Archive for January, 2014

1Co 1.10-18
Mat 4.12-23

In the one thing that really matters, our salvation, we have no freedom, no say, no choice
There is only one brand in this marketplace

We did not choose to believe: we were chosen to believe
Because we believed, we were baptised
There is only one baptism: one Lord, one faith, one baptism

Christians argue with each other about lots of things:
but one thing most of us agree on is that there is only one baptism
Because there is only one Lord

It doesn’t matter who baptised you
The church is not made up of the cults of individual leaders
No matter how charismatic some leaders are

There is only one universal church
There is only one church, because there is only one kingdom
There is only one church, so there is only one baptism

Our gospel reading this morning is actually two readings:
– An account of the beginning of Jesus’ preaching ministry in Galilee
– The story of how he calls his first disciples

One day Jesus calls Simon who later becomes Peter, and his brother Andrew;
The next day he calls two more brothers, James and John

The questions to ask are:
– Why does the Lectionary put these two readings together? They follow each other; but how are they connected?
– How do they relate to our theme of baptism, and in particular baptism as a proclamation of the coming of the kingdom?

The obvious answer is that Jesus calls followers because a king needs subjects
A kingdom needs citizens
These four brothers, from two different families, are called into the kingdom

We don’t believe you enter the kingdom of God by filling up a form
You enter the kingdom through the baptism of faith

There is no direct evidence of baptism taking place in this passage
But still I believe it has a lot to teach us about baptism

Jesus begins his ministry apparently as a continuation of the ministry of John the Baptist
John told the people who came to him, I baptise you with water for repentance

Jesus preaches the same message of repentance:
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.

But John also said, one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Where do we see this baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire?

None of the gospels say Jesus baptised the people who came to him
If he had, it wouldn’t have been Christian baptism

There was no Christian baptism in the time of Jesus
Because Christian baptism is baptism into the church
And there was no church in the time of Jesus

There could be no church while Christ was still with us in the flesh
Because the church is not simply the body of Christ,
but the body of the risen Christ

The church is made up of those who have died and risen with Christ
In other words, those who have been baptised

Because to be baptised means dying with Jesus,
Going down to the grave with Jesus,
And rising to life with Jesus

Clearly,no one could die with Christ before Christ himself had died
Just as no one could rise to life with Jesus before Jesus himself had risen

So, in the time of Jesus there was no Christian baptism:
And therefore no church: only followers and disciples of Jesus

Therefore it is quite logical and expected that Jesus does not baptise:
Instead, Jesus proclaims that the kingdom of heaven has come near
And he calls disciples to follow him

So where do we see John’s prophecy being fulfilled?
Where is the baptism “with the Holy Spirit and fire”?
Where is the “winnowing fork” John talks about, that is going to separate the grain from the chaff?
It’s there in the story, if we look for it
There are clues

Let’s remind ourselves of what happens immediately before our reading:
Jesus goes into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil
He doesn’t go of his own volition
He is ‘led by the Spirit’

When Jesus is led into the wilderness you see the power of the Spirit
Mark says the Spirit drove [Jesus] into the wilderness

So that demonstrates the power of the Spirit and the importance of the Spirit in Christ’s ministry
Whereas, when Jesus moves to Capernaum, it sounds like a straightforward human decision

The leading of the Spirit and human decision are two aspects of baptism

But the move to Capernaum is not just a simple human decision
Matthew tells us Jesus did this to fulfil a prophecy from Isaiah:

He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled

What Isaiah said was,

There will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

And it goes on, in the words we know from years of Christmas services,

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness —
on them light has shined.

Jesus moved to Capernaum deliberately to fulfil a prophecy
So I would describe it as a prophetic act

It wasn’t a miracle: anyone could have done it
It was a powerful act because of the one who did it; and because it contained a message
The message that the kingdom of heaven has come near
– That God’s will was being revealed in the midst of people, if they had eyes to see it

Then we go on to the second part of the reading
Jesus calls the fishermen: first, Simon Peter and Andrew; then, James and John

There isn’t much to this story: Jesus calls, and the disciples follow
Not after a bit of thought; not after checking with others
But at once; immediately

They act in obedience to Jesus’ voice, and the moving of the Spirit within them
This is the winnowing fork John spoke about
This is the baptism of the Spirit

Let’s be clear about the image John was using
Farmers at that time separated the wheat from the chaff by taking the crop to a windy spot
Throwing forkfuls in the air
Letting the wind carry off the chaff, while the grain was left behind

We have to be careful here
We’re in danger of saying that the disciples are the chaff
But I think you can see what we’re meant to understand by this story

So we have two stories:
– First, the move to Capernaum: a prophetic act: a deliberate decision to do something in order to fulfil a prophecy from Scripture
– Second, the call of the disciples, and their decision to follow: a human decision prompted by a movement of the Spirit; an act performed without full understanding of the meaning or weighing of the consequences

Both stories in different ways proclaim the central meaning of Jesus’ preaching: the kingdom of heaven has come near

Neither of these stories involves baptism
Yet if you think about it, they tell you exactly what baptism is:
– A deliberate act performed in a public setting, that makes someone formally part of the church
– Yet an act that is prophetic, because it is performed in fulfilment of Scripture
– An act prompted by the working of the Holy Spirit
– Made sacramental by the gift of grace, given in Christ

The kingdom of heaven came near in the Incarnation
The kingdom of heaven comes near today in the Sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper
Performed in remembrance of Christ
Performed in obedience to his word
Performed in church, in the body of Christ
Performed in response to the movement of the Spirit