The Pas Baptism of the Lord – Epiphay + 1
8 January 2017
Psalm 29 pg 738
God of glory,
immerse us in your grace,
mark us with your image,
and raise us to live our baptismal promises,
so that, empowered by the Holy Spirit,
we may follow the example of Christ your beloved
in whose name we pray. Amen.
I’ve had a bit of time to think when I was on holiday, ponder perhaps, although my husband often says I think and ponder too much.
And looking at today’s readings, I think what we find ourselves trapped within, as Christians, as humans, is our own perceptions, our own expectations of what God’s will looks like, feels like, responds in the world around us, and when God changes that, we find ourselves offended that it’s not how we envisioned God’s will.
In a way, it’s like how our parents saw our lives unfold when we were infants held protectively in their arms. We may look like what they envisioned when they first held us in their arms, but in the end, our lives may look completely different because along the way, we’ve made our own choices, we’ve made our own decisions.
Along the way, we’ve gained scars, experiences, and taken paths that perhaps our parents never envisioned. Along the way, we’ve become our own persons, in the same way the world remains God’s creation, but is also the world in which we live and move and have our being.
In the same way, the decisions we’ve made as stewards of creation, as the children of God, as followers of Christ, don’t look or act like what the first Christians experienced when they enthusiastically gathered in house churches and gave their undivided attention to the leaders of the church. When they debated on the best ways to formulate the patterns of worship so that the experiences of those attending would be the experiences of a community. Experiences of shared worship around the Eucharist, of prayer and praise that honours God from the moment we invite the Holy Trinity into our midst, until the time we accept the blessing of God and go on our way, into the world bearing God’s will for our actions.
And this gets us back to our idea of how we place our own expectations of how we envision God’s will fulfilled in and for the world around us? in and for our own lives? And thinking of that, really, when have we ever seen God’s will fulfilled to our expectations?
When have we ever experienced the fulfillment of God’s will in any way that would resonate with how we think God should be working in the world? Whether that fulfillment is in the gospels, in the Old or New Testaments of the bible? Or even in our own lives?
Today, we find John and Jesus encountering each other in the world for the first time. We see Jesus being baptized by John in the River Jordan. “14 But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ 15 Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented.” (Mt. 3: 14-15)
Today we see that Jesus comes to John to be baptized.
The Messiah comes to his prophet, and the prophet hesitates. Why? Because what he thought, how he envisioned God’s will, was different from what God plans.
We discover, not just in the pages of the bible, in the pages of the gospels, but also in the living of our own lives, that God’s plans are so far outside of what we can recognized as a box, that we are able to get lost just looking for the cardboard.
So far outside of what we, as God’s creation, can comprehend as our creators mind fulfilled, that it takes the cross to make us realize it’s all part of one plan. It takes Jesus crucifixion and resurrection, it takes two millennia distance from those ‘creation shattering’ events, to recognize that this baptism of repentance for one born without sin, is all a part of God’s plan, not just for Jesus, not just for John, but for each one of us, even still, today.
Today, we witness the first step on a journey that we can still see manifesting itself in our lives, today. But even today, we cannot fully comprehend God’s will for not only Jesus, but for each one of us as well, still, today.
Today we unthinkingly look at the events of Jesus baptism. We look at the heavens opening, the Spirit of God descending, at the words of God vocal in the world for the first time since Moses spoke to God on the sacred mountain before the burning bush, and we brush them to one side with the concept that Jesus is being consecrated, set aside for his ministry.
We contextualize these momentous events into something that we can wrap our minds around, something we can compartmentalize and put on a shelf, and we turn back to our lives and wonder how we can find God in the world today.
The gospel tells us: “16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
But for whom did God proclaim these words? Was it for Jesus?
He knows he’s the Son of God, the Son of Man. He knows he’s fulfilling God’s plan for all of creation from the time of the fruit in the garden, until the resolution of the final battle.
Was it for John? He also is aware of who it is as the prophet of God. He knows who he’s just baptized, and the wider ramifications, the implications of baptizing the Messiah, the manifestation of God in human form, on earth, instead of being baptized by him.
Rather, this is the beginning of God’s redemptive actions for you and for me, and for all those gathered on the banks of the River Jordan listening and observing what is happening, today.
These words that God speaks: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” are spoken for you, they’re spoken for me.
They’re spoken for those standing on the shores of the River Jordan, those who hear God’s words and see the Spirit of God descending like a dove. It is for those who seek God in the small places of the world because the large places are filled with humanity, and human perceptions, and most especially human egos.
For those who cannot hear God’s words, those who cannot see the Spirit of God descending, it looks like lightening on a clear day, and sounds like thunder without a cloud in the sky.
For those who don’t see the working of God, then all they see is a madman of a prophet doing what he’s been doing for quite some time, baptizing those, in the wilderness, who have come to proclaim their sins, and be baptized with a baptism of repentance.
Yet, what we imagine, the Messiah, his prophet to be doing, today, this isn’t what God has in the grand scheme to redeem us, to love us, to find a way to live in our hearts forever.
Isaiah tells us: “42 ‘Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. 2 He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. 3 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; 4he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth.’” (Isa 42:1-4a)
This doesn’t sound like what we imagine for a King, like a Warrior. At the same time, this doesn’t sound like someone who would put aside God’s will and baptize his prophet, instead of receiving the full burden of sin for all of creation so that we can have life, to the fullest extent of that word.
So, maybe, just maybe, we, as the followers of Christ, need to look at the way we present ourselves in the world, or more specifically, how God presents God’s self in us and in our actions in and to the world.
We are the children of God. We are the recipients of Christ’s legacy in the world. We need to refrain from putting our perceptions on God’s work, and we need to find ways to bring God’s sense of hope to the world.
We are the legacy of the church, and we gather together weekly in order to invoke the Trinity, to hear the word of God, to offer our praise and our prayer, not just for our lives, but for the community and for all of creation, as we continue to gather around the Eucharist in our midst.
At the same time, we continue to encourage and uphold each other, no matter what has happened, no matter what it is we ourselves have experienced. We do this because it’s not just you and I, but the Spirit of God, the working of the Holy Spirit in us, around us, and between us.
We need to trust where God is leading us, although we may not see the ends that we, ourselves would anticipate. After all, we are well and truly in God’s hands.
We continue have a role to play in the events, not just in prayer our community, but perhaps to uphold and support the positive actions that comes to and through our community, to benefit the world around us.
We are able to continue to be active in the world around us. We are able to continue to be a positive, Christ centred, and welcoming community so that people know they can come, worship amongst us, find support for their lives, and a place to rest, and at the same time, possibly, find a home in our midst.
A recent Facebook post shows Jesus standing next to a Christmas tree, and in his hands, is a model of a church. God’s voice says: “What’s wrong Jesus? You said you wanted a church for your birthday!” and Jesus responds “Yeah, I did… but I’m having trouble getting it out of the box!”
God’s plans are still in action, today, here, amongst us and we are all vital parts of that plan. We are not just ‘church’ when we come to Christ Church, or when we enter any other religious environment. Rather our actions, our comments, our influence spreads far and wide, not just where we are, but around the world.
It isn’t possible for us to compartmentalize God’s plan, to figure we’ve understood it, package it nicely, and place it on the shelf next to our Christmas decorations.
Rather, today, we are God’s plan, still in action, here, and out in the world.
Today, we witness Jesus receive the baptism that marks the beginning of his ministry in our midst. Today, we see the Spirit, we hear God’s voice, and we trust God to lead us to places we’ve never imagined because the work redeeming the world continues, right here, today, in our hearts, in our lives, in our world.