Sermon by Elizabeth Rowlandson 09.01.2022

Sermon by Elizabeth Rowlandson

Sunday 09.01.2022

Luke 3: 15-22

 

Gracious God, as we open your Word this morning, send your Spirit to reveal to us the living Word, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Amen.

 

I wonder how the prospect of change makes you feel?

Three years ago I had a looming feeling that change was coming in my life. 

I’d been working as families’ minister at St Peter’s for two and a half years and had thought I’d stay in that role - or something that grew out of it - for the foreseeable future.

But then doors started closing.

Opportunities that I thought would be there weren’t.

The way ahead seemed to be closed off.

What on earth was I going to do?

 

The transitions of life can be unsettling as the ground shifts - we bend and adapt, precious things are shattered and we have to build the pieces into something new.

Change is part of life – times and seasons unfold in the world around us and in our own existence.

But how we face these moments of transition can depend on many things.

Is it a change we’ve longed for or one that we’ve dreaded?

Do we see it as a chance for something new or mourn what’s been lost?

Are we invested in the change or has it been imposed on us?

Does it feel like freewheeling down a hill or falling off a cliff edge?

 

We encounter Jesus here on the bank of the Jordan, facing an enormous change.

His anonymity is so striking – he’s just there in the crowd, patiently waiting his turn to be baptised. 

There’s nothing that makes this thirty-year-old stand out from the crowd.

But this is a moment of transition – we may know that this moment marks the beginning of three years of world-changing ministry from this previously-unremarkable man.

How much he knew of what lay ahead – well, we can’t say for sure.

Perhaps he had a clear picture at this moment, perhaps just a sense that he had to do something – who’s to say?

We only see him answer the call and then pray.

And that’s when something happens that will make this day one that we still speak of 2,000 years later.

As Jesus prays, heaven is opened, the Holy Spirit descends upon him in bodily form like a dove and a voice comes from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

This ordinary man, Jesus, is affirmed as God’s Son, and anointed and commissioned.

From now on, his whole life will be different – from the people he knows, to the way he spends his time.

From the way he will live, to the way he will die.

He’ll have a new purpose to work for – the establishment of God’s Kingdom which will be created through him by God who is always on the move, doing a new thing.

This is the purpose for which God became human in the person of Jesus Christ.

 

Now this appearance of the Spirit and the declaration from God don’t happen every day, even in the Bible.

So that unusualness indicates that there’s something significant going on.

As the Son seeks the Father and the Spirit in prayer, they respond in words and actions of real tenderness.

 

We sometimes speak of thin places or liminal places – places where heaven seems close and God is almost within touching distance.

I wonder if we can also have thin moments – moments where heaven seems close and God is almost within touching distance.

Because isn’t that what we see here?

A moment when Father, Son and Holy Spirit come together

A moment that heralds the new thing God is doing in and through Jesus?

A moment where the voice of God – which as our Psalm reminded us, spoke creation into life - speaks Christ’s mission into life.

A moment where the Spirit who hovered over the waters comes to rest on the Messiah, anointing him for the work he has to do?

 

It’s impossible for us to know what this moment meant for Jesus but it seems to me that it must have been pretty special at this moment of transition in his life.

A powerful moment of encounter with the unchanging One, as everything else in his life shifted.

 

So what might this mean for us – people who may have been baptized long ago, people who aren’t the Messiah, people living ordinary 21st-century lives here in Farnborough?

How can this thin moment as Jesus stands on the brink of his ministry change our lives?

 

Well through the life and death and resurrection of Christ, you and I are drawn into that trinitarian love that we see here.

And that truth is life-changing.

Because change can bring thin moments for us too – opportunities to seek God and surrender to him.

Opportunities to let him comfort and equip us, reshape us and rebuild us.

 

We’ve seen that Jesus came to his baptism as one of the crowd, just like those around him, just like us here today, seeking God.

That action – which may be second nature to us, the thing we automatically do on a Sunday – has opened us up to encounter with God in worship, in prayer and in sharing the communion meal.

This moment can be a liminal moment because Father, Son and Holy Spirit are here among us, no less present than on that day on the banks of the Jordan.

But, we might say, this moment was Jesus’ baptism – we’re nothing special.

And if that’s what we tell ourselves, we’ve missed the whole point of the Gospel.

Because the love of God makes us special, makes us worth dying for.

He says of us “You are my child”

 

Do we receive that delight?

Or has the voice of God been distorted by our self-doubt and the judgement of the world?

Do we feel the Spirit’s presence simply proves all our faults and failings?

Back at that time three years ago, a wise friend asked me what rating I’d give myself out of ten. 

I think I said four.

And he spoke a truth over me that I believe came from God.

He told me that in God’s eyes I am never less than a 10/10.

It was a thin moment.

 

We need to let this sink in, we need to let it define us.

We need to talk about this truth with one another, to share our doubts and encourage and remind one another – to carry one another if need be.

Because this truth can make us ready for times of uncertainty, for times when we have to step out into the unknown, for times when we have to surrender and adapt to change.

 

And having received God’s love, we’re in a completely different position when times of transition come along. 

Having received God’s love we can come to live with change rather than resisting it, being active rather than passive in our response to it.

 

Three years ago I had no idea what was coming next in my life – all I could see was what God seemed to be taking away.

I met with another wise friend and I know he’d prayed beforehand because he said to me that he felt prompted to tell me to pray “How can I serve you?”

To not worry about what I was going to do but focus on who I was doing it for.

It was another thin moment for me.

And over time, as I prayed that prayer, I felt liberated from the worry and things unfolded in ways I’d never imagined.

I learnt that, just as after Jesus’ baptism, prayer has the power to bring God into times of transition in our lives.

I learnt that when we face change, there are always new ways to serve God because he’s not destroying but calling us on to a new path.

The new path he had prepared for me was returning to teaching where I’ve seen the most amazing, life-giving, ministry flourish.

 

I believe that if we are able to receive God’s affirmation and anointing and to ask him to commission us in his service we’ll see great things happen here in Farnborough.

We’ll find our responses to change aren’t dictated by the storms of our circumstance but by the roots of our faith.

Change won’t sway us because our roots are too deep.

And we’ll be free to let go of worry in the service of our God.

 

As we come to share communion today you may feel that sense of unworthiness, of shame.

I pray that as you receive the bread and the wine you would also receive God’s affirmation and his anointing. 

That you’d know that to our God, you’re never less than a 10/10.

And I pray that as you go out from this place on to the path of the new week, that God would show you how you can serve him in all that it holds.

In Jesus’ name.

Amen.