our goodness or merit or ability to judge the suitability of others. Baptism is dependant on the grace of God.
It is not something that we do.
It is not an honour that we confer on others.
Baptism is the work of God.
In baptism, the Spirit of God descends upon us.
In baptism God declares us beloved children.
Whatever happens to us through life, we remain beloved children of God.
And no matter what else life conspires to tell us, no matter how much we have lost sight of that identity, God continues to treat us as beloved children.
This week many of us were privileged to be present as our former assistant, Mandy was ordained to Holy ministry and then, the following night, as Margaret Shuttleworth was ordained too.
Both beloved children of God.
Both exercising the gifts that the Spirit has bestowed on them and living into the journey on which Gods Spirit continues to lead them and to which they have been called.
The Kirk Session here at Castlehill is encouraging everyone to consider over the next few weeks our calling as the people of God in this place.
People whom God calls beloved.
People to whom the Spirit of God has been given.
What difference does it make in our lives and the the lives of others that we are Gods beloved?
Gods beloved not just when we gather here but as we go about our daily work.
What are we doing with those gifts that God has given us, both here in this community and in the world that we are called to serve?
How do we exercise Gods gifts in our daily lives and with the people we encounter every day?
And what is the cost of living as beloved children of God?
Every time a child is baptised here, we promise to play our part in the nurture and care of that child.
How do we fulfil that promise?
Caring for children and young people is exhausting, time consuming work.
It takes commitment and energy.
We are blessed here in Castlehill with gifted and committed youth leaders, engaged in all manner of activities.
But, always, there is room for more.
Maybe that is not your calling but still there are ways that you can welcome and affirm the young folk who find their way here.
Or offer encouragement to those who are called to serve those young people.
And, if youth work is not your gifting or calling, what is it that you are called to?
Where will you offer your service to God
Last week, we celebrated Epiphany - the visitors from the East catching up with Jesus.
We celebrated the importance of their discovery of the advent of a king and also lamented the mistakes they made in their journey, mistakes that resulted in the slaughter of the innocents.
Not everyone welcomes the good news.
There will always be those who feel threatened.
Herod reacted to the baby Jesus by ordering the slaying of all baby boys.
When Jesus preached in his home town, folk wanted to throw him off a cliff.
And when John the Baptist spoke the truth, the new Herod had him imprisoned.
Sharing good news can be a risky business.
As beloved children of God, we are called to take that risk.
Last week, in celebrating the Epiphany, we celebrated that, though some of their actions were misguided, though they at first misunderstood the nature of God entering the world in Jesus, the visitors from the East were nonetheless welcomed and their gifts were honoured and valued.
And we reflected on how God welcomes each of us and the gifts that we offer because that is the nature of God and the love that God has for us.
Today, as we reflect on baptism, we remind ourselves of all that God has given us and we remind ourselves that nothing can remove our status as beloved children of God.
But we reflect too on how we will respond to those gifts that God has given us.
And the lengths to which we will go to share the good news.
Good news that doesn't always go down well.
We may not remember our baptism - the work of God.
But we are challenged to live into our baptism.
To live into our identity as beloved children of God.
Gifted to serve God in this community, whatever challenges that brings.
What difference does baptism make today?
Baptism ensures that we are called beloved and equipped to serve.
May we respond to those God given gifts by sharing the Good News for the glory of God.