A Bible Reading: Matthew 3. 11 – 17 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
I am not one for New Year’s Resolutions, mainly because I know these are promises I am unlikely to keep. They will be no more than good intentions, which will have already fallen by the wayside a week or two into January.
Last Sunday, David was talking about the baptism of Jesus by John in the river Jordan. He reminded us of our own baptism and the promises that were made. If we were baptized as infants, these promises were made on our behalf and we then reaffirmed them at Confirmation. If we were baptized as adults, we made the promises for ourselves. The three promises are:
Minister: Do you turn to Christ?
Reply: I turn to Christ.
Minister: Do you repent of your sins?
Reply: I repent of my sins.
Minister: Do you renounce evil?
Reply: I renounce evil.
The second two promises align with John’s baptism of repentance, turning away from wrongdoing and renouncing evil. However, our baptism also involves not only turning away from sin and evil but also turning towards Christ, our role model and the perfecter of our faith. The children illustrated this well on Sunday by creating two flags, one representing evil and one representing good. The ‘evil’ flag included the obvious things like murder, hatred and greed, but it also included more subtle things like selfishness, unkindness and spiteful words. The ‘good’ flag was filled with all the qualities we find in the person of Jesus, love, peace, gentleness, kindness, patience, and so on. The two flags were placed at the front, one on each side of the church, to give a sense of turning away from one standard towards the other. So far so good!
However, Jesus recognizes our lack of ability to live up to these promises despite our best intentions. Unlike John’s baptism, Jesus also gives us the Holy Spirit to enable us to keep them. The Holy Spirit fills us with the desire, the determination and the power to make good choices.
Why not reaffirm your own baptism promises again now, and ask the Holy Spirit to help you keep making godly choices day by day.
Breathe on me, breathe of God,
fill me with life anew,
that I may love what thou wouldst love,
and so what thou wouldst do. Amen.
Breathe on me, breath of God by Edwin Hatch (1835 – 1889)