Sermon for January 13th 2019.

Baptism of Christ. Isaiah 55.1-11 and Romans 6.1-11


May I speak in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Isaiah 55 and the preceding passages are so full of joy, this is the world as God wants it to be, where hungry and thirsty hearts are satisfied. From the Christmas Carol we sang, “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious dawn.” It gives us joy to sing these words and yet the reality of the dawn after Christmas, is that the world is exactly the same. There is still poverty, suffering, homelessness, greed and war. But the sad and weary need to hear that a new and glorious dawn did break and His name is Jesus.

The Christian author C.S. Lewis thought and wrote a lot about joy, in fact one of  his books is called “Surprised by Joy”. His thoughts line up with scriptural teaching, especially Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Lewis said:”All joy ..always reminds, beckons, awakens desire. Our best havings are wantings”

Our best havings are sounds strange because we are taught that it is better to have than to want, as the old proverb, says “ A Bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”. Be happy with what you have and don’t risk losing it by pursuing something more. It is sometimes true, but not always. As God’s people we are told to desire and pursue something greater than what we already have. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled,” Hungering and thirsting are a wanting, not a having. And Jesus promises that God will fulfil that wanting. So imagine the difference in our homes, churches, communities and world if we all chose joy more often. The joy that comes from knowing that God has promised to restore us to how we’re supposed to be, and to restore things the way they are supposed to be. A new and glorious dawn.

For many people joy is found in ways other than God intended. Our hungry hearts and thirsty souls find temporary satisfaction in stuff the world offers as being what we need, a “must have”. The shops at Christmas are filled with “must have’s”. But it doesn’t really satisfy and we end up sacrificing our integrity to get on and be popular and sometimes lose the joy in our families to ambition. Money and prestige can take the place of the spiritual and emotional wholeness which Jesus offers and the contentment and joy of a deep and rich relationship with God.

God is giving His people a glimpse of joy, of how He wants things to be in this wonderful reading from Isaiah. His people were exiled and separated from their own homes and yet God offered them such hope and joy ahead. He invites them to His table but the feast isn’t something they need to buy or earn, it is free and it is soul food, offering them Life and the joy of an everlasting covenant.

In John 7, we read, “On the last and greatest day of the festival, (The Passover just before His death) Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” An invitation to joy just like Isaiah. And the invitation is to anyone who is thirsty, as in Isaiah the invitation is to ALL who hunger and thirst. C.S. Lewis tells us that joy teaches us that all our best havings are wanting.

Today we remember Jesus being baptised and as He rose from the waters, the Holy Spirit descended from heaven and God spoke of the pleasure He found in His Son. Jesus went off into the wilderness to spend time with His Father and the Holy Spirit, so that in Jesus’ ministry, the work of salvation could begin. Jesus was bringing the kingdom of God to earth and the wholeness and spiritual rebirth which came with it. A new covenant was being made with mankind which would bring joy and peace to those who were ready to listen.

Paul’s letter to the Romans is a complex work, outlining Paul’s theological doctrine. He was keen to impress the Roman church with his views as there were already divisions within the growing young churches and Paul was eager to put them straight through reason and scriptural understanding before he arrived there, he wanted their support. 

With Jesus came a new covenant and the fulfilling of the prophesy given to Ezekiel that God would give us a new heart and put a new Spirit in us, changing our hearts of stone to hearts of love. It is a new agreement but many Jewish Christians still felt bound by the Laws of Moses and the rite of circumcision. They wanted to impose these on new converts to Christianity. And this situation was made worse by Christians influenced by the Greek philosophers who saw only the Spirit as having new life and value in God and the body as corrupt and evil and so it didn’t matter how you abused the body in promiscuous temple rites because it was given over to decay anyway. It was a tough job keeping the Gospel of Jesus true to God’s will because as God says, His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. God’s plans may seem foolish and impossible to men, and throughout history men have preferred to rely on their own wisdom and make rules which they feel are the way to gain God’s love.

Jesus upheld the Laws of His people but taught them to look at the spirit of the Law in terms of love, compassion and justice and not the harsh letter of the Law which He said showed no love in the actions of those who practised it sternly. He showed a new way to obey God and to show God’s love and justice to others by inviting the Holy Spirit into our hearts to help us act as we should and not as the world and our flesh might dictate.

Paul, as Jesus, teaches that with our baptism, we die to sin and rise to new life in Christ. We share His death first as we go under the waters and then rise, brand new, to enjoy His life of joy, compassion and love. And that means a life of service to others not just making rules which people are bound to break, but giving them freedom to follow the guiding of the Holy Spirit. Like the feast in Isaiah and the Holy Spirit given at baptism, these are gifts of grace, we cannot earn them or buy them; they are freely given by a loving God. And we are given these to share His joy and grace with others. Jesus calls us to Him and then sends us out again. These gifts are not to store up but to use, every day and with our baptism we start this new life. When the Holy Spirit makes His home in us, He gives us gifts to use to build the church. The gifts are for Christ’s glory not our own, so there should never be the jealousy and pride which the Corinthian Church attached to these beautiful gifts of God. We are not healers but a channel of His healing power, not teachers but a channel of His teaching power, speaking in tongues is not to show off but to glorify God and pray in His will, prophesy must edify the church and so on. Christ at the centre, the giver and the one we serve in using the gift.

So with the fruits, the Holy Spirit helps us to become more like Jesus with His qualities and nature and these in turn we use to give others peace, love, joy and so on. This was Jesus’ way following His baptism and in the same way our baptism is a life changing event which should bring about great changes, which Paul writes about so passionately. Doing what we do because we are different, because we are guided by God’s Holy Spirit not because we are striving to meet the demands of rules and regulations which people have felt are the way to please God, interpreting His Law in their own ways not God’s  His ways are high above ours.

Throughout the Bible God gives us messages of hope and joy and if all those who love and follow God’ ways chose joy each day, there really could be a new and glorious dawn.