What the world needs now.

Sermon for the 1st Sunday after Epiphany – The Baptism of our Lord.

Bible readingMark 1:9-11

A few years into the Vietnam War, and two years after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, one of the most popular songs of last century hit the charts in 1965:

What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
It’s the only thing that there’s too little of,
What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
No, not just for some, but for everyone.

And if the world needed love then, it needs it more than ever now. From the Middle East, to the average home of Adelaide, there seems to be too little love. But is that true?

If God is love, and God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him should not die but have eternal life, how can we say there’s too little love? There is plenty of love. God has enough love for the whole world. God didn’t just love some, but everyone. Everyone who believes in God should not die, for lack of love,but have eternal life, filled with love for God and for one another.

And that’s how we find our world. Turned away from God’s love. … There’s plenty of love, yet people are starved of love.

From Eden on, people have turned away from the love of God, to find love elsewhere. Always without success. God is love. Love comes from God. (see 1 John 4) To look for love anywhere but in God is to seek in vain, to find nothing more than “clayton’s love”, to be left disappointed and ultimately cynical. Sin is the rejection of divine love, turning away from a relationship of love with God.

And that’s how we find our world. Turned away from God’s love. Not believing there is a God of love. Not loving God. Struggling to love their partners in marriage, their neighbours, their enemies. There’s plenty of love, yet people are starved of love. It’s crazy!

But God is filled with love for the world. He loves the world so much he sends his dearly loved Son into the world, to become one of us. And finally his Son grows up and joins the crowds flocking to the Jordan for Baptism, not because he needed baptism, but because we loved-starved ones do. And God his Father spoke to him at his Baptism.

What did God his Father say to Jesus at his baptism?

You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.

What a wonderful way to speak to your Son. These are the first words the Bible records the heavenly Father speaking to Jesus his Son, on earth, and they are words of love and affirmation: You are my Son … I love you … I am very pleased with you. At his Baptism, and launch of his ministry, the Father makes quite clear that Jesus is his Son, that he loves Jesus, that he’s proud as punch of him.

The love the Father has for Jesus, Jesus passes on to us.

Isn’t it good when we hear a Father telling his Son how much he loves him and how proud he is of him? But there’s more. Jesus says: As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. The love the Father has for Jesus, Jesus passes on to us. Through Jesus we are drawn into this relationship of love between the Father and the Son. But there’s more:

Jesus goes on to say that: those who love me will be loved by my Father. As the Holy Spirit softens our hearts to love Jesus, the Son, God the Father also loves us.

What a breakthrough! So many people only see God as angry, punishing, judging. They think Jesus seems quite friendly, but not God his Father. They like the God of the New Testament, but not the God of the Old Testament. Yet both are the same. The love of Father & Son is the same.

In some churches this Sunday (the Baptism of our Lord) is Baptism Sunday. Elsie never liked Baptism Sunday, but because she was such a committed Christian she endured it. What made it worse this Sunday was that somebody had taken her seat – probably some of the families of those to be baptized.

Elsie’s church had a custom that after the baptism, the pastor would take the newly baptized infant to a member of the congregation to hold as the pastor prayed for the child.

This day the pastor headed strait to Else and to her dread gave her the infant to hold. That week Elsie visited the pastor to explain why she was so uneasy on Baptism Sunday. She’d fallen pregnant at 16. Her father pulled her out of school on the pretext that she was needed on the farm. When the baby was born it was not well. She did not call the pastor for fear he would condemn her. She did not have the baby baptized. The child died at 14 days. After all these years she still worried about it. Every Baptism Sunday drove her to sorrow and guilt.

The pastor used the Baptism of Jesus to explain how loving God is. As Jesus came out of the water …

he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven saying: You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.

God takes dramatic measures to drive home to us how much he loves us. He tears open the heavens; he tears open the temple curtain.

Only in one other place does Mark tell us anything is torn apart. That is when the curtain of the temple is torn apart at the death of Christ, showing that through Jesus we have access to the love and mercy of God. God takes dramatic measures to drive home to us how much he loves us. He tears open the heavens; he tears open the temple curtain. Through it he shouts: I love you …I love you …I love you.

Is something holding you back from hearing and experiencing God’s love for you? Something you’ve done long ago, or been told long ago by a pastor or parent or teacher?

God tears open the heavens, and the temple curtains, to shout: I love you… I forgive you.

In a world of voices shouting: you’re no good… you’re not worthy… you’re a failure…you’re a sinner… God breaks open the heavens to tell his own Son how loved and precious he is – and his only Son loves you the same way. See the way Jesus treated all the people he met in his ministry; see how Jesus loved even his enemies as he died for all our sins on the cross; see how Jesus came to you in your baptism and welcomed you into his family of love; taste how Jesus still comes giving his body and blood in the Lord’s Supper.

You can breath in his love, and go out to love your neighbour as you love yourself.

Remember how Jesus said: love your neighbour as you love yourself? Because God and His Son Jesus love you so much, and are pleased with you, you can be pleased with yourself, you can accept yourself, you can love yourself. You don’t have to walk around as a miserable sinner, burdened down with guilt, despising yourself. In Christ, God loves you and forgives you and renews the image of God in you. You can breath in his love, and go out to love your neighbour as you love yourself.

All around you sit people who are equally loved by God, and Jesus says about them: love one another as I have loved you. (You might even want to glance at one of them now!) And Jesus said that because God is totally loving and compassionate we can go even further and love our enemies, those who for whatever reason have no time for us. And finally, when God opens our ears to hear his love, and our eyes to see it, and our hearts to receive it, His Spirit will move us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

In God, the world has all the love it needs. Through God’s love breaking into the world in Jesus there is enough love to go around, not just for some, but for everyone. Amen.

 

 

 

 

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