Sunday 3 January 2021 -The world has changed
Opening words Genesis 1:1-5
Hymn 691 This is the day.
This the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. We are the family of God. And are called by God’s name. We are heirs of Christ’s kingdom. And born of the Spirit. Let us, therefore, come together in thanksgiving. Amen.
Lord God, giver of light and life, by your word you bring everything into being – the far-flung galaxies and the tiniest atomic particle. You have given us a world to enjoy and to care for. Give us compassion in the use of its resources, wisdom in our stewardship of your gifts, and reverence for all that you have made – for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Psalm 29 Acts 19.1-7 Mark 1.4-11
Hymn 1008 The Lords my shepherd
Today we are just 3 days into a new year and many of us are glad to see the back of the last one, for it changed our world beyond recognition. Those things we took for granted, like nipping down the to the shop, going round to see people, sitting together and laughing and talking, all gone from us. There is a barrier of fear and the mask now which makes it impossible to be as we were with others. For their safety we stand apart now.
As I alluded to last week, there was a barrier between God and us, when He banished us from the Garden of Eden, but at His death, at the very moment He shouted ‘it is finished’ the curtain in the temple, (the barrier) was torn in two from the top to the bottom. From the top to the bottom. God torn down the barrier separating us and Him. Jesus opened the way for a new relationship with His father, our Father. We now all benefit from this new relationship, which means each of us can access God directly and for ourselves. It was and is a new beginning.
I wonder how many of you on Thursday night, made new year resolutions, even more I wonder how many of you are still keeping them. But what is more important at the start of the new year is your commitment to God. Did you commit yourself to God/Jesus on Thursday night?
The Methodist Covenant service begins the new year with words of total commitment to God: ‘I am no longer my own, but yours’. Can we really say that and mean that as we go into 2021? At this service and at this time, we come to rededicate ourselves to God in this place and at this time and for the year ahead. We need to walk for God in 2021 and walk with Him – I quote from Viv’s post in the WhatsApp group – which I loved and fitted so well, I was preparing this as it came through.
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
We have seen in our readings today that God created and without Him was not anything created that was created, He is the light that shone to bring about the world, He sent His son to be that same light to us. But even so at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, he went to be baptised by John, his cousin. Many have asked ‘why?’ for if Jesus was perfect why did He need to be baptised by the one who was unworthy to tie and untie his shoes. Jesus was baptised because He wanted to identify with people, He wanted to say that what John was doing was the right thing. We are called to be baptised, not with water, for this is only an outward sign, but by the Spirit, the unseen, yet that which fills our lives and shapes who and what we are and will become.
John’s mission was to prepare the way for the Lord – to create the circumstances in which change could happen. He built a group of people whose lives were oriented towards the promise of a new future, ready and waiting for Jesus. His call was to the steady, patient work of preparation, laying the foundations for all that Jesus would do. Do we value his work highly enough? Do we value our own work enough when it does not lead to immediate change but demands steady, patient commitment to preparation, as we wait to see what God is going to do?
The gift of the Spirit kick-started Jesus’ ministry, leading him to preach and teach and challenge injustice wherever he found it. For the converts in Ephesus too, the Spirit led them to prophesy, to speak out to their community. What changes do we think the Spirit invites us to bring about in the community we serve during this year?
Mark announces his Gospel as ‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ (v.1). He sets the scene for transformation by telling the story of John the Baptist, who fulfils Isaiah’s prophecy and makes the preparations. These are impressive in themselves. Mark describes crowds of people thronging from all directions to find John in the desert and seek his baptism. But this is only the prologue. John’s ministry reaches its climax with the announcement of the one who will baptize with water and the Holy Spirit – and then Jesus appears.
The whole passage centres on new beginnings. The first sentence of the Gospel spells out the way in which the world is entirely changed, now that Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, is present. Mark goes on to describe the ways in which this new life is made real. People are offered the opportunity for a fresh start. The Greek word usually translated ‘repentance’ (v.4) carries the sense of ‘a change of mind’ or ‘a change of heart’. It relates far more to the promise of a new future than to mulling over the sins of the past. But this is only stage one of the new life into which God invites us. We then have to walk with God for the rest of our lives. Climb every mountain from the Sound of Music still brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it. For it calls us to carry on and to keep on striving until we find our dream,
A dream that will need All the love you can give Every day of your life For as long as you live
Climb every mountain Ford every stream Follow every rainbow 'Till you find your place
The baptism of Jesus is also a moment of new beginning. Though there is nothing for Jesus to repent of (see Matthew 3.14), this is a new stage in his life too, as he moves away from the hidden years in Nazareth and begins his active ministry. At his baptism, God does something amazing for God’s Spirit comes powering through, like a descending dove. The world is indeed changed and those who experience Jesus’ baptism in the Spirit will begin to discover what that means.
That is you and I, we who have experienced the life changing power of the Holy Spirit living in us will never be the same again, the moment we were filled was a new start, but the journey is still hard and long, what ever your mountains and streams are, we have to continue to climb and ford and follow Jesus, allow Him to guide us until we reach our place of peace. Maria was sent back to find her future, and find it she did, we too are called to a future, let us today at the beginning of a new year recommit and dedicate ourselves to God to be used in His kingdom here in this place now and forever.
Pause for thought!
The year is like a blank canvas – what would you draw on this canvas? What are your hopes for this year?
Hymn 50 Be still
1&2 Lord God, how awesome you are. Your voice is powerful and majestic. 1 Once, the earth was without shape. 2 Dark and empty. 1&2 Then you spoke, awesome God. 1 And light shone. 2 You separated the light from the darkness. 1&2 The whole world changed. 1 You later sent your Son, Jesus. 2 To live and walk among us on the earth. 1 His ministry heralded by John the Baptist. 2 Who baptized Jesus in the Jordan. 1&2 The whole world changed. 1 The sky split open. 2 And your Holy Spirit came down like a dove. 1&2 Then you spoke, awesome God. And continue to speak today through your Holy Spirit. All Majestic, awesome, all-powerful God, we adore your holy name. Amen.
Lord, when you came into the world, things changed. When we came into a relationship with you, things changed. Life became filled with a new sense of purpose and peace. But, Lord, sometimes we let you down by doing wrong things or failing to do right things. We are sorry, Lord.
Sometimes, Lord, through pride, stubbornness or fear we build barriers and keep others at arm’s length – even you, Lord. We are sorry, Lord.
At times we give in to our weaknesses and temptations, failing to draw on your strength. At times we are troubled by difficult