Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | January 8, 2017

2017.01.08 “The Baptism of the Lord” – Matthew 3: 21 – 22

Central United Methodist Church
Tell Me More
Matthew 3: 21 – 22
Pastor David L. Haley
The Baptism of the Lord
January 8th, 2017

OXYGEN VOLUME 13

Jesus then appeared, arriving at the Jordan River from Galilee. He wanted John to baptize him. John objected, “I’m the one who needs to be baptized, not you!”

But Jesus insisted. “Do it. God’s work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism.” So John did it.

The moment Jesus came up out of the baptismal waters, the skies opened up and he saw God’s Spirit — it looked like a dove — descending and landing on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: “This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.”

– Matthew 3: 13 – 17, The Message

 

Sooner or later in life, we wake up to realize we want to know more about who we are and where we come from. This may include questions about what our name means, who our family is, and who our “people” are?

Personally, I never felt the need to do this until I came to Chicago, which is what happens when you grow up in a place where everybody is pretty much alike, as I did in western Kentucky. After I came to Chicago, however, I discovered that everybody had answers to these questions. They were Irish or Swedish or Jewish or Italian or Polish or Greek or Indian or Filipino (the list goes on and on) They had an identity and a people. Who was I? I didn’t know.

As a result, in the years afterward I would ask my Dad what he know about our family. It was frustrating, because he knew very little. He would say, “I think we came from Tennessee.” It reminds me of the boy who asked his mother where he came from, only to get a long lecture about the birds-and-the bees. To which he replied, “I was only asking because my friend said he came from Ohio.”

So it happens, as we grow older, we wish we “knew more.” Many of us wish we had asked our parents and our grandparents more questions about such things, before it was too late. Rather than, say, staring at our iPhones.

Of course, in some cases, there is little or no information, and we find ourselves a person without a people or history, endlessly curious about a intriguing name in a dusty record book.

Now – thankfully – there are more successful ways to find out information. There is an increasing amount of information on the internet. In fact, by going on Ancestry.com a few years ago, I was able to fill most of my family tree back to the 1700’s; I can now confidently claim to be primarily Scots-Irish. However, the latest development and most promising development is DNA testing. It is now possible through DNA testing and comparison to track down “your people” among the world’s population. In some cases, this has revealed surprises: some people have found out they are not who they thought they were; to their great surprise others have found children they didn’t know they had. A Viet Nam veteran who had a brief relationship while in Viet Nam, discovered while comparing his DNA, that he had a son in CA. (DNA’s new ‘miracle’: How adoptees are using online registries to find their blood relatives, Tara Bahrampour, Washington Post, 10/12/2016)

The question arises, why would we even want to do this? Those of us who know who our people are, who see them every day, have no need; you know who you are and who your people are. However, those of us who feel orphaned or disconnected or unloved, have powerful incentives to do so. Because, as human beings we simply cannot live with identity and belonging and connection: “This is who I am, this is who I belong to, this is who loves me.”

Given this, I wonder if it wasn’t such questions that brought Jesus to the banks of the Jordan River that day long ago, to be baptized by his cousin John. What’s most revelatory is that because of who he was – the Revealer of God, the answers Jesus found that day, still apply to us today, in our search for identity and connecting and belonging. That answer was given to Jesus and to us by God: “You are my Child, chosen and marked by my love, the delight of my life.”

As with my question to my father, we know so little about what brought him there that day, or for that matter, what he had done since we saw him last; in Matthew’s Gospel, not when he was visited by the Magi around age 2 (which we celebrated last Sunday); but when he visited the Temple at around age 12.

Are we aware that we even have his name wrong? This person we call Jesus, was named in Hebrew/Aramaic: “Yeshu‘a. In Greek (the language the New Testament was written in) that became Greek, Iēsous, then in Latin, Iesus, passing into German and ultimately, English, as Jesus, to be slaughtered by preachers ever since. Yeshu‘a is probably looking down from heaven saying, “After all these centuries, you’d think they could at least get my name right?”

Other than this, we know very little. Born in Bethlehem, he grew up in Nazareth, the son of Mary and Joseph, a carpenter, a handyman. Very early, Joseph disappears from the record.

Which adds to the stigma about the circumstances of his birth. Such that, he is called Jesus, son of Mary; not Jesus, son of Joseph, which would have been customary. Did Jesus live under the stigma and disconnection of being a bastard, an illegitimate child, as we used to call it (not that there are any illegitimate children). If so, having heard the stories about his birth told by his mother Mary, was that part of what brought him that day to the at the River Jordan? Was he seeking – like us – seeking identity, connection, belonging, a path into the destiny to which he felt called?

Sitting here today, we might say, “If only the authors of the story had been less interested in theology, and had written more like journalists, novelists, telling us what was in Jesus’ head that day.  As he looked around at the people being baptized – elderly women, tax collectors, soldiers, religious people, poor people, rich people, people crying and rejoicing; did Jesus feel “out-of-place?” No, I think the story – as the rest of his life tells us – Jesus was thinking, “Whoever I am, these people are my people.” And so – even though he was the sinless One – into the muddy waters he went, even against John’s protest: “Who me? I should be baptized by you!”

Because Jesus, humbling himself, willing made this identification and acceptance, which is why his experience became breathtaking, revelatory not only to him, but to all who hear the story: “You are my Child, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.” There in the muddy waters of the Jordan, Jesus found identity, and connection, belonging, and mission.

What Jesus heard at his baptism is an allusion to the text from Isaiah we read earlier:

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations . . .
I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
– Isaiah 42: 1 – 9 (selected)

Breathtaking for sure, you may say, but what does this have to do with our baptism, or the lack of it? Many of us cannot remember our baptism, being baptized as babies long ago, in churches which may no longer be standing, by people no longer alive, and – for sure – the water has long since dried.

For those of us who do remember, there was no vision or voice, as much as we might have liked, only some poor preacher like me, trying to keep from drowning us and reading the words out of a book, with little passion at that. I recently heard the story of a shy person, for whom a pastor arranged a “drive-by”: come to the front at the beginning of the service, and be baptized before anybody gets here.”

And what about those of us who say, “I was never baptized,” or “I DON’T KNOW if I was baptized?” Am I missing out? Remember, the symbol is not the sentiment, the map is not the territory. Just because you never had water applied, does not mean the love and delight of God is any less for you, than the most water-soaked person.

Because of who Jesus is, the God-revealer, willing to identify with and give himself for the whole human race, what God says about Jesus also becomes a pronouncement about us: “You are my Child, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.” Now, when we are baptized, when we participate in baptisms, when we remember our baptisms, even when we bathe in water, we remember God’s cleansing, forgiving, encompassing love.

Tell me more? Ultimately, because of this, we don’t have to know more, to be loved and accepted and to belong, to have a purpose in life.

Sunday by Sunday here in worship before communion, we pray the Great Thanksgivings of Thom Shuman, a Presbyterian Pastor in Columbus, Ohio. Most of us have come to love them, someday we are going to have to find a way to meet Rev. Shuman. This week, on his Facebook page, in the style we have come to love, he wrote this about Jesus baptism:

“In a world of competing voices, who should we listen to – those who shout the loudest; those who offer the most tweets; those who will say anything to grab our attention? Scripture reminds us that the servant God sent to us doesn’t yell, but quietly affirms that it is always right to do the right thing. To simply listen to that voice which calls us Beloved, and to believe it, and to live it. Even when, like John, we stammer, ‘who, me?’

In a world of competing ideologies, who will receive our allegiance – a political party, an economic way, a sports team, an individual? Scripture reminds us that our ultimate loyalty is not to the powerful, but to the weak; not to the rich, but to the poor; not to the mighty, but the fallen; not to the wise, but to the foolish. To simply give our hearts and souls to One who goes against every expectation we have of success and power. Even when, like John, we stammer, ‘who, me?’

In a world where despair threatens to destroy hope, when our fears burrow deep into us until we quake every time we take a step, and the future seems already shattered even before it gets to us – how are we to live? Scripture reminds us that it is precisely at such moments, in such places, to such people, God comes and asks us to be faithful, to trust, to walk towards the future sowing seeds of grace/love/joy, to step into the living waters where we will be changed forever even when, like John, we stammer, ‘who, me?’

Today, the day the church remembers, celebrates, rejoices in the Baptism of Jesus, we are reminded once again that we are called, baptized, named, and sent to seriously, intentionally, faithfully, hopefully follow Jesus, even when like John, we stammer, ‘who, me?’” (Thom Shuman, posted on his Facebook page, January 7, 2017).  Amen.

 

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