With you I am well pleased
James preached this sermon on 10th January 2021, (Mark 1.4-11, Acts 19.1-7). You can read the text below or watch the whole service on our YouTube Channel.
I’ve been afraid this week of turning on the news. When we heard about Trump’s appalling inciteful speech and then the invasion of Congress and then the curfew and then later hearing of the four perhaps now a 5th death. I emailed some friends who live in walking distance of all this and just said – Oh dear God! We are praying for you! – and they came back – Yes! Please pray! Its very scary.
To have an epiphany is to have a moment where you suddenly see things very differently. It could be for good or for ill. We heard Republican members of Congress who had been dilly dallying over the ratification of the election – suddenly seeing the implications of Trump’s words and the violence that followed – and suddenly having a moment of clarity – Stop this! Ok, good for them. That’s an epiphany. Of sorts.
To have an epiphany is to have a moment when you suddenly realise that in the midst of the mess of your life, that actually you are held and loved.
Queues of people were going to John out in the desert – their aim is to turn over a new leaf, it is to set themselves some New Year’s resolutions about being better people.
They go to John – they could have just as easily gone up to the Temple, taken a sacrifice up there – but they don’t – they’ve gone out into the Desert – because there they find someone who lives and speaks with an authority and authenticity that they’ve not heard for some years.
The Religious institution had got so wrapped up in itself that it had forgotten that its primary purpose is to help people connect to God, connect to themselves, help people deal with guilt and sorrow and fear – so the closing chapters of the book of Exodus – extraordinarily dull reading – is all about how to set up a good religious institution that will be there to build a bridge between you and your maker.
And then the opening chapters of Leviticus – extraordinarily dull yet bloody – they are there to explain how this is going to work.
How the people can find peace, reconciliation with their God, amongst themselves, How Power and Authority can remember that the Kings and Governments – even Priests – are not the highest authority.
But somewhere that integrity got forgotten.
The thirst for spiritual help, for meaning, identity, – that has never been forgottenand so people turned to John out in the desert.
And today people turn to all sorts of things.
There’s a warning here for us as a Church not to forget that we’re not a club where we do whatever keeps the Clique happy.
We’re here to help lighten the load.
So the people go out to John and they get themselves baptized and they get their own little epiphany – they get refreshed and renewed and its wonderful.
Jews were baptizing people long long before Christians nicked it off Judaism. An ancient Jew (I don’t know if this remains common practice) might well immerse themselves in water – baptism – if they were taking a vow, if they were about to get married, if they were coming out of a period of being unclean, if they were going to submit themselves as disciples to a Rabbi, if they were recommitting themselves to God.
Christians looked at that and said – that’s good – we’re nicking that.
Now St Paul is doing his wandering missionary thing and he comes across a bunch of Christians in Turkey who don’t seem to have quite got it.
There’s nothing wrong with the baptism of John. But its basically like having black and white telly instead of colour tv. Its like having 2G instead of 4G (5G?)
But even today I find people who are basically living as if they only had the baptism of John. They’re glad that their sins are forgiven but they’re struggling, there’s no Joy, they fret about their sins and inadequacies and inability to lead a life that pleases God and they’re trying and they’re often good kind godly people – but they don’t realise that God has one more gift for them. He’s always got one more gift.
And this gift isn’t a Gift this gift is the Giver. The Holy Spirit – Jesus promised Another Counsellor would come, that the Father and Jesus would come and make their home in us, St Paul reminds us that God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
So. Paul explains this to these Christians? And they say – Brilliant, Bring it on! That’s a good reaction – God’s got more for me? – Brilliant. Let me have it.
And he prays and the Holy Spirit comes upon them and fills them up and it just spills out of them – you heard how they spoke in tongues and prophesied.
If you speak in tongues – don’t neglect that gift. Practice it. Pray it.
If you don’t. Don’t worry about it – Pray for other gifts! Above all The gift of Love.
We need refreshing and refilling with God’s love, we need His Holy Spirit poured again into our hearts.
These Christians that St Paul comes across – they have an epiphany – and in their case it is literally the Holy Spirit being poured into them.
Take a moment today, to get lost in worship to sing your heart out and receive from God,
Or in a moment of quiet to sit and be still and say Come Holy Spirit pour yourself into my heart
Today we celebrate The Epiphany – not the Magi arriving – but the key moment when the Holy Spirit is poured out upon Jesus. Here we catch a glimpse of the Trinity – we hear the Father’s Voice – ‘With you I am well pleased’, We see the Holy Spirit like a Dove – and this is a key epiphany moment, not for us, but for Jesus.
This is when Jesus hears that He is Cherished, that His Father delights in him. Remember that Jesus hasn’t done anything yet. No Miracles, No Teachings, not even the Lord’s prayer – nothing.
The Father loves Jesus unconditionally, completely.
So what I’d like you to do at some point today is to get some water, to dip your finger in it and make the sign of the cross on your forehead, to remind yourself of your baptism – I don’t mind how you do it –
and when you do it Hear these words that the Father says to Jesus, and the God said to you at your Baptism, and says to you again –
God loves me, I am cherished by the Lord.
And take a moment to pray – Come Holy Spirit and pour yourself afresh into my heart.