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“Stewards of one another” – Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor

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Title: Stewards of one another

Preacher: Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor

Readings: Genesis 1:1-15, Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-11

Date: 7 January 2024, The Baptism of Christ


I wonder if you know where you were baptized. If you are not baptized there is still time by the way, please see us afterwards!

I wonder what we would find and what we would learn, if we went on a pilgrimage to the place of our baptism? This Cathedral Church is only here because of a baptism. In the year 627AD, Queen Ethelberga brought her husband, King Edwin to faith, he was converted to Christianity because of her, and was baptised somewhere near this site. York Minster is built on a baptism. We often celebrate St Paulinus who did the baptizing, but let’s not forget Queen Ethelberga who nurtured her husband in the faith and brought him to baptism.

If I journeyed back to my beginning as a Christian, I would need to go back to rural Shropshire, to the Church of St Leonard, in a place called Linley Brook.

The Church is a near complete, 12th century Norman building, at the end of a dirt track in the midst of a Lime tree wood.  I was baptized in a small round, Norman font, and in a file of papers and certificates at home I have the original baptism certificate which gives these instructions to those who took me to be baptized:

“This child has begun life as a Christian: and will need to be trained to pray and taught the Christian faith, and trained to Christian habits as soon as possible, they will need to be helped to know and understand the church’s catechism, encouraged to attend church by personal example, and brought to confirmation when the churches catechism is known and understood.”

The interesting thing about that list, is not one of those things were dependent on me. Other people were commissioned with doing the work for me!  You can decide if they succeeded! My beginnings in the faith, were dependent on someone else, my parents and godparents, the family of the church into which I was being incorporated. This is a good thing, because a three-month-old baby is pretty dependent upon others, as is anyone who begins their journey as a Christian person, whatever age they are. Even Kings cannot be baptized in their own strength.

It turns out the Christian faith needs people to pass it on… We cannot be a Christian on our own. We depend on our parents and godparents, we depend on being adopted into a new family, the church. We gain a whole new set of brothers and sisters, who are there to encourage, teach and nurture us. And like any family, annoy us, knock the rough edges off us, and burst the bubbles of our own self-importance.

Our faith, is then, dependent on the faith of others, as much as it’s dependent on our own. But we mustn’t forget that, our faith and theirs, is dependent on God’s grace, for without this we can do nothing.

When we are baptized, we become incorporated into God’s grace and God’s community in such a way that it empowers us to do what is impossible by our faith alone.  We realize that we are part of something bigger, that our faith, is kept by others, as much as it is kept by us. We are stewards of one another.

It’s perhaps no surprise, that Mark begins his gospel with a baptism. For him this is where the journey of the church begins. There are no mangers, or shepherds in his account. This is the moment, when Christ begins his ministry. For Mark, this is the nativity, this is the Epiphany. This baptism is the beginning- a new creation, the place where all our lives in Christ begin.

This is the moment when Jesus is revealed as the Son of God. This is the moment when Jesus accepts his destiny. But even Jesus could not do this on his own, he asks to be baptized by John the Baptist. It’s interesting isn’t it, that John felt unqualified, inadequate, not good enough to do this.

Jesus asks John to baptize him: even Jesus needed and accepted the ministry of another, even Jesus was dependent upon God’s faithfulness, God’s love, and his identity was revealed by the faith of those around him.

Every day we are called to put our life in God’s hands, we are called to trust in God, and trust that we are part of a family of faith that exists through time and space and networked across the globe, so that when we cannot pray, others are praying for us, when we doubt, others are believing for us, when we need support, others will hold us, and when we don’t know who we are any more, our identity is revealed by the faith of those around us.

In a family like this, on the days when we aren’t so sure what we believe, our faith is kept alive by them. They speak for us, they sing for us, they pray for us. Look around this church today, these are the people who keep your faith today, just as much as you do theirs.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that “A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses.”

It might be hard to grasp in our self-obsessed society, but your faith is not all about you.  My faith is not all about me. Once we step out on this journey, we become incorporated. Through baptism we all become kindred, and in this family, we are born not of blood, or by the will of the flesh, but of God.

There are moments on our journey when are called to stand up and affirm our baptismal faith for ourselves and remember it, by journeying back to the font, to the place of our baptism.  As we journey back to the waters of baptism today, we reflect on all those people who have brought us here, and helped us grow in faith, and live the Christian life. We have not come here in our own strength.

And as we reflect, we might realise that it is now our turn to keep the faith alive for those who cannot keep it for themselves, to share the faith with those who have not heard, to pray for others as they have prayed for us, and we can only carry out this commission, because we know that we too are completely dependent on God, who calls us, and names each one of us ‘beloved’.

May we be faithful to that calling and faithful to our baptism

through the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

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