Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
By David, Reader at St Mary's
Who am I?
Who am I?
Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten my name between my seat and the lectern. Nor am I suggesting we play a game of Biblical Guess Who, and yes, such a game does exist.
These words are a song title and quote from the musical Les Misérables. They are sung by the protagonist, Jean Valjean, upon discovering a man has been mistaken for him and arrested in his place. Valjean is at a crossroads and grapples with the decision before him. “If I speak, they are condemned, if I stay silent, I am damned.” Should he speak and disrupt the lives of all those who look to him for employment and leadership? Or should he stay silent and allow an innocent man to be imprisoned? I won’t spoil the plot.
In the song he uses both his real name and his prisoner number, 24601. He is caught between identities, his real name, which he cannot use. His prisoner number which has been given to him to dehumanise him and his assumed name, which he has used to shield himself from the law for years. But who is he?
Our Gospel passage this morning centres around Jesus’ identity. In Luke chapter 1 and 2 we have heard at Christmas the story of the birth of Jesus. Chapter 3 opens and the story has moved on, Jesus and John are now both adults. John has proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Those who come to see him wonder if he is the promised Messiah. He makes it clear that another is to come. One who will baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire rather than water.
In the similar passages in the Gospels according to Matthew and Mark Jesus is directly baptised by John himself. Luke is more ambiguous. He doesn’t explicitly state John baptises Jesus. His motives are varied. Luke was writing for a primarily non-Jewish audience and so the exact specifics of the Jewish Messiahs’ interaction with John are less important. But he also doesn’t focus on the baptism itself. It happens, it is recorded, but what takes place next is more important.
Jesus was praying. This is a recurring theme in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus at prayer before a major turning point in his life.
Then the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him. A voice came from heaven “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Here we have Jesus’ identity confirmed, God’s Son. Not just confirmation of who Jesus is, also affirmation that he is Beloved and God is pleased with him. This is the affirmation, available to all, which we get at our baptism, again at our confirmation and week by week in worship of God at the Eucharist.
Jesus Baptism is one of three major landmarks in Jesus’ life where he prays and there is divine revelation in response. The others are at the Transfiguration in Luke 9 and in the garden of Gethsemane in Luke 22. At the Transfiguration Moses and Elijah appear in glory and a voice from the cloud says “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” In Gethsemane Jesus prays “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done”. Then an angel appears and gives Jesus strength. Later at his interrogation and trial he will be mockingly asked if he is the Son of God.
At each of these three points there is change in Jesus’ life. At his baptism he moves from his early life, which aside from one instance in the temple we know nothing about, to the beginning of his ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit.
When Transfigured Jesus’ appearance changes and he moves from one phase of his ministry to another. In Gethsemane he commits to the events of Holy Week.
Each time there is a choice to make or major change in Jesus’ life he is found in prayer. Having been baptised by John, should he move from what we assume was a settled life as a carpenter? Being transfigured and chosen, should he turn his face to Jerusalem? Finding himself in Gethsemane, the last point at which he could reasonably avoid his Passion, should he drink of the cup prepared for him?
We know how this story ends. With each choice Jesus is affirmed in his identity as the Son of God. This affirmation strengthens him to face the path ahead. His decisions are bound up in his identity. We, as children of God, are offered the affirmation that we are Beloved and God is pleased with us. May it strength us for the journey we face.
Returning to where we began, with Jean Valjean, we see the agony of decision making exemplified, as he works through whether he should turn himself in and set free an innocent man. But he doesn’t ask “what should I do?”. He asks, “Who am I?”
Prepared by Barbara.
In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, let us pray to the Father.
O God, the creator and preserver of all, we pray for people in every kind of need; make your ways known on
earth, your saving health among all nations ...
We pray for all of those affected by the Covid-19 epidemic.
We pray for those countries currently suffering from upsurges of the virus, thinking especially of those
facing the omicron variant: please help them to keep their most vulnerable citizens safe.
We pray for the worldwide success of vaccination campaigns, and that vaccines are made available to all
countries, regardless of their wealth or lack thereof. Please help each of us to give informed reassurance to
those we know who are wary of having the vaccine and to play what part we can in ensuring that the rest of
the world gets vaccinated too.
We pray especially for all workers in direct contact with the public who are at such risk of exposure to the
virus: health care providers, shop workers, bus drivers, schoolteachers and all others similarly exposed.
Please help all of us to protect all of them by continuing to wear masks in public and practice safe social
distancing and by getting vaccinated, if we have not already done so.
We pray also for all those involved in trying to fight the climate crisis Please give all governments the
political courage to resist further use of fossil fuels and to invest in sources of renewable energy instead.
Please help each of us individually to contribute to protecting our planet in any way we can.
We pray for all those affected by war or tyrannical regimes, thinking particularly of people in Kazakhstan
and the Ukraine. Please bring strength and comfort to those affected.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer.
We pray for your Church throughout the world; guide and govern us by your good Spirit, that all who
profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit,
in the bond of peace and in righteousness of life ...
We pray especially for our worshipping community of St. John’s Ranmoor, St. Mark’s Broomhill and St.
Mary’s Walkley as we struggle to cope with the ongoing pandemic. Please help us to feel your presence in a
world turned upside down and to share that presence with others.
We pray that we can continue to worship together in ways that are safe for all of us, whether in person or
online. Please help us to think of each other and let each other know that we care and to remember those
who feel increasingly lonely and unsafe as the world is hit by yet more upsurges and variants of the virus.
Please help us find ways to reach all of our parish, both those who do have access to the internet and those
who do not.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer.
We commend to your fatherly goodness all those who are in any way afflicted or distressed, in mind, body
or estate; comfort and relieve them in their need, give them patience in their sufferings, and bring good out
of their troubles ...
We pray for all those personally affected by covid, either because they are suffering from it or someone dear
to them is suffering from it. Please bring them healing and future good health.
We pray for all those struggling to get medical treatment that they need, as the omicron epidemic threatens
to overwhelm our NHS. We pray also for all those working in the NHS. Please help us to make their lives
easier, as they struggle to make our lives safer.
In moments of peace and contemplation, we name to you all those known to us who are suffering. Please
care for them and for all those of whose suffering we are unaware.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer.
We remember those who have gone before us in the peace of Christ, and we give you praise for all your
faithful ones, with whom we rejoice in the communion of saints ...
We name to you in our hearts all those known to us both near and far who are suffering the loss of friends
and loved ones, asking that you bring your comfort and healing to them at this time of grief.
accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.