Sermons from St
Fr John Reed,
Sunday, January 13th, 2019
We have a gospel story that begins in a prison cell; John the Baptist has been a thorn in the flesh of the Herod and the Jewish leaders for too long. John the Baptist, the celebrity preacher who has attracted people in their droves out into the wilderness. Another prophet in the line and tradition of the old testament prophets, speaking Gods uncomfortable truths in the place where Gods chosen people first encountered God. From his prison cell John introduces the one who is to come, one whose presence empowered by the Holy Spirit and Gods impending judgement will make people choose.
And after John the Baptist's forthright words Luke very quietly announces Jesus entrance: the one who was at the back of the queue when all the people were baptised. It was not a grand entrance but one that reflected our Lords humility. And right from the start of his ministry amongst us spoke of a new way of doing things.
John Baptism was not the discreet sprinkling with water that we know, it was full immersion in water, being pushed under and pulled out again, in the gaze of the crowd. Totally immersed in water, totally immersed in the human condition, totally committed to God's saving work. In solidarity with those around him who were trying to live in a different way. And when he rises up from the waters of the river Jordan, the dove appears. The dove that was the sign of the new covenant after the story of Noah and the flood, the dove that speaks to Christians of Gods Spirit. The same Holy Spirit that will lead Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. And the voice of God speaks loudly and publicly of his love for his beloved Son.
It all seems a long way two millennia later from Baptism in the Church of England. St. Paul teaches in Romans that we are baptised into Jesus death and resurrection. Totally immersed in the Saviours life and death, as Jesus was totally immersed in our human condition. Its more than a rite of passage well meaning parents put there children through. Yes Baptism is an expression of God’s generous and extravagantly free love, which is why no one is ever turned away. But as the service reminds us Baptism is the beginning of the road followed by true disciples. Where the teacher goes the disciple will follow. And that’s where Church goers lose their way.
Dietrich Bonhoeffe,r a protestant pastor, wrote in Hitler's Germany, it was a very religious country at the time, he wrote these words, that have resonated through the years.
“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
That which we hold to be a sacrament, a physical expression of God's extravagant grace, is something that has happened in the past when were very small and doesn’t have any bearing on our day to day lives. We are disciples in name but not in practice. Like the seed sown amongst the weeds other demands from the world around prevent our discipleship from flourishing.
Bonhoeffer also writes; "Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.”
Jesus at his Baptism was totally immersed in our humanity, but do we seek to be immersed in his life and death? The life at St. Faith’s gives us much to celebrate, the fine music and worship, the Christmas tree festival and our impact on the community; the concerts and the lunches. The hours of commitment people give to keeping our church life going and the efforts we make to pay our way in the diocese and help other churches to pay theirs. But the elephant in the room is the lack of interest shown in growing as disciples of Jesus. In the last year the quiet day, attendance at groups during lent and mid week communion services all show a distinctly low interest.
We need to rediscover again the hunger for costly grace that inspired the first disciples, the church fathers, the Saints, those who built this church and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
We will be talking a lot about discipleship at St. Faith’s. During Lent you will hear more of the The Bishops of Liverpool’s rule of life written to support you on your discipleship journey;
“Called to pray, read and learn: sent to tell, serve and give.” My colleagues and I will through our sermons explore with you those discipleship themes and on Easter Sunday there will be an opportunity to make a response and sign up. A rule of life is a good way of working through what it means to be a disciple today, to separate the chaff of the cheap grace from the wholesome grain of costly grace.
There will also be two Lent meetings based on the course
Your shape for Gods service:
You can discover your gifts
Live a more joyful and fruitful life
Serve God more fully
Become the person God designed you to be.
There will be groups meeting at St. Mary’s and St. Faith’s, and information will be available next week, with application forms how you can join in these groups. There is no age limit on being a disciple, it began when you were baptised and will take you on a journey to eternity. If you think you have seen it all already in your Christian life, then think again. The reading from Acts of Peters and John’s visit to the Samaritans shows some devout people who thought they knew all that was needed about following Jesus, but had the sense to ask the disciples for more, and in doing so discovered the Holy Spirit brings new life and new possibilities.