1.08.2008

Baptism of Jesus

This second week of Epiphany week we remember the Baptism of Jesus. It is difficult (maybe impossible) to try and apply any sort of chronological coherence to the lectionary readings—last week Jesus was a toddler and in three weeks he begins his journey toward Jerusalem and his crucifixion! Nevertheless, this week we find John Baptizing Jesus.

Now, you don’t need us to emphasize that this is an Important Moment. As we read the scripture in Matthew (and even if we compare it to how the story unfolds in the other gospels) we can see that this is the event that propels Jesus in to his official public ministry. Before this all we really know of him through the scripture is that (assuming you were listening to Heather’s Story for All Ages last Sunday) Jesus was growing up and had been found in the temple impressing rabbis. His Baptism is the moment that it all begins. Before there was a lot of rumor and assumption and conjecture, but this is where Jesus is Affirmed and Named and Ordained by God.

There is a lot of potency in this moment.

Even within this scene of Baptism expectation continues to mount as the water rushes by John and Jesus (and whomever else might be standing around).

John had been publicly talking and dreaming about Jesus. He had been laying the path for Jesus--Preparing the Way. Today the Eastern Orthodox Church still refers to John as St. John the Forerunner —he was the one who came before the One who was to come. We do not know from this text if Jesus and John knew one another before hand. It is fun to assume that they did since their mothers were relatives and both boys were the result of some Divine Intervetion. It is fun to assume they grew up together and learned Torah together and knew which one ran the fastest and which one sung the best.

But when Jesus shows up at the Jordan where crowds from Jerusalem have gathered for Baptism John protests. John is Baptizing for Repentance, an important concept in the return to covenant relationship with Yahweh. John seems to believe he is not worthy to Baptize Jesus or that Jesus does not need this Baptism of Repentence. He seems to believe there is something in Jesus that is more holy or more worthy or more important than he is and he (John) should not participate and need not facilitate it.

Why would he think this? What was he expecting? Well, as we look at the passages this week in Isaiah and the Psalm we are reminded of the high standards and expectations folks had for what qualities and abilities the messiah would possess.

In Isaiah, we see described a leader that brings justice to the nations, has great endurance to accomplish these tasks, and is gentle and humble as he accomplishes these things.

In response to John’s protest, Jesus even answers, “Let it be so for now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness (NRSV).” Isaiah describes a just leader, one whom God has called in righteousness.

And what else is special about this moment in the river? After the Baptism the Heavens Opened and the Spirit of God descended on him and a Voice from Heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Again, this is not a Small Moment.

In our culture it is easy for us to become calloused to hearing accounts of people with whom God has spoken. Any of us can quickly find a book or a television show where someone relates a personal interaction with God. And this causes a primary difficulty in our understanding of scripture today. In our view, we have become too familiar and friendly and flippant about God and our possible interaction with the Creator of All that Is.

In Matthew it says the Spirit of God descended on Jesus and a Voice from Heaven claimed Jesus as The Beloved.

Wow.

Look at the respect for God that is shown in Isaiah. Look at the respect for God shown in the Psalm this week. We see the Lord described as powerful and glorious and full of majesty and ruling over the waters and breaking the cedars and flashing forth fire and shaking the wilderness and stripping the forest bare and ruling over the flood and ruling as king forever. Throughout the Hebrew scripture and the New Testament, God’s appearances are accompanied by lighting, thunder, wind, and earthquakes.

This is no Small God.

The Acts passage reinforces the importance of God’s presence and intention in Jesus’ ministry. Because God ordained Jesus, because God chose certain people to witness the resurrection, those people are charged with going and teaching about Jesus’ purpose, “that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” This sort of turns John’s Baptism of Repentance on its ear…forgiveness is through Jesus and his teachings and is available to anyone (not just the Jews) who believe in him--covenant is recovered and restored and made whole through Jesus.

Those who stood in the river and witnessed this Baptism Witnessed a Sea Change.

Jesus was called, responded, was baptized, was blessed / ordained, and then went forward with his ministry from that place. To our knowledge, he did not have to finish a class or fill out a workbook to qualify to be Baptized. To our knowledge, he did not have to fill out any sort of form guaranteeing what he would accomplish after his Baptism. He was Called and he Responded.

At his response he was affirmed in who he was and what he was doing. Then he launched out in to the world to do the work that he felt called to do. Did he know that after this he would be sent in to the wilderness and tempted? Did he know at this time that it would all end up in brutal death and crucifixion? According to scripture there is no way we can be certain. However, we do know that he felt a Calling on his life, he Responded, and his Response was met with Love and Affirmation.

+As Ada asked us in worship this past Sunday, what event or moment in time did you know you were Loved by God?

+What call has God placed on your life? How have you received that call?

+Where are you met with love and affirmation? How do you respond?

“MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

- Thomas Merton, "Thoughts in Solitude"
© Abbey of Gethsemani

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