Sunday Worship, 9 January 2022

Welcome

Because God was merciful, he saved us through the water of rebirth and the renewing power of the Holy Spirit, which he lavished upon us through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Titus 3: 5

Hymn 636 Baptised in water

Opening Prayer

God of love,

We bring you our thanks for all your goodness to us:

 for food, and shelter,

 for freedom, and fun,

  laughter and memories

 and all that makes life special.

We thank you for the care and guiding of our families

 for the support and encouragement of our friends

 for the care and concern they have shown

 the pain, trouble and worry they are prepared to accept

  because they love us

Give us the grace we need always to appreciate your gifts

 to celebrate and give thanks for all your goodness

 and to see in others both the reflection of your image

  and one whom you love so much

Through Christ our Lord we pray. Amen

All age time (for ages 0-100)

A couple of months ago our younger grandson was baptised. It had had to be postponed because of Covid, so he was aged two and a bit, and instead of being in Dumbarton it was in his ‘other grandparents’’ church in Derbyshire – a Church of England church. After he had been baptised the vicar gave him (or to be precise his mum) a candle, with the instruction to light it on his birthday and on the anniversary of his baptism. I don’t expect many (if any) to remember our baptism, but I wonder how many of us can even remember the date of our baptism.

It isn’t part of our tradition to give people candles when they are baptised, but different churches have different traditions associated with baptism, and some change over time. At one time, before people had cars, it was common for baptisms to take place at home; some churches baptise children and young people as well as adults, some only adults; some require parents to attend church every week for several weeks before the baptism, others say that isn’t feasible with small children, shift working etc; and some parents like to have lots of family and friends at the baptism, while others like to keep the number of guests fairly small.

Whatever the practice, the idea behind baptism is the same; doing what Jesus did in the River Jordan at the start of his ministry, and doing what Jesus told his disciples to do after Easter. It was to be a sign, but also more than a sign, of someone becoming part of Jesus’ family through Jesus. God doesn’t love us any less if we aren’t baptised, nor are we any less part of his family. But when we are baptised we know, and everyone else knows, that God loves us and includes us in his family.

Hymn 641 Seek ye first

Bible reading

Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22

Reflection    

All four Gospel writers start their story of Jesus’ ministry by the River Jordan, where John the Baptist was baptising. Matthew, Mark and Luke refer to Jesus’ own baptism, John doesn’t. As the First Century progressed, the church began to find that the story was used by its critics – followers of John the Baptist (of whom there seems to have been a collection in the territory near Ephesus), and orthodox Jews – to challenge its claims that Jesus was the perfect sacrifice offered to God for the forgiveness of humankind. The critics argued that if John was calling on people to repent of their sins and be baptised as a sign of their change of heart, and Jesus was baptised too, then he must have needed to repent, so he must have been a sinner, so he couldn’t be the perfect sacrifice. The church’s reply was that in baptism Jesus was identifying with all humanity, Luke implies that after Jesus was baptised the whole practice of baptism in the Jordan was brought to an end – and John just omitted it!

Referring back to Sammy’s baptism last Autumn, some of you heard that I was invited to take part in the service – not conduct the actual baptism, but lead most of the service, and conduct the two anointings with oil. Anointing with oil isn’t part of Church of Scotland custom, so I’d never done it before, but it is part of some other church traditions. I presume {and I say ‘presume’ because even the vicar wasn’t sure about the theory behind it) that it based on the ancient Jewish practice found in, for example, the consecration of Aaron as High Priest or David as king: it symbolised someone being empowered by God’s Spirit to do the work for which God appointed them. Jesus wasn’t anointed with oil at his baptism, but he was anointed by the Spirit – and so we call him the Messiah or the Christ, words which mean ‘anointed’ in Hebrew and Greek.

Just as we don’t do candles at baptism, in the Church of Scotland we don’t do anointing with oil, but we do (along with other church traditions) recognise that an important part of the ‘something more than a sign’ of baptism is acknowledging that God’s Spirit is ready to work in and through that person to help them to be more Christ-like and to work to create the world that God wants to see. There is a lovely irony in the story told in today’s Epistle Lectionary reading from the Book of Acts. Peter is in Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast, a Roman officer and his household become Christians, they receive the Spirit and Peter says, ‘Well, I suppose I’d better baptise you now that you’ve received the Spirit.’  Then he has to go to Jerusalem to explain himself to the church authorities there: it was supposed to be baptism then receiving the Spirit, not the other way round. But God messed it up, because he didn’t stick to the church’s rules. You can almost picture the smile on God’s face at these churchmen getting into such a tizz.

The Bible presents a number of different pictures of the way the Spirit works:

  • dove   – gentle, comforting, reassuring
  • fire      – bringing warmth and comfort; providing clear light in the darkness; a blazing furnace that purifies and consumes all the rubbish and dross
  • wind   – the gentle breeze that brings comfort on a hot, humid day; that clears away mist or smog, bringing clear, fresh air into individual and church lives; but can also be a raging hurricane. Today’s Psalm reading from the Lectionary is Psalm 29: it describes such a wind tearing through the forests of the Lebanon mountains, uprooting trees, shredding the mighty and ancient cedars

God gives us his Spirit to do all these things.

2022 is going to be a challenging year not only for our congregations, but for the wider church (and not just in Scotland):

  • Covid has impacted on our finances. Our membership has been very generous in continuing to make offerings, though some have found themselves in the position of having reduced income, or even losing their jobs. We have also been warned that the cost of living will increase significantly this year. Meanwhile many hall lets have not come back, and it has not been possible to do most of the fund-raising things we used to do
  • the Dumbarton Linkage will become vacant in the summer, joining Arrochar and Luss, Lomond and Kilmaronock Gartocharn, Helensburgh Rhu and Shandon, Duntocher Trinity, Clydebank Waterfront and Dalmuir Barclay, Clydebank Kilbowie St Andrews and Radnor Park. It will be hard to find Interim Moderators, let alone locums or even people to lead services on an occasional basis. Congregations may be asked to plan and lead more services themselves
  • the Presbytery Mission Plan will be published later in the year. It will see the number of ministries in Clyde Presbytery cut drastically: maybe 31 full-time ministers of word and sacrament plus 9 staff like Marie Claire and Maureen, in place of the current 59.8 posts
  • meanwhile we are called by God to share his love and Good News with those around us, not to spend all our time thinking about how we organise ourselves. Something like 90%+ of the population of Dumbarton do not engage with any church, and probably the vast majority have little or no knowledge of Jesus, God or the Christian story. Meanwhile a high proportion of the town’s population are experiencing poverty, loneliness, mental health issues etc. The West Kirk parish – despite containing Kirktonhill and Helenslee – is in the bottom 5% in Scotland for poverty. God wants us to go and engage with these people – they won’t come to us, we will have to go to them

2022 will be a challenging year, but God has given each of us, and the church collectively, the Spirit to help, guide and empower us. Sometimes the Spirit will be like a dove, gentle, comforting and encouraging us when things are tough. Sometimes it will be like a gentle breeze, bringing fresh air into our discussions, clearing away the fog so that we can see clearly the way forward. Sometimes it will be like a blazing fire or a raging wind, implementing change whether we like it or not: he isn’t bound by our rules, but we are bound by his.

Hymn 645 I’m not ashamed to own my Lord

Prayers for others

Gracious God

You have called us to be your children

 you have made us your own through Jesus

You have also called us to tasks that you have for us

 to share your love and Good News wherever we go

 to be examples to the world of how you would like it to be

 and you have given us your Spirit to help us to do these things

All too often we fall short

 help us to be open to your Spirit’s guiding and leading

we pray for all who are ill,

those who look after them

 and those who worry about them

those waiting for or receiving treatment

 and those for whom there is no treatment

those who are lonely, feeling down, or grieving a friend or loved one

those who are worried about home, work or money

 a friend or a relative

those who are living with the after-effects of natural disasters

those who do not have enough to eat, or somewhere to call home

those who long to live in peace and safety

those who have fled from their homes seeking safety

We pray for the Queen, the Government

 all in positions of leadership in this and every land

We pray for you church

 the worldwide church

 the wider church in Dumbarton

 our own congregation

help us always to be faithful to Jesus our Lord

We bring to you our prayers for people and situations of special concern to us

And we sum up our prayers in the words of the prayer Jesus gave us

Hymn 644: O Jesus I have promised

Blessing (3-fold Amen)

May the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ

shine in your hearts,

transform your lives,

and brighten the world

and the blessing of God Almighty

Father, Son and Holy Spirit

rest and remain with you

today, and every day, and for ever

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