We’re not worthy

by Jan 21, 2020

Matthew 3:13-17

Baptism of Christ

Proving our worthiness can take up a lot of our energy. I can remember when I first started at University. I’d come a long way and was keen to get to know people. But in the midst of strangers getting to know each other, many were telling tall tales of gap years and summer projects – trying to give the impression they had no need for the studies we were beginning or at least they were worthy enough.

The sense that we aren’t quite worthy, or worthwhile can be very difficult, particularly if we feel that being worthy is necessary. In a world so desperate to claim what’s been ‘earned’, the need to demonstrate worthiness can be a full time pursuit. I remember when I was around 8 we were members of a cross-country ski club. We would head over the mountains on a Saturday for ski lessons and to go on some of the trails through the club’s land. All the children could then do a race at the end of each month. There were lots of young people, one of whom was a friend of mine who was very good. He was friends with all the other racers. I remember wanting to believe I was good enough to move up a class and be with my friend and the others. I thought maybe if I had better kit I could prove I was worthy to be part of their group. I remember setting off one year for the race and putting so much into it I kept falling over, proving that I wasn’t worthy to be part of I was lucky though, because my friend was my friend anyways, regardless of how good a skier I was.

The story of John the Baptist is one of a humble servant. He is always shown to be pointing towards Jesus. Here, when Jesus asks to be baptized he immediately defers to Jesus – saying he is unworthy – that Jesus should be baptizing him. In the 4th century there was a controversy over the worthiness of some Bishops who had publicly denounced their faith under fierce persecution. They and the priests they had ordained were being disregarded by some who deemed them unworthy. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, challenged these heretics – known as Donatists,
pointing out that it is Christ’s worthiness, not the worthiness of us priests. Likewise, Baptism, the Eucharist, is not dependent on our worthiness as those who receive them. Much like our ability to be witnesses of God’s love along with the apostles is not dependent on our worthiness. Only two verses before John has told those who had gathered at the Jordan that he was not worthy to carry Jesus’ sandals. He also says: ‘I baptize you with water for repentance,… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’

Jesus’ insistence on John’s baptising him highlights the fact that worthiness is not necessary for the effectiveness of the sacraments.
But a desire, a yearning for righteousness like Jesus and John’s. Jesus’ need to fulfil righteousness and to have the spirit descend upon him,
though seemingly bizarre, given that the main message of the Gospels is that Jesus is fully God, one with the Father and one with the Spirit.

Our understanding of our own baptism is that it is an outward sign of the gift of the Holy Spirit, drawing us away from all that ties us to sin and into all righteousness while bringing us into closer relationship with God as members of the Church. For Christ, at his baptism, he does not only yearn for righteousness for his own part, but for all people. Christ enters baptism in solidarity with all of us, as a further revelation of his purpose in coming into the world, to bring righteousness to all people.

We therefore know that in Christ we have a saviour who yearns for our redemption, and chooses to work through us not because we are worthy of sharing the Good News, but because God yearns for us, for our righteousness, no matter who we are or what we have done. It’s worth remembering that when we ask ourselves questions about who should or should not participate in the sacraments has nothing to do with our own ability to comprehend them or our worthiness to receive them. In Christ we know that we are each chosen, not because we have earned it, but because God knows each of us, loves us and years for us.

The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams

Weekly Services

Sunday Mornings

8.00am Morning Prayer in the lady chapel
10.00am Parish Eucharist with choir and Sunday School

Weekday Services

Christian Meditation Wednesdays at 9.10am
Said Eucharist on Wednesdays at 11.00am
Evening Prayer
Monday through Thursday at 5.30pm

Please note that Public worship has been suspended, you can therefore participate in these services via Facebook live stream

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