January: Drawing Others to Christ

January: Drawing Others to Christ

Baptism of Jesus

Sunday 7 January 2024

Mark 1:4-11

Mark launches right in to ‘the good news of Jesus Christ’ and takes as the starting point Jesus’ baptism by John. Over the centuries Christians have been asking the question, ‘Why did Jesus, so sincere and loving, need to be baptised?’ John called people to repentance. To admit their sins and make a new start. How did Jesus fit into that picture?

Although there was a history of baptism among the Jews, it was not a widespread practice. Some sects used one or more baptisms as ritual cleansing prior to initiations into various levels of their religious communities. However, the most common practice of baptism was for converts from paganism to the Jewish faith. Baptism was the preliminary rite of purification for pagans. Such creatures needed washing and cleansing before they could be initiated into the Jewish community.

Against that background, John called on his fellow Jews to repent and be baptised. That is, he classified the chosen race as being as polluted as the pagans. They needed washing in body, mind, and spirit, if they were to have a place in the coming kingdom of God.

All this would have been highly offensive to good Jews.

Some common interpretations are offered for Jesus’ baptism: there is the idea that Jesus was born complete: perfectly good and completely wise. Like us but not one of us. Jesus, by seeking baptism was just doing the right thing in the eyes of the watching public. A valid public relations exercise.

Others suggest Jesus wanted the common people to accept him as one beside them, not standing over them. So baptism is an act of loving identification with common humanity.

But how about the idea that Jesus was baptised alongside the common human herd, because he was one of us and saw himself as one of us? He did not play the role of being a human being; he was one. His dipping in the river is him wanting to do the right thing in God’s eyes.

It should not surprise us at all, that Jesus was there that day by the Jordan sharing baptism with repentant souls. In fact, if he invites people like you and me to share bread and drink at his own table (and he certainly does that!) then his baptism is wonderfully in character.

Epiphany 2

Sunday 14 January 2024

John 1:43-51

This week we skip over to John’s gospel for a story of Jesus calling his first disciples. This is a good reading for the season of Epiphany because it is about people making a breakthrough discovery on the identity of Jesus and passing the news along. Philip first tells Nathanael, who is dismissive with the well-known inquiry ‘can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ (or NSW, or any other place deemed to be insignificant in the grand scheme of things…). But Philip invites Nathanael to find out for himself – to have his own epiphany – and simply says ‘Come and see!’ Seeing is believing? But even here Jesus is ahead of Nathanael and lets him know that he [Jesus] has seen him [Nathanael]

(under the fig tree and from a distance). Nathanael then makes a great declaration of faith.

I think an epiphany is having our eyes opened and being able to see things more clearly than ever before. Later in John’s gospel (chap.12) Philip is again in the action when some Greeks came to him and said, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ It is another reference in John’s writings to Jesus interacting with non-Jews. It is also another great theme of Epiphany – that God’s salvation is made known fully to those who previously were outside the possibility of inclusion in the story of God’s people. Jesus Christ came into the world so that those who cannot see may see, and those who see may become blind. ‘He who has eyes to see, let him see, and he who has ears to hear, let him hear!’

Epiphany 3

Sunday 21 January 2024

Mark 1: 14-20

‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news’. (Mark 1:15)

This surely is a reading for us in the UCA in 2024! Without doubt, and based on all the research and evidence, our church is at a Kairos moment; a brief window of opportunity, possibly only a few years at the most, in which to turn the church around, i.e. ‘to repent and believe’.

To repent is another way of saying, ‘Face reality and change decisively!’

To believe is another way of saying, ‘Trust God and risk all!’

Although this is an Epiphany reading, I believe we are standing at the edge of Pentecost and that growth and change are possible. According to Latin American missiologist Orlando Costas there are four features:

‘numerical’ growth; ‘organic’ growth – organisation and structure are adaptable to Church’s context and the movement of the Spirit; ‘conceptual’ growth – theological, emotional and spiritual development go together with numerical increase; ‘incarnational’ growth – the degree to which the church is prophetically engaging the world through prayer, action, and solidarity with powerless and marginalized.

We stand on the edge of sparkling possibilities. We must change direction, act decisively, and risk all. That is what repentance and faith are all about.

Epiphany 4

Sunday 28 January 2024

Mark 1: 21-28

Jesus has been baptised, tempted in the wilderness, gathered his disciples, announced that the kingdom is near and now in the synagogue at Capernaum he astounds the congregation because he ‘taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes’. But this is not just in his teaching, but in his action of casting out the unclean spirit of a man in the congregation. The crowd was amazed, and his fame begins to spread. If we have observed above that ‘seeing is believing’, then perhaps this week we are at the point of ‘actions speak louder than words’.

So, does Jesus’ authority come from his words, or from the fact that he seems to back up what he is saying with the demonstration of power over the unclean spirit?

How do I, by my actions, draw others closer to Christ?

Perhaps what gives my preaching ‘authority’ is when I have spent enough time at the hospital bedside of a person who needs my care and presence. It is being authentic in practicing what I preach, in walking the talk. It is being the loving presence of Christ to those in need.

Rev. Dr Katalina Tahaafe-Williams


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