Baptism of Our Lord 2015


Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration

Today marks the beginning of the public life and ministry of Jesus Christ as he set out to do the Father’s will and announce the arrival of the kingdom of God. And the moment of the beginning of the messianic work of Jesus is marked by the moment of his baptism in the Jordan. He is acclaimed on earth by the prophet John and links himself to John by being baptised by him. He is acclaimed from heaven by the voice of the Father and the presence of the Spirit. As the people who have heard his preaching and accepted his call, who have confessed him as the Christ, and set out to follow his way, let us pause and consider the words addressed to Jesus: ‘Thou art my beloved Son, with thee I am well pleased.’ 
Michel DeVerteuil
General Comments


Mark’s gospel was the first gospel to be written and therefore tells us some basic points about Jesus. Nowadays we are inclined to neglect some of them because we think they have little importance. We must however give them their full meaning. They will help us understand the mystery of faith as the church of the early ages understood it.

The passage is in two parts: verses  7 and 8, and verses 9 to 11. We will only look at the second part which tells of Jesus’ baptism.

This incident happens very early in the gospel story. We learn in the introduction that Jesus “came from Nazareth in Galilee”; it was there, in that small position, that he finally made the decision to enter his public life. He was led to his public role. He decided that he would go out there and assume his role as Messiah and Saviour of his people.

Jesus wanted to be baptized. The river Jordan was a great river in Palestine, near Jerusalem, and he decided that this was where he would be baptized. It was no ordinary baptism, it was “a baptism of repentance and for the forgiveness of sins.” This was happening to many of his people and he wanted to join them at this point.

Clearly, this was an important moment in his life, when he accepted to be with his fellows. It is important that he should be the same with us.

When he came up “out of the water” something extraordinary happened – something that would remain crucial to him and to the rest of his ministry.

-  “The heavens were torn apart”. Everything else became unimportant. This was a real breakthrough in his relationship with God and with the world. For us today too there are things on which we need to turn our back if we want to live fully and in the present. Now we realize that they might have been important but could be obstacles between God and us. They prevent us from finding our true self and what we really want from life.

This often happens to us as a church community too. Unimportant things in the world – status, authority, the desire to be admired by all – become obstacles to our following of Jesus.
- The voice that came from heaven was “in the form of a dove.” This was a communication which had been with God’s people from the beginning of creation. In Genesis 1:2 we see it said of God when he came to earth to carry out his work there. It is the same right through, and in every aspect of life.

- The Spirit then “descended on us.” This tells us that we can now find our true self by allowing the Spirit to come to us and take possession of us. We leave ourselves entirely in his hands.
- A voice “came from heaven”, and the words it spoke tell us three important things about Jesus, and therefore about ourselves:

a) “you are my child”. You are someone very precious to me, someone I would be happy to be alone with, someone I can trust easily.
b) you are “the Beloved”, called to be important to me; I love them and they are one with me;
c) “My favour rests on you”. This is a crucial phrase in the Bible. God’s favour rests on us – whatever we thought about the world now counts for nothing; it is unimportant to him and to us.
Together these words tell us what counts between Jesus and God; they also tell us what happens between us and God. 

Scripture Prayer Reflection

Lord, we thank you for those times when we realized
that things we had considered important in the world
were really of no interest to us: they did not lead us to you.
We knew then how we must leave them on the shore
and go forward to be baptized by John.
We saw then that things we were attached to were of no consequence to us.
It was a touching time.
We could leave the past, our own Nazareth in Galilee
and make our way to Judaea;
it was not fame or glory that we sought.
We must now ensure that we meet you as you are.
You would really manifest yourself to us
and tell us that this is what really counts and is important for us.

The other true purpose of school studies, of education, is to inculcate humility, not just a virtue, but the condition of all virtues.”         Simone Weil

Lord, help us to see the greatness of all you do for us,
our education as humans and as Christians.

“Whosoever is at pains to read the psalm will find in it a sort of gymnasium for the use of all souls, a sort of stadium of virtue, where different sorts of exercises are set out before us, from which we can choose the one best suited to train us to win our crown.”       St Ambrose

Lord, we thank you that as we came out of the water,
something new happened to us.
the heavens were eventually what they now truly are for us,
the source of all we need in this world,
all that is worth our while to follow.

“The best of all for the soul is what God wills at this particular moment. Everything else must be regarded by the soul with perfect indifference as being nothing at all.” ...Jean Pierre de Caussade, s.j.

Lord, we thank you for the times when all that is crucial for us
is who we are and who you are.
All the rest is like nothing at all
and we thank you that we are now in that state where everything else
are things on which we know that we must now turn our back
and leave them behind us on this shore.

Lord, we thank you for the great moments of prayer
when we finally become aware of how limited we are.
Things we sought with so much interest now counted for nothing.
We thank you for the times when we finally realized
how unimportant they really were, in spite of what we had thought .
What we used to set our heart on:
- our status in life,
- fame and what we really look out for in our lives;
- our desire to be great and famous in your kingdom, which means being better and holier that those we live with,
we thank you that we see them now as things that would keep us from you.
We thank you that we have now left them behind
and go for what is really important for us –
that we are your children, your beloved,
and that, no matter what we think,
these are the reasons why your favour now rests on us.

“The religious life has the best of all messages, one that is presented in a most boring way.”    …G. K. Chesterton

Lord, we thank you for giving us the things that are most important for us.
They may seem boring but we know they are very deep and wonderful for us.
We can now devote our lives to them
and make sure that they are really what counts for us.

Lord, as we look around at what is going on in the world today,
we remember that these things tell us very little about you,
about our relationship with you,
and how we are to grow in knowledge with you.
We pray that we may turn our backs on them
and focus on how we can draw closer to you.

Lord, we thank you for the time when we really understood
that the only thing that counts for our community
is whether we are right with you and what we need from life.

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Homily Notes

1. Today is a day of celebrating beginnings in the liturgy: the beginning of the preaching and the public ministry of Jesus which is announced with the great cry from heaven of the Father’s joy in the work of his beloved Son. Yet Mark expects that as you hear this opening blaze of heavenly light and glory, you know and remember that his story will end in the darkened Friday of the crucifixion. We also are now at a beginning: the beginning of a year. The initial excitement of New Year is over, the champagne has been corked and drunk; so we can now stop and reflect that a new period of our lives in the world is beginning.

2. The public ministry of Jesus today is that which is carried out by you and me, the individuals that go to make up the Body of Christ, the church. Preaching the truth, doing the truth in love, bearing witness to the Father, caring for the poor, being attentive to the Spirit, recognising the presence of God in respecting the environment, seeking justice and peace, offering thanksgiving to the Father in the liturgy — all these are the public works of the Son carried out by his people. Now is the time to take stock and ask are we being attentive to this public ministry with which we are charged.

3. There is no end to the variety of public ministry to which we are called in imitation of Christ, to do the will of the Father,being empowered by the Spirit. However, let us take three examples.

 4. Bearing witness to the truth. We live much of our lives being buffeted by propaganda of one sort or another: whether it is formal propaganda intended to create great lies that oppress people, to advertising, to manipulating numbers to prove a point, to putting a spin on a story. There is even the realisation that if you repeat an idea often enough, people will become so familiar with it that they will assume it is some basic fact. Do we simply acquiesce with this, or do we seek to get behind the bald headlines, strap-lines, and tags? Do we confront the part we may be playing in the propagation of falsehoods out of selfishness or the desire for power? Honesty is the obedience that we owe to the structure of the creation, doing the truth is a holy activity because God is the source of all truth. The lie, big or small, is the witness to all that is not of God and has no place in the kingdom; as we see in just three words in the name Jesus gave Satan: ‘The Father of Lies’ Un 8:44).

5. Caring for those who suffer oppression. The oppressed are all those who are in need and cannot escape from that situation by their own exertions: be it illness, or poverty, or ignorance, or as a result of injustice. We believe in a God who forgives and gives us chance after chance, and who challenges us to do to others as we would have them do unto us. To acknowledge the goodness of God to us is to accept that we have an obligation to show that same goodness. This care is not something ‘added on’ to being a Christian, but what makes us a holy people. God is holy in his action towards us: he loves us in our needs; we act in a holy way in imitation of God when we seek to act with love to those in need. Thus a holy people can pray: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

6. Respecting the creation. Because the environment in which we live is material does not mean that we can look on it with indifference or as something simply to be used and discarded. We believe that the whole of the creation is God’s gift and that all that was made was made through the Word: it is’shot through’ with the character of the Word who in the fullness of time took on our humanity for our salvation. But if the world is God’s gift and bears the traces of the Creator within it, then we must respect it and use it with care, conscious that it is here to sustain life not just for us but for all the generations to come. We live in a world where we march through the creation like vandals, but this is incompatible with acknowledging the Father, or calling ourselves disciples of the Son, or claiming that the Spirit enlightens us.

7. In all of these it is often quite acceptable ‘to mouth the truth’: to talk for example of being less exploitative or less consumerist, but when this starts to become actual in deeds it starts to become painful. It is one thing to say one abhors falsehoods; it is another thing to actually point it out. It is easy to fret over care for the elderly or the poor, another thing to actually visit an elderly relative or give enough money to groups that work with the homeless. Here Christianity confronts us with the reality of the cross. Ours is not a polished philosophy of rhetoric and good intentions: the public witness to the Father’s will ended for Jesus in his death, his humble obedience right to the bitter end. It is the willingness to embrace this reality of the pain inherent in doing the good in the midst of a sinful world that sets us apart. It is only in grasping this reality, that the true and the good cost, and building the kingdom makes demands on us, that we become the beloved daughters and sons of the Father.

8. To recall the scene of the baptism of Jesus is to resolve anew to being his public witnesses in the world. 

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Sean Goan

In all the gospels the baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of his public ministry and the focus is on Jesus’ identity as he sets out to proclaim the kingdom of God. In Mark’s account of the event it is clear that what takes place is for Jesus’ sake, as we are told it is he (and not the crowds) who sees the Spirit descend in form of the dove and the voice from heaven is addressed to as it proclaims: ‘You are my beloved Son.’ The evangelist would have us understand that, as Jesus sets out on his mission,
he does with a sense of who he is before God. It is precisely this that allows him to be faithful to his task to the very end.

Reflection

Today’s feast is an invitation to reflect on our own baptism. We too have been baptised with the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that empowered Jesus to proclaim the kingdom and to endure the sufferings that lay before him. In our baptism the Spirit proclaims to each of us that we are God’s beloved and challenges us to be true to ourselves and to our God as we try to live according to the values of the kingdom that Jesus preached.

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ILLUSTRATIONS:

1.     From Fr. Tony Kadavil

 1: Thomas Merton:

A young man once described his experience of sinking into insanity. He was a very bright university student, but he had abandoned his studies in favor of nightclubs and pornography. One night he retired to a hotel room. As he lay in bed, the window appeared to expand until it reached the floor. He heard a mocking voice in his mind saying, "What if you threw yourself out of that window?" The young man wrote: "Now my life was dominated by something I had never known before: fear. It was humiliating, this strange self-conscious watchfulness. It was a humiliation I had deserved more than I knew. I had refused to pay attention to the moral laws upon which all vitality and sanity depend." Well, this young man did begin to pay attention to the moral law. He began to put his life in order - and to experience inner peace. He eventually entered the Catholic Church and went on to become one of the most famous monks of the twentieth century. His name is Thomas Merton.  Today’s Gospel on Jesus’ baptism should challenge us, too, to examine whether we are keeping our Baptismal promises. (Fr. Phil Bloom)

2: A tiger cub finds its identity:

There is an old Hindu parable about a tiger cub raised by goats.  The cub learned to bleat and nibble grass and behave like a goat.  One night a tiger attacked the goats, which scattered for safety.  But the tiger cub kept grazing and crying like a goat without getting frightened.  The old tiger roared, "What are you doing here, living with these cowardly goats?"  He grabbed the cub by the scruff, dragged him to a pond and said: "Look how our faces reflected in water!  Now you know who you are and whose you are."  The tiger took the cub home, taught him how to catch animals, eat their meat, roar and act like a tiger.  The tiger cub thus discovered his true self.  Today’s Gospel seems to suggest that Jesus received from heaven a fresh flash of realization of Who, and Whose, He really was (His identity) and of what He was supposed to do (His mission), on the day of his baptism in the river Jordan.  

 3: The film Gandhi

is a three-hour epic, depicting the life of Mahatma Gandhi in India. In order to lead the oppressed people of India to freedom from British rule, Gandhi adopted non-violent means such as fasting from food, vigils of prayer, peaceful marches, protests and civil disobedience. One of the reasons why Gandhi put on a loincloth and fasted from food, almost to the point of death, was to show solidarity with the Indian people, identifying with them in their physical sufferings. This finally brought independence to India. (Vima Dasan). Marin Luther King too identified with his enslaved and maltreated people and became the voice of the voiceless in the name of God. Consequently he was maligned, beaten, jailed, and assassinated while he preached peace, justice and non-violence on behalf of the downtrodden Afro- Americans in the U. S.  His heroic example  definitely passes as Christian living with tens of millions of the poor and alienated Afro- Americans in the U.S. and the oppressed millions worldwide. To better appreciate his struggles against the sins of our culture, particularly of our "Christian" clergy you are invited to read Dr King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail” readily available on the internet

(http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html). Jesus’ baptism, as described in today’s Gospel, was his identification with God’s chosen people who became aware of their sinful lives and need for God’s forgiveness. (Fr. Jerry Dalton). 

4. Identity of the peanut scientist:

Fr. Bill Bausch describes in one of his books George Washington Carver, the great black scientist who did a lot with the lowly peanut, both medically and commercially. He built a great industry through his scientific endeavors. In January 1921 he was brought to Washington, D.C., to the Ways and Means Committee to explain his work on the peanut. He expected such a high-level committee to handle the business at hand with him and those who had come with him with dignity and proper decorum. As a black man, he was last on the list and so, after three days, he finally walked up the aisle to speak. And on the way up he heard one of the committee members say – and quite loudly for all to hear – "I suppose you have plenty of peanuts and watermelon to keep you happy!" He ignored the remark as an ignorant jibe, although it stung him. He was further hurt on seeing another committee member sitting there with his hat on and his feet on the table remarking: "I don’t see what this fellow can say that has any bearing on this committee."

At this point George Washington Carver was ready to turn around and go back home, but he said, as he wrote in his autobiography, "Whatever they said of me, I knew that I was a child of God, and so I said to myself inwardly, ‘Almighty God, let me carry out your will.’" He got to the podium and was told that he had twenty minutes to speak. Carver opened up his display case and began to explain his project. Well, so engaging was his discussion that those twenty minutes went all too quickly and the chairman rose and asked for an extension so he could continue his presentation, which he did for an hour and three-quarters. They voted him four more extensions so he spoke for several hours. At the end of his talk they all stood up and gave him a long round of applause. And all that happened because he knew who, and Whose, he was and because he refused to be defined by the labels of his culture. "Whatever they said of me, I knew I was a child of God." So one function of this, our feast – this Baptism of the Lord – is to remind us of who, and Whose, we are. 

5. Three times:

Too many people come to Church three times primarily. They're Baptized, they get married, and they have their funeral service at the Church. The first time they throw water on you, the second time rice, the third time dirt! 

6. "Have you found Jesus?"

A drunk stumbles across a baptismal service on Sunday afternoon down by the river. He proceeds to walk down into the water and stand next to the Preacher. The minister turns and notices the old drunk and says, "Mister, Are you ready to find Jesus?" The drunk looks back and says, "Yes, Preacher. I sure am." The minister then dunks the fellow under the water and pulls him right back up. "Have you found Jesus?" the preacher asked. "No, I didn't!" said the drunk. The preacher then dunks him under for quite a bit longer, brings him up and says, "Now, brother, have you found Jesus?” “No, I did not, Reverend." The preacher in disgust holds the man under for at least 30 seconds t his time brings him out of the water and says in a harsh tone, "My God, have you found Jesus yet?” The old drunk wipes his eyes and says to the preacher... "Are you sure this is where he fell in?"
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2. From the Connections: 

THE WORD: 

Today’s Gospel is the final event of the Epiphany: Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan River by John.  The fact that Mark begins his Gospel with the baptism of Jesus indicates the importance of this event.  In the “renting of the sky,” the Spirit “descending on him like a dove” and the voice heard from the heavens, God “anoints” his Messiah (the word Messiah means "anointed") for the work he is about to do.

HOMILY NOTES: 

In baptism, we claim the name of Christian and embrace all that that holy name means: to live for others rather than for ourselves, in imitation of Christ. 

Our baptism made each one of us the “servant” of today’s readings: to bring forth in our world the justice, reconciliation and enlightenment of Christ, the “beloved Son” and “favor” of God. 

In baptism, we embrace that same Spirit that “hovers” over us, guiding us in our journey to God. 

Liturgically, the Christmas season officially comes to an end with today’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.  Now the same Spirit that “anoints” the Messiah for his mission calls us to be about the work of Christmas in this new year: to seek out and find the lost, to heal the hurting, to feed the hungry, to free the imprisoned, to rebuild families and nations, to bring the peace of God to all peoples everywhere.
‘Bat cole’
You first heard it as a child — the Voice.  You wanted that extra candy bar or escape the boundaries of the back yard or slug your annoying little brother, but you heard that Voice saying,  Don’t!  You know what Mom said.  Now, you may not have paid any attention to the Voice.  But you heard it.  You know you did.

As you got older, the Voice spoke a little more critically.  That was dumb . . . You really came off like a jerk . . . What were you thinking?  But the Voice could also be encouraging and affirming:  Nice work . . . You’ll be glad you did that . . . You didn’t deserve that.  The Voice would prod, nudge or clobber.  As you grew up, you understood that the Voice was right.

Eventually, we make friends with the Voice.  We don’t just listen to the Voice, we converse with the Voice.  I’m not sure what I should do here . . . What was that all about? . . . How can I make things better?  And together, you and the Voice find a way to move on, to work it out, to put things back together.

In time, we begin to hear the Voice speaking more comforting and consoling words:  You are loved.  You belong.  You are mine.

In the Jewish tradition, there is a name for that Voice:  “bat cole”, which means literally, “the daughter of a sound.”  That “daughter of a sound,” the smallest, thinnest of voices, is the Voice of God — God speaking to us in the events of our lives, in the people we love, in the characters and conundrums that challenge us.  In the story of his baptism, the bat cole is heard by Jesus:  You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.  May our hearts be attentive to that same Voice speaking to us in the course of the simple, undramatic everyday of our lives— the Voice of God cajoling and nudging us to his dwelling place.  

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3. From Fr. Jude Botelho: 

Dear Friend,

For all of us there comes a time in our life, when we have to decide, when we have to take a stand, when we have to choose and reveal who we are, what we believe in and which side we stand for. We cannot be fence-sitters all our life. We cannot be private believers, private followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. For Jesus that moment was his baptism. For us, is it now?

Have an affirming weekend! 

In the first reading we have one of the four poems Isaiah wrote describing the relationship between God and the Messiah and the kind of work the Messiah would do to save mankind. This reading gives only part of the first poem touching upon the special relationship between Yahweh and his Servant. It echoes what we will hear in today’s gospel, “This is my son the beloved, my favour rests on him.” The Jews mistakenly believed that Yahweh loved only his chosen people. Isaiah points out that Yahweh sends his servant to bring justice and salvation to all those who suffer, and those who cannot save themselves from the dungeon they find themselves in. Jesus thus is both the “son” and “servant” of Yahweh. Son because God’s favour rests on him, servant because he has come to save mankind by suffering for and with them.

The Yellow Arm Band

In the dark days when Nazism spread across Europe and overpowered the Danes, Hitler ordered the king of Denmark to issue a decree whereby all Jews in the country would publicly identify themselves by wearing a yellow arm band with a Star of David on it. The king knew that anyone so identified would be rounded up and sent to the death camps. He also knew the danger of disobeying Hitler’s orders. So when he issued his decree, he wore a yellow arm band with the Star of David on it, although he was not Jewish. The people immediately knew what to do. The next day, everyone in the country – Jew and Gentile alike, wore the required arm band. Solidarity with those condemned resulted in life for all.

Harold Buetow in ‘God Still Speaks, Listen!’

In the Gospel John the Baptist sets the stage for the public manifestation of Jesus on the banks of the river Jordan. John had been preaching and calling people to repentance and a change of heart and as a sign of their repentance he was baptizing them. Jesus comes as one among the many people to be baptized and John was surprised. Why did Jesus come for baptism to John? People came to John to be baptized as a sign that they were sorry for their sins. Jesus received baptism as a sign that he was sorry for the sins of all mankind and because of his decision to pay for the sins of mankind with his obedience unto death of the cross. Though Jesus was sinless, his baptism was necessary for several reasons. It was for him a moment of decision. Jesus takes up the challenge of His father by making his public decision to launch his mission on earth. Secondly, Jesus’ baptism was his moment of identification. It was time for him to identify himself with the God-ward movement, with those who stand for God and his kingdom. The Jews considered themselves to be children of Abraham, and by that fact, assured of salvation. But John had begun this strange movement of Jewish acknowledgement of sin and of its repentance. Jesus saw this movement and was happy to undergo John’s baptism to signify that he identified with it. Thirdly, Jesus’ baptism was a moment of approval for him. Jesus was ready and willing to carry out the mission his Father had in store for him and now he receives the approval of his Father. The voice from the heavens tells us who Jesus is and also affirms for Jesus that he is the well-beloved son of the Father. Lastly the baptism for Jesus was the moment of empowerment. In ancient times, kings and priests used to be anointed to show that it was God who was appointing them to carry out their work in his name. Now Jesus was priest, prophet and king, in fact he was The Priest, Prophet and King. As the pouring of the oil on priests, prophets and kings declared these people to be appointed by God to be His messengers, so the Father shows Jesus to be his messenger, not by anointing with oil but by filling Him with the Holy Spirit.

Eagle or Prairie Chicken?

An American Indian tells about a brave who found an eagle’s egg and put it into a nest of a prairie chicken. The eaglet hatched with a brood of chicks and grew up with them. All of its life the changeling eagle, thinking it was a prairie chicken, did what the other prairie chickens did. It scratched in the dirt for seeds and insects to eat. It clucked and cackled. And it flew a brief thrashing of wings and flurry of feathers no more than a few feet off the ground. After all that was how prairie chickens were supposed to fly. Years passed, and the changeling eagle grew very old. One day it saw a magnificent bird soaring far above in the cloudless sky. Hanging with graceful majesty on the powerful wind currents, it soared with scarcely a beat of its strong golden wings. “What a beautiful bird!” said the changeling eagle to its neighbour. “What is it?” “That’s an eagle – the chief of the birds, the neighbour clucked. “But don’t give it a second thought. You could never be like him.” So the changeling eagle never gave it a second thought. And it died thinking it was a prairie chicken.

Anonymous


Total Commitment

A pig and a chicken were out for a walk one day. The pig wasn’t too bright and tended to repeat everything that others said or suggested. The chicken remarked “Those are very nice people down in that house down there.” “They are indeed” replied the pig, “they are very nice people.” “They are very good to us” continued the chicken. “They are indeed” replied the pig, “they are very good to us.” “Do you know what I was thinking? asked the chicken. “No” said the pig. “What were you thinking?” “I was thinking we should do something for them.” “That’s a very good idea”, replied the pig, “I think we should do something for them. What did you have in mind?” “I was thinking” said the chicken, “that we should give them something.” “A brilliant idea” said the pig, “I think we should give them something. What did you have in mind?” “I was thinking” said the chicken, “we should give them bacon and eggs.” The pig stopped in his tracks, and said “Definitely not! For you that’s only a slight inconvenience, but for me it’s total commitment!” – Baptism is intended to lead us to a total commitment, and our acts of Christian charity should be seen as anything but slight inconveniences.
Jack McArdle in ‘And that’s the Gospel truth!’

Source of Power

Mohamed Ali often referred to himself as ‘the greatest’ heavyweight champion in the world. Obviously, he trained extensively for every fight with vigorous workouts and diets. However when he was asked from where he received his enormous power, he said it came from a set of inspirational tapes to which he listened. The tapes were recorded speeches of a Black Muslim leader, the honourable Elijah Mohamed. They deal with self-knowledge, freedom and potential. Mohamed Ali would listen to these tapes day in and day out. He claimed that these inspirational messages gave him power to fight in the ring as well as outside it for his black people.
Vima Dasan in 'His Word Lives'

Your Baptism is your tattoo…

California police and the courts have discovered the tattoos on teenagers are often more than a cosmetic decoration. A few years ago, a juvenile court judge in California observed that a large number of teenagers appearing before him had tattoos – tattoos on the hands, fingers, and faces. The tattoos, he learned, identified the bearer as a member of some particular gang and, frequently as a user of a particular drug. Many of these tattoos were self-inflicted by youth who were desperate to ‘belong’. The judge also discovered that teenagers with visible tattoos were virtually excommunicated from the job market, since potential employers equated the tattoos with crimes and incompetency and refused to hire the youth. The judge asked the Los Angeles County Medical Association if there might be among its members, a plastic surgeon who, at no charge, would remove the tattoos from juvenile delinquents. Dr. Karl Stein, a well-known Los Angeles Plastic surgeon, was the first to volunteer. Since 1981, Dr. Stein has turned around the lives of hundreds of his young patients through surgically removing the tattoos by excision, laser, and virtually every other known method. – Your baptism is your tattoo, indelibly imprinted, identifying you as a disciple of Jesus. Would your neighbours see this in your daily life?

Gerard Fuller in 'Stories for all Seasons'

Right connection

I heard about a young president of a company who instructed his secretary not to disturb him because he had an important appointment. The chairman of the board came in and said, “I want to see Mr. Jones.”  The secretary answered, “I’m terribly sorry, he cannot be disturbed; he has an important appointment.” The chairman became very angry. He banged open the door and saw the president of his corporation on his knees in prayer. The chairman softly closed the door and asked the secretary, “Is this usual?” And she said, “Yes, he does that every morning.” To which the chairman of the board responded,

“No wonder I come to him for advice.”
Billy Graham in ‘Stories for the Heart’

Are you Jesus?

Several years ago a group of five computer salesmen went from Milwaukee to Chicago for a regional sales convention. All were married and each assured his wife he would return home in ample time for dinner. The sales meeting ran late and the five scurried out of the building and ran toward the train station. A whistle blew, signaling the imminent department of the train. As the sales men raced through the terminal, one of them inadvertently kicked over a slender table on which rested a basket of apples. A ten year old boy was selling apples to pay his books and clothes for school. With a sigh of relief, the five clambered aboard the train, but the last felt a twinge of compassion for the boy whose apple stand had been overturned. He asked one of the groups to call his wife and tell her he would be a couple of hours late. He returned to the terminal and later remarked that he was glad he did. The ten year old boy was blind. The salesman saw the apples scattered all over the floor. As he gathered them up, he noticed that several were bruised or split. Reaching into his pocket, he said to the boy, “Here’s twenty dollars for the apples we damaged. I hope we didn’t spoil your day. God bless you.”  As the salesman started to walk away, the blind boy called after him and asked, “Are you Jesus?”

Brennen Manning in ‘From the Signature of Jesus’

May we proudly proclaim our faith and be glad to witness to it! 

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4. Sermons.com: 

Baptism is a powerful force in the life of a Christian for two reasons. It is something we share in common. Christians all over the world can say that they were baptized in Christ. You met a Catholic in Ireland. He was baptized. You met a Pentecostal in Nigeria. She was baptized. The second reason Baptism is a powerful force is that baptism takes us back to the basics. Now let me set these two ideas up for you with a couple of stories.

You perhaps at one time or another have seen on TV the old black and white video footage of the civil rights marches in the sixties. Martin Luther King often at the front received his share of stinging high-pressured water hoses. Rev. King once remarked that he and the other marchers had a common strength. He put it this way, as "we went before the fire hoses; we had known water. If we were a Baptist or some other denomination, we had been immersed. If we were Methodist, and some others, we had been sprinkled, but we knew water."

You and I know the water. All of God's children know the water. We share by our faith this common symbol, this initiation, this rite, this power of God over the deep and often raging chaos of life. We know water! All over the world Baptism unites us.

It also brings us back to the basics. Perhaps in our lifetime the most public statement of repentance was that of President Bill Clinton's. The one he made before a Prayer Breakfast on September 10, 1998. He summed up the task perfectly when he said, "I don't think there is a fancy way to say that I have sinned." Then he quoted from a book given him by a Jewish friend in Florida. The book is called "Gates of Repentance."

Clinton read this passage from the book: "Now is the time for turning. The leaves are beginning to turn from green to red to orange. The birds are beginning to turn and are heading once more toward the south. The animals are beginning to turn to storing their food for the winter. For leaves, birds and animals, turning comes instinctively. But for us, turning does not come so easily. It takes an act of will for us to make a turn. It means breaking old habits. It means admitting that we have been wrong, and this is never easy. It means losing face. It means starting all over again. And this is always painful. It means saying I am sorry. It means recognizing that we have the ability to change. These things are terribly hard to do. But unless we turn, we will be trapped forever in yesterday's ways."

Clinton's quote ended with this prayer: "Lord help us to turn, from callousness to sensitivity, from hostility to love, from pettiness to purpose, from envy to contentment, from carelessness to discipline, from fear to faith. Turn us around, O Lord, and bring us back toward you. Revive our lives as at the beginning and turn us toward each other, Lord, for in isolation there is no life."

Whatever you might think of Clinton and his sincerity, he understood that he needed to do something very basic before the nation. He needed to repent...  

Today our Scripture lesson is from the Book of the "Acts of the Apostles." There is an old saying that the church needs to move its focus from the "Book of Numbers" to the "Book of Acts." And if you're looking for drama, even melodrama, with dramatic plot reversals and somersaulting stories lines, you're in the right book. There are stonings and shipwrecks, prison breaks and spiritual breakthroughs, trials and betrayals, riots and revivals. That's why a better name for the "Book of Acts" might be the "Book of Narratives."  

The Apostle Paul warns elsewhere "The letter kills, the Spirit gives life" (2Cor.3:6). Most Christians may have gotten past the every-jot-and-tittle-of-the-letter stage in their faith. But the numbers kill just like the letters. That's why we really do need to move our faith from the Law's Letters and Numbers to the Spirit's Narratives and Soundtracks.  

The power of the Book of Acts, or, if you will, the Book of Narratives, is that it brings us into the presence and power of what the Spirit can do in the most difficult to times and places. One of the great works of the Spirit took place in the heart of the Las Vegas of the ancient world, a tumultuous city called Ephesus, a place of hyper-sexuality which boasted one of the seven great wonders of the world, the Temple to Diana and the Statue of Artemis. Into this heavily eroticized city there occurred an ever great wonder of the world than the sixty foot statue of Artemis: a revival led by Paul.  

After two years of Paul's teaching, the Christian faith had so spread in this hard-core urban center that the silversmiths were poised to riot because of their fear that no tourists or townspeople would be buying their votives dedicated to Artemis. In his Epistle to the Ephesians, you learn from Paul's metaphor of "armor" how Paul counteracted the mysterious temple rituals and the eroticized climate that permeated the everyday atmosphere Ephesus...
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 Torn Apart Forever

When I was a little girl on the farm, I used to ride my bike as fast as I could down the lane that led out past the barn toward the pasture with grasshoppers whizzing around my ankles. At the end of the lane, I jumped off the bike and flung myself down on the pasture grass. I looked up at the wide sky. The flat lands of Iowa seemed to have far more sky than New York City. I lay very still, listening to my own breathing. The sunbeams broke through the blue and white sky reaching down to the pasture enfolding me with warmth and wonder. Those beams seemed to me the fingers of God. Later on, when I didn't think of God as a man in the sky, I probably said that it was the light of God or the presence of God. Whatever language I could find, I knew the deep certainty that God was with me. But that day is impossible to recapture. Our barn is now gone. The chicken house and the cattle shed, too. Soon perhaps the house will be gone, torn down and plowed under to make way for more farmland. Only the driveway will remain to remind those passing by that anyone ever lived there. If I could ride my bike down that lane, the sky would not look quite the same -- even on a sunny day. It isn't only nostalgia for a certain place and time, but a realization that the faith of my childhood has been torn in many places. It's impossible to put the pieces back together again as they were.

But the torn place is where God comes through, the place that never again closes as neatly as before. From the day he saw the heavens torn apart, Jesus began tearing apart the pictures of whom Messiah was supposed to be—

Tearing apart the social fabric that separated rich from poor.
Breaking through hardness of heart to bring forth compassion.
Breaking through rituals that had grown rigid or routine.
Tearing apart the chains that bound some in the demon's power.
Tearing apart the notions of what it means to be God's Beloved Son.

Nothing would ever be the same, for the heavens would never again close so tightly.

Barbara K. Lundblad, Torn Apart Forever
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 A Relationship Changed by Baptism 

Let us pretend that you are a young lieutenant, part of the military, part of a presidential honor guard. Every day the President walks into his office, and you snap to attention, click your heels and salute the President. The President nods. Every day, this same procedure occurs. The President walks in; you snap to attention, click your heels and salute. The relationship is stiff, formal, technical, with eyes never looking the President in the eye but eyes always straight ahead, frozen like a stiff wooden soldier. But...in this story...one day, the President stops in front of you, the young lieutenant, and says to you. "Please follow me into my office." You do so and the door is closed. The President orders you to be seated and then looks you in the eye and says, "I want you to become one of my children. I want you to become part of our family. I want you to come to our family outings, our family picnics, the family birthday parties, the family Christmases. I want you to become part of our family." What a moment. What a miracle. And in that moment, the relationship between the President and the young lieutenant is totally transformed. The relationship is no longer formal, stiff, distant and legal but is now close and loving 

That is precisely what happens to us in our baptism. It is God who takes the initiative. The relationship is totally transformed. Baptism is the fantastic invitation from God to know us intimately and closely, so closely that we are called son or daughter, that we become family. 

Edward F. Markquart, Baptism? What Do We Teach?
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 The Promise of Baptism 

 When I baptized my three children I did a new generation kind of thing. We made a DVD for each of our kids so they can celebrate their baptism birthdays. They can see it, they can own it. We blow out the Baptism candle, we open a Baptism gift, and we celebrate the new life Jesus brings to them. They can trust in God's work. There's a lot we can do to make a child's baptism just as personal and memorable as an adult's. The one thing we shouldn't do is take this promise from our children. They need it and we need it.

James Mueller
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 Two Forces at Work

"What's frightening about listening to John preach is that he puts you in the presence of God. And that's what everybody wants, and that's what everybody doesn't want. Because the light at the altar is different from every other light in the world. In the dim lamps of this world, we can compare ourselves with each other, and all of us come off looking good. We convince ourselves that God grades on the curve, and what's the difference? We're all okay. And then you come in the presence of God, and you're at the altar, and it's all different. For if our hearts condemn us, think of this - - God is greater than our hearts and knows everything. There's no way to modulate the human voice to make a whine acceptable. The whining is over. The excusing is over. It's the school, it's the church, it's the board, it's the government. It isn't! All that's over. It just stops. Like waking from a dream of palaces and patios to find the roof leaks and the rent's due. Like shutting off the stereo, and you hear the rat gnawing in the wall. That's just the fact of it. In my mind, I serve God. But there's another force in my life, and I say, `I'm going to do that.' I don't do it. I say, `I'll never do that.' I do it. Crucified between the sky of what I intend and the earth of what I perform. That's the truth." 

Fred B. Craddock, "Have You Ever Heard John Preach?", A Chorus of Witnesses: Model Sermons for Today's Preacher, ed. Thomas G. Long & Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), pp. 34-43.
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 Humor: God Help the Fish 

Sam Houston was the first president of the Republic of Texas. It's said he was a rather nasty fellow with a checkered past. Later in life Houston made a commitment to Christ and was baptized in a river. The preacher said to him, "Sam, your sins are washed away." Houston replied, "God help the fish." Although most of us were not baptized as adults in a river, we can probably relate to this reply.

King Duncan, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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 A New Way of Living

 Sarah Jo Sarchet is a Presbyterian pastor in Chicago. A 10 year-old boy in her congregation named Cameron, walked into her office and said he needed to talk to her. Fresh from soccer practice, and wearing his Cincinnati Reds baseball cap, he had a request for her. "I'd like to be baptized," he said. "We were learning about Jesus' baptism in Sunday School. The teacher asked the class who was baptized, and all the other kids raised their hands. I want to be baptized too."

Using her best pastoral care tone of voice, she said, "Cameron, do you really want to be baptized because everyone else is?" His freckles winked up at her and he replied, "No. I want to be baptized because it means I belong to God." 

She was touched by his understanding. "Well, then," she said, "How about this Sunday?" His smile turned to concern and he asked, "Do I have to be baptized in front of all those people in the church? Can't I just have a friend baptize me in the river?" She asked where he came up with that idea. "Well, Jesus was baptized by his cousin John in a river, wasn't he?" 

Caught off guard, she conceded, "You have a point. But, if a friend baptized you in the river, how would the church recognize it?" Realizing this was a teachable moment, she climbed up on her foot stool to reach for her Presbyterian Book of Order that was located on the highest shelf. But before she placed her hand on the book, he responded. 

"I guess by my new way of living" he said. 

She nearly fell off the foot stool and left the Book of Order on the shelf. Cameron's understanding was neither childish nor simple. It was profound. Baptism calls us to a new way of living. 

From a sermon by Sarah Jo Sarchet preached at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago
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 Knowing the Secret Right from the Start 

In Princeton, New Jersey, there is a legendary tale about the eminent scientist Albert Einstein walking in front of a local inn and being mistaken for a bell boy by a dowager who had just arrived in a luxury sedan. She orders him to carry her luggage into the hotel, and, according to the story, Einstein does so, receives a small tip, and then continues on to his office to ponder the mysteries of the universe. True or not, the story is delightful, precisely because we savor from the beginning a secret the dowager does not know: the strange-looking, ruffled little man is the most celebrated intellect of our time. Some stories gain their power from our knowing the story's secret from the start.

The Gospel of Mark is just such a story. The secret of Mark's Gospel is the identity of Jesus Christ. In the very first sentence of the Gospel story, Mark lifts the veil and lets us know the secret when he says that this is "... the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." Jesus is the Son of God, that's the secret, and lest we miss it, this hidden truth is confirmed in the story's opening episode, when Jesus, coming up out of the waters of baptism, sees the Holy Spirit descending upon him like a dove from the heavens, which have been torn open like a piece of cloth, and hears the very voice of God telling the secret: "Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased" (Mark 1:11). Only Jesus sees the Spirit; only Jesus hears the voice. This is, in the words of one commentator, "a secret epiphany." 

Thomas G. Long, Shepherds and Bathrobes, CSS Publishing Company
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 Pain Is Part of Baptism 

Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was a very devout Roman Catholic evangelist. One of the stories that grew out of his ministry concerns a time when he was baptizing new converts in a river. He would wade out waist-deep into the water and call out for new Christians to come to him, one by one, to receive the sacrament.

Once he baptized a mountain chieftain. Saint Patrick was holding a staff in his hands as the new converts made their way into the water. Unfortunately, as he was lowering the chief down under the water three times, he also pressed his staff down into the river bottom. 

Afterwards the people on the riverbank noticed their chief limp back to shore. Someone explained to Patrick that, as he pressed the wooden staff into the riverbed, he must have also bruised the foot of the chief. Patrick went to the chief at once and asked, "Why did you not cry out when I stuck you in the foot?"

Surprised the chief answered, "I remembered you telling us about the nails in the cross, and I thought my pain was part of my baptism."

 When I read that I could not but think how many of us would have been baptized if we knew pain was a part of the process. 

Traditional
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 There Are Many Paths to God and Sainthood
Once upon a time long ago a young man decided to become a saint. He left his home, family, and possessions and journeyed into the hot sands of the desert where he eventually found a dark cave. He thought, "I can find God here. I will be alone and nothing will disturb me." He prayed day and night in the cave, but God sent him many temptations. He imagined all the good things in life and wanted them desperately, but he was determined to give up everything and be with God alone. After many months, the temptations stopped and the young man was alone with God.

Then one day God called to him, "Leave your cave and go to a distant town. Look for the local shoemaker. Knock on his door and stay with his family for a few days." The holy hermit was puzzled by God's request, but nonetheless left the next morning. He walked across the desert sands and by nightfall had reached the village. He found a small house, knocked on the door and was greeted with a smile and a welcome. The hermit inquired if the man was the local shoemaker. Hearing that he was, the hermit was pleased, but the shoemaker, seeing that the hermit was tired and hungry invited him in to stay. The hermit was given a hearty meal and a clean place to sleep. The hermit stayed with the shoemaker and his family for three days. The two men talked quite a bit and the hermit learned much about the shoemaker, but he revealed little about himself, even though the family was quite curious about him.

Then after three days the hermit said good-bye to the shoemaker and his family and walked back across the desert to his cave, wondering all the while why God had sent him on this mission. When he arrived back at the cave, God questioned the hermit. "What was the shoemaker like?" The hermit answered, "He is a simple man; they have a small home. He has a wife and a baby. They seem to love each other greatly. He has a small shop where he makes shoes. He works very hard and makes very little, but he still gives money and food to those who are less fortunate. He and his wife pray each day; they have lots of friends." God listened to the hermit and replied, "You will be a great saint, as you wish, but the shoemaker and his family will be great saints as well."

The legend of Saint Antony of the Desert describes what sainthood is all about, namely leading a life of holiness...