Sunday, January 11, 2015

Baptism of Jesus

The folks who chose this passage about John the Baptist left out the juicy bits. They took their scissors to the parts where John’s venom is most poisonous. John had a few choice words for King Herod and his wife.

John didn’t like the fact that Herod married his brother’s wife. In fact, it was against Jewish law. And if Herod didn’t like John’s well-aimed preaching he should have taken it up God, not John. John was just doing his job.

It might have been that electrically honest preaching that drew Jesus to John that morning at the Jordan River. John was refreshing. Unique. Different from other preachers who either told people what they wanted to hear, or lined their pockets with the pennies of little old ladies. John wasn’t warm and fuzzy. But you knew that he’d give you the straight goods when it came to the things of God.

That day, in the river of freedom, where thousands of years earlier, God’s people left Egypt and crossed from slavery into the promised land, was where Jesus joined himself to that saving story, where his mandate as God’s Son was given to him. Where the affirmation of the Almighty wrapped around him like sun-soaked blanket.

“You are my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased...” Who wouldn’t want to hear that from God? Or from any parent for that matter.

But lying underneath this divine affirmation was a summons. A calling that might have made Jesus’ blood turn to ice. If Jesus was God’s Son - Israel’s Messiah - the one to save people from their sins and create a world of justice and mercy, then that didn’t mean that he could simply bask in the warm embrace of heavenly approval. He couldn’t walk around town all Messiahy cashing in on his sacred status.

Being God’s Son meant he had to go and do things that the messiah was supposed to do. It wasn’t just a state of divine being. It was a job description. A letter of conscription from the only one in the world who won’t take “no” for an answer.

Although, I’m sure saying “no” crossed his mind. And so, I wonder if before he dipped his toe in the water for his heavenly bath he was tempted to take another walk around the block. Or hop on the next bus out of town.

Maybe Jesus’ temptation didn’t begin or end, like we assume, in the desert to where he ran after being dunked by John. I wonder if his temptation anxiety started well before he found himself in the Jordan River. I wonder if he was tempted to run away from his calling. From his task as God’s Son. I wonder if he was tempted to escape and hide from who he was.

If he was tempted to stay in Nazareth and take over the carpentry business from Joseph, maybe settle down, get married, and crank out a few kids, I don’t think anyone would have blamed him. After all, it wasn’t a bad life. The work was steady. He was close to family. And there were no crosses following him around wherever he went.

I’m sure he had all that in the back of his mind when he followed John into the water. I’m sure he knew that, once he was dipped in the muddy river, his life was over. Everything he was and everything he did was gone. He knew the weight that was being placed on his shoulders.

It was a new beginning for Jesus. A call into God’s vision of the world that he had to follow. A path that led to the Kingdom of God - the kingdom that dwelled within his very being.

“You are my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased...” The next, unspoken, sentence was “Now get to work.”

Work on healing the sick and raising the dead.
Work on preaching good news to the poor and setting the captives free.
Work on giving sight to blind and mending broken hearts.

Work on showing God’s Kingdom love to a world in pain. Work on forgiving people’s sins.
Work on being a steward of hope.
Work on setting the world straight through mercy and justice.

That’s quite the job description, isn’t it?

I’m glad that’s his job and not mine. I wouldn’t want to be saddled with such a burden. Would you?

But then again, who were all those people who being baptized with Jesus? What did God want for them?

It turns out that God was calling them into the same life that God was calling Jesus into. They found out the hard way that baptism isn’t just a ritual that we perform as an entry way into the church family. And baptism isn’t just a one-off salvation ticket.

Baptism is about being recruited, conscripted into a movement. In baptism, we are joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection, so we can live resurrection lives in a world so often obsessed with death.

Baptism is about God’s light shining in a dark world - through US. It’s about US binding the world’s wounds. It’s about being part of a movement that is bigger than ourselves, God’s movement of renewing everything about the world, where God wipes away every tear, where crying and pain are extinguished, where the hungry are satisfied, and the dead rise breathing new life.

That’s the life into which God has called YOU. YOU who have been washed in the river of freedom. YOU who have been nailed to the cross with Jesus and risen victorious from his grave. You who have been cleansed with the water that comes from God alone.

That’s the task that God has placed in front of YOU. Not to earn special favour, gain some sort of heavenly reward, or attain special spiritual status.

But that your job because that’s who God is and that’s what God does, and you are in Jesus, and Jesus is in God.

You have been joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection. 
You have been drafted into Christ’s mission. 
You have been named and claimed as God’s own child through your baptism into Christ so that you walk the earth as a healing presence.

It’s not always an easy life. But it is God’s life. Baptism is God’s way of repairing everything that is broken. Baptism is God’s way of refreshing everything that has become tired. Baptism is God’s way of loving a dead world back into life.

Jamie and Zoe, you have been received into this life. In the river of freedom and forgiveness, you have been called to join God’s salvation movement. In the waters of mercy you have been summoned to be agents of peace. In the baptismal spring you have been gathered to be arbiters of hope. In the waves of God’s enduring love you have been charged to use the gifts that God has given you to work with God in creating something new and beautiful.

It’s because God looked upon you, and all of us together, and saw everything you’ve done, looked over your pains, saw your weaknesses, held your regrets in loving arms, and embraced your failures pointing you to a new tomorrow, and said, “You are my beloved child.”

Now, you have a job to do. Let’s get at it.

May this be so among us. Amen.


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