Sunday, 8 January 2012

Something More: a Baptism and a Call to Prayer - a Sermon for the Baptism of the Lord, Year B

In the beginning the earth was formless, empty and dark. There was chaos as one translation puts it. It needed something more for order and life and goodness to come. 


John the Baptist was a chaotic figure operating in an empty, desert wilderness, wearing camel’s hair and eating bugs and honey to keep himself alive. He was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth (Luke 1:15) said the angel Gabriel and yet he was waiting for something—someone—more (Mk 4:7-8). 


From childhood, Luke tell us, Jesus “grew up healthy and strong… and God’s favour was upon him” (Lk 2:40 NLT), for thirty years in obscurity, he “grew in wisdom and in stature and in favour with all the people.” (Lk 2:52 NLT) He needed something more. That’s why he went to John. 


In Ephesus, there were people who had not even heard there was a Holy Spirit (Acts 19:2) even though they had been baptized in water for repentance and believed in Jesus (Acts 19:4). Paul knew they needed something more. The something more was the Holy Spirit of God. 


And He was there in each situation ready to act: hovering, brooding over the waters and the chaos in Genesis (1:2) and then speaking order and life and light and goodness into being—setting all of creation into motion; tearing the heavens open and descending on Jesus as a dove in Mark (1:10)—propelling him into action and ministry; coming on the disciples in Ephesus when Paul laid his hands on them so they spoke in tongues and prophesied (Acts 19:6)—propelled into action and ministry so people would be strengthened, encouraged and comforted (1 Cor 14:3) and the church would be built up (1 Cor 14:5). In each situation bringing new life, new gifting, new power and action! 


This morning it happens again before our eyes. Daxton is a beautiful baby boy. Tyler and Tara know that Daxton needs something more (for example, if you ask Tara, when it comes to sleeping patterns, or should I say lack of them, she’d like some order brought to that little bit of Genesis 1 chaos in him). Tyler and Tara know that Daxton needs to be adopted into the Church, the Body of the Risen Christ, and baptized like Jesus was so that, as we will pray in a moment, as he is filled with God’s Holy and life-giving Spirit (BAS 155) his sins will be forgiven (BAS 160) he will be brought to new birth (BAS 157), he will learn to love others and to be a witness to God’s love (BAS 155). By bringing Daxton to be baptized, Tyler and Tara are committing themselves to helping Daxton grow into the something more, the new life, gifting, power and action the LORD has for him. Good for you. 


There’s something else I need say this morning. I think our church; our parish, our deanery, our diocese and our national church; also needs that something more. And not just us Anglicans. All the churches and our communities need something more. The Church has waxed and waned throughout history. I believe we’re in a period of waning and decline at the moment. I see it as I serve on the Council of General Synod for the national church. I see it in our diocese. I see it here. It’s not that things are all bad. They’re not. Jesus was healthy and strong and God’s favour was on him yet he needed more. So are we in many ways. The Ephesian disciples loved Jesus yet they needed more. Daxton is beautiful and healthy yet he, too, needs the something more that only God can provide. So do we. We need the more of God’s Holy Spirit breathing new life into us, we need an awakening; a spiritual refreshing. He’s done it many times through history. For example, in 1727, the Holy Spirit moved among some Moravians in what is now Germany and there began a prayer meeting that went for 24 hours a day, seven days a week for one hundred years and which birthed a missionary movement which brought Jesus to many. It was called a Great Awakening or Revival. There was another one a hundred years later in the United States and the UK. An example: St James Episcopal (Anglican) Church in Chicago went from 121 members in 1857 to 1,400 in 1860. This growth was not the result of clever programming but because of a prayer generated spiritual awakening by which hearts were warmed to God through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Not only were churches filled, but also whole cities and communities were transformed as crime rates fell. It was a revival that stirred people up to bring an end to the slave trade. In 1859 twenty thousand people filled the theatres of London on Sunday evenings to hear the gospel preached. St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey were also packed. 


The common denominator in the beginnings of all these spiritual awakenings was prayer and so, beginning this evening at 6pm, and every second Sunday of the month from now on, I intend to come here to the church to pray for such an awakening in our church our city and our land. I need something more. We all need something more. Please join me. 


Eternal Giver of life and light…Renew your Church with the Spirit given to us in baptism, that we may worship you in sincerity and truth, and shine as a light in the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. (The Collect for the Easter Vigil, p329)