Greetings to you and your loved ones as we begin a new year together. In recent days I have
Living Baptism and Confirmation, in preparation for a sermon on the baptism of Jesus. I was
struck in particular by two chapters he writes on the links between baptism and holiness. Of
course, holiness is an important part of the Methodist tradition. Although the Deed of
Union, which brought together the different strands of British Methodism, is in some
respects a compromise document, it nevertheless affirms a common memory:
‘It ever remembers that in the providence of God Methodism was raised up to spread
scriptural holiness through the land by the proclamation of the evangelical faith and
declares its unfaltering resolve to be true to its divinely appointed mission.’
We may each interpret that in different ways placing the emphasis variously on personal,
social or communal holiness. However we interpret it, we cannot ignore it. Radcliffe both
affirms and dismisses one way of interpreting holiness: on the one hand, baptism in the
early Church was about the call to be ‘shining examples’ of Christ; on the other, he protests
against a vision of saints who are ‘...cardboard caricatures, thin-
earthed in the day to day realities which we all face. That is a challenge for any Church
which places an emphasis on holiness.
It is easy to look at the Church and see that we are not obviously saints. Yet there is
something liberating in realising that holiness springs primarily from participating in and
sharing in God’s holiness; it is not something which belongs to us but something we are
called to journey into and discover both personally and together. There is room for us even
though we may be broken and fragmented and that is something we share with all
humanity. In journeying into God’s holiness we are discovering our true selves.
There is another dimension to this though which I find helpful and which is evident in the
texts about Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan. In seeking to be baptised by John the Baptist, Jesus
is expressing the depth of God’s utter solidarity with humanity. For me this means that
nothing we do, however mundane it may seem, happens outside of God. Whatever we are
doing at this moment or in the next, whoever we speak to or serve, whatever life sets
before us, these are the contexts in which holiness is worked out. I wonder if this might be
the heart of what we are being called to do when we recite the Covenant Prayer together.
Let me leave you with part of a prayer from the Covenant Service as we begin a new year
and prepare to ‘shine forth’ as we celebrate Epiphany
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a right spirit within me.
Give me the joy of your help again
And strengthen me with a willing spirit.
(Methodist Worship Book, p.286)
Happy New Year!
Revd Richard Andrew
Chair, Darlington District