In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.
God has come to bring peace into our lives, through Jesus. He has come to strengthen our hearts. God, our saviour has created and formed us. We need not fear, for we have been redeemed and called by name. We belong to God and Gods love for us, moved God to send Jesus to us.
These are words of hope for us.
God also sent John the Baptist to prepare the way for Jesus.
In todays gospel the people ponder in their hearts. Is John the Messiah? Is he the one to come?
John says no. I am but an unworthy servant. One who is greater than me will follow. I baptise with water but he will baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire and he will judge you.
John was a good servant of God but proclaiming the good news and confronting Herod over his relationship with his brothers wife led to John being imprisoned and later being beheaded. He took risks in his ministry and was outspoken.
While John was in prison, Jesus emerged from the crowds of people being baptised who gathered around the banks of the Jordan River. He was baptised like all the people.
Jesus was always praying to God. Prayer made him receptive and open to God. It is while he is praying that the heavens were opened and Holy Spirit came upon him shaped like a dove and a voice came from heaven said: "You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased."
What happened to Jesus must have moved him to the core. Must have transformed him in a mighty way and it seems that Luke has struggled to put such an encounter with God into words. But how can we ever fully understand what God has done for Jesus or what happened?
Luke seems to be very clear about Jesus sonship being mediated by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is anointed and empowered by the Holy Spirit for a ministry that has over the centuries drawn us all into a relationship with God. Where we have become Gods beloved children when we received the Holy Spirit through our baptism and confirmation, where we have been empowered for ministry in Jesus name. It is because of Jesus that each one of us belongs to Gods family and has become brothers and sisters in Christ, living together in this community.
Gods love for us inspires us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, to follow his example and live out his good news. Moves us to seek the truth, embrace it and live it out in our lives.
Which brings me to a story, I heard a few nights ago.
My husband and I were having dinner in a Greek restaurant with friends, Bill and Anna, and their two girls aged 9 and 11. They live in Asia. Bill spends a lot of time travelling for work and Anna has recently completed her PhD in education and is now a headmistress of an exclusive girls school.
Anna told us this story which left me feeling inspired and uncomfortable at the same time.
A few years ago the family were on holidays and were travelling through Cambodia. They visited a school for children from the rubbish dump. Children who work everyday sorting through the rubbish looking for bits and pieces worth recycling, who are often sold by their parents to criminals for prostitution and begging. The school does its best to educate the children and rescue them from a life of living off the rubbish heap or being sold.
When Anna was at the school she noticed a blackboard with the childrens dreams written on it. They dreamed of becoming teachers, doctors and nurses. Anna said to me she was deeply shocked: These are children with big dreams who have nothing. One of the children came up to her and asked her: Whats your dream? It threw her. She had to admit to the child: I dont have a dream.
Now she does. Every holiday Anna and Bill have been travelling to Cambodia to help build houses for people in villages with other volunteers for an organisation called the Tabitha Foundation which began in Canada. My understanding is that when a family wants a house built they need to raise about 10 per cent of the cost and Tabitha will fund the rest, while volunteers come from western countries to build the houses. Tabitha also employs people to make crafts to sell and the money goes towards improving peoples lives in villages in Cambodia.
This year Anna is travelling to a school in Cambodia for children who work on the rubbish dumps, with her two young daughters, to share her knowledge about education with the teachers. Its her hope and the schools, that the children at the school will achieve their dreams of becoming teachers, nurses and doctors.
Im deeply moved by Annas desire to educate and bring peace into these childrens lives. I find her compassion for them and her hopes to contribute and make a difference make me think about whats my dream. She truly is a peacemaker and God bearer.
Ive looked on Utube and watched some of the videos about the children who go to these schools and work on rubbish dumps. Its confronting and shocking. Yet they have such hope, a hunger for love and a better life. Perhaps they can teach us something.
It is a story about love and hope.
The story from Isaiah is about Gods love for his people and their continuing hope for the future. The first few verses of Isaiah 43 speak of overcoming fears and offer strength in difficult and challenging times. They inspire us to make a fresh start, to have hope. They speak of deliverance and intimate communion with God where through prayer we regain a reverence for God. Of our dependence on God and that fact God is in control of our lives.
Gods love for us invites us to peer more deeply into the heart of life, like Anna and Bill did. Gives us the courage to question our lives and look at greater truths and realities and invites us to discover our dream, if we havent already discovered it.
Isaiah 43 looks at peoples lives with remarkable honesty, considering power as breaking forth out of powerlessness. Bill and Anna looked at their life and the life of the people of Cambodia with the same remarkable honesty. It evoked a response of compassion and their dream to make a difference in the Cambodian peoples lives.
A dream is about something greater than us, worth embracing, where we can make a contribution that makes the world a better place, a more peaceful world.
Jesus offers us a community gathered around God, a deep peace that comes from knowing God and being known and loved by God. He sets an example of prayer for us. He invites us to join him in prayer so we can connect with God and draw from that deep inner well of peace that is within each one of us.
When we pray we are more open to God working through us, making us leaders and peacemakers in a world that is too often full of division and conflict. Prayer brings peace into our lives and our community. Prayer makes us peacemakers.
What are some of the practical ways we can embrace peacemaking?
Ive been reading the booklet and watching the DVDs from a Uniting Church Lenten Studies kit called Peacemaking and Discipleship. The DVD has a series of interviews of people in the Uniting Church who have embraced peacemaking. Scripture they kept referring to was from the beatitudes: Blessed are the peacemakers. They will be called children of God.
Some of the initiatives embraced at Churches have been: Putting up a sign saying: May Peace Prevail on Earth; an annual peace breakfast with a guest speaker; a small group offering peace studies; a meditation group, because peace between others begins with peace within and a group that went to Hiroshima, Japan for the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima to visit the peace museum.
One speaker reflected upon some of the first words said by Jesus to his disciples, following his resurrection: Peace be with you. We still remember his words of peace when we offer each other the greeting of peace in worship, where we are reconciled with one another.
Jesus led the way in being a peacemaker and being a peacemaker is a metaphor for Christian life because the reign of God is about bringing peace.
So what is the good news for us today?
Jesus the man from Nazareth was baptised, like we have been baptised. He prayed to God, like we do. God poured out his Holy Spirit upon Jesus, like he has on us. God was well pleased and loved his beloved Son, like God loves us. Because of Jesus, the Son of God, we have become children of God. Because the Holy Spirit anointed Jesus after his baptism, he was able to begin his ministry and two thousand years later we are gathered here today worshipping God and giving thanks for Jesus, who redeemed us for God.
Yet Jesus Christ called himself a humble servant of God. He washed his disciples feet and asked them to do the same for each other.
We called to be servants of Jesus and follow in his footsteps. We are called to have conviction, courage and compassion for one another and be peacemakers. Our faith offers us hope to embrace the dream to make the world a better place.
Lord, inspire us by your example and lead us through your Holy Spirit to bring new life, peace and hope into the world. Amen.