Tag Archives: baptism

All Aboard – session 3

Having considered the foundations and building blocks of ‘church’, we changed tack (to maintain the nautical theme) and looked at interior decoration – how we might inhabit the (spiritual) building and make it our own.

Clare told us of her experience of a ‘Ministry Enablers’ conference which she attended last summer in the Diocese of Auckland, New Zealand. There, stipendiary (paid) ministers do not have particular parish responsibilities but are mentors/consultants to those who have been called out of their local communities to be priests, deacons, pastors, evangelists, catechists and administrators. If a church community cannot find 6 people within the local community to fulfil each of these roles, then they are considered not to be a church but a mission field.

Our God is an enabling God. He gives us the tools and resources we need to be His Church but we have to recognise His call and be generous in our use of our gifts and talents.

We spent some time individually considering how we are uniquely gifted and called by God and how He has shaped our lives. God shapes each one of us (through Scripture) into his likeness and we pray that this course will shape our future ministry. All are made in the image of God but our ‘shape’ is not fixed, nor is it a product of chance. Rather we can choose to work with God in shaping our lives through

Spiritual gifts – everyone has gifts
Heart’s desire – what motivates, excites me
Abilities – talents, gifts, skills; God given and to be used
Personality – unique
Experience – life throws lots of different experiences at me

Everyone is commissioned for ministry at their baptism, just as Jesus was. Each is commissioned to ‘Shine as a light in the world’

I am called to prayer and worship – ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart….’

I am called to service – ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’

When I identify where God ties in with my personal story and share it with someone else, that is evangelism.

Looking at Scripture helps us to discern our shape and we looked at eight short passages from the New Testament and tried to summarise them from our own point of view. The table below shows the verses on the left and a suggested summary on the right. The ‘I’ statements make particularly powerful reading and emphasise how each individual Christian is called to ministry and service.

Ephesians 2.10
“For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
I’ve been created to serve God.
Galatians 1.15“But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace..” I’ve been uniquely chosen
1 Peter 4.10“Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” I’ve been given a gift to use in serving others
Matthew 28.18-19“And Jesus came and said to them ‘All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” Jesus commissions me as his disciple
Ephesians 4.11-12“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” My gifts are to equip myself and others for ministry
1 Corinthians 12.17,18,27“If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose… Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it…” God has placed me here for a purpose and the Church needs me. Everyone’s ministry is equally important.
Romans 14.10, 12“Why do you pass judgement on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we all stand before the judgement seat of God.. So then, each of us will be accountable to God.” I’m accountable to God for how I use my life (and must not judge others)
Colossians 3.23-24“Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ.” I do it for Christ and not to impress other people.

 

 

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The Baptism of Christ

The power of water has been much in the news recently: storms, wind and rain, high tides, floods, people swept away to their deaths, dramatic rescues in the night. There have been stunning photographs of waves smashing against piers and promenades: the power of water to damage and destroy.  On 6th December the sea wall at Shingle Street was breached – maybe you saw the large gap before it was quickly repaired. Only a few nights earlier, some of us had attended a fascinating local farm update at Boyton and heard about the effect on the sea walls of over-topping. If you have visited Shingle Street recently – or made repeat visits over a period of time – the effect of the sea on the shingle – how it moves and reshapes the banks – is very obvious. Here at the mouth of the Deben, sailors know that the water can alter the underwater landscape dramatically and dangerously.

Many people support Water Aid and other charities who seek to provide clean water for drinking. Water has not only the power to give life but also the power to bring disease and death when it is dirty or contaminated. And we have the power to help bring clean water to third-world communities.

For the Orthodox Church, the baptism of Christ is the foremost story of Epiphany, rather than the visit of the wise men. If you google Orthodox Epiphany images, you see photos of people plunging into icy water in cross-shaped holes in the ice. In some places, Orthodox priests cast crosses and icons into the waters of lake or sea to bless the waters of the earth, and people dive in to retrieve the precious symbols. There is something very elemental about engaging with water in this way; something very different from a traditional Church of England baptism with a small amount of clean and often warm water sprinkled on a baby’s head.

Down at Bawdsey Ferry on New Year’s Day, the 5th New Year’s Day swim took place. People plunged into the chilly waters of the Deben not for religious reasons but for fun and/or in aid of charity.

Entering into the water of baptism is a death of the old self (Romans 6.1-5). Those who enter into icy waters to celebrate the Baptism of Christ are putting themselves in danger – it brings the death closer to home and includes a very real element of risk. The popularity of mid-winter ‘dips’ seems to suggest that we humans have a need to undergo a symbolic death, dying to the old year and rising to the new even if there is no acknowledgement of an element of faith.

Which brings us to the question of what does our baptism mean to us? What lengths are we prepared to go to affirm our commitment to Christ? Would we be willing to dive through a cross-shaped hole in the ice? Or immerse ourselves in the waters of the Deben or the North Sea? Would it be too much to ask when you think of what Christ has done for us? In response to the love of God?

Contrast the benign, cosy feeling we usually get when we think of the water of baptism, with the force of the waves that have been challenging these islands in recent weeks. These waves have got past our defences, and battered and changed the shape of the edges of our island.
Using the images of the storms as symbols of the power of baptism – how does baptism get past our defences and change the shape of who we are?

Those who, like Jesus, are baptised in natural water – river, sea or lake – will also be aware of the fact that the water of baptism is not always clean or crystal clear. It may be muddy, harbouring harmful organisms and the risk of disease. The waters Jesus was baptised in would have been murky – what does this say to us about the life of those who are baptised. Jesus was immersing himself in the muddy, murky reality of our human lives; subjecting himself to the same risks. And we who are baptised know that baptism is not about living happily ever after. It’s about engaging with reality; putting ourselves at risk; sticking our necks out.

There was a time in the history of the Christian church when people would postpone being baptised for as long as possible – if possible until just before their death so that they could be cleansed from all sin at baptism and have the smallest possible opportunity to commit new sins before they died! Of course, once we are baptised we are not immune from committing sins – if anything we become more aware of the sins we do commit and how far short we fall from what God asks of us. But baptism isn’t a one-off event for us anymore than it was for Jesus. For us, as the introduction to the baptism service reminds us, it marks the beginning of a journey with God which will last a lifetime and beyond. It is a new start but it doesn’t mean that we can’t wipe the slate clean again and again.

Jesus’ baptism marked the beginning of his public ministry. As Christians we are baptised into his life and into his death, but also into his ministry. Jesus received that wonderful affirmation, the declaration of his Father’s love and support. That same affirmation awaits each one of us, not just at our baptism but every single day, to equip us, to empower us.

For God says to each one of us, as he did to Jesus: ‘You are my beloved child; I love you’ What does that feel like? Listen to those words for a moment or two….. God says ‘You are my beloved child; I love you’……

That is the authority, the power that is available to each one of us – to everyone who is baptised; not just clergy or elders or readers, but to each and every baptised Christian.
It is the only commission and authority you need not only to be a disciple of Jesus Christ but a minister of the gospel too. And over the coming months we will need to explore afresh how we exercise that ministry within the communities in which we live and work and spend our leisure time, both on an individual basis but also together as Christ’s ears and hands and voice in this place.