1 Epiphany C, 2016
Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
much of this sermon comes from a sermon I wrote in 2004]
This morning we have heard about Jesus being baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptist. This event marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It’s a pivotal point between the mostly private life Jesus led as a child and young adult, and his public life. We know almost nothing about his private life. The gospels tell us about his public one.
I wonder if this moment on the Jordan, when God claims Jesus as his beloved son, is the moment when Jesus first realizes his call, understands his mission, and accepts his role as servant. There’s no way to know this for sure, but it’s certainly possible. There’s no doubt that this is an epiphany moment for Jesus. Think about it; how would you have reacted if the heavens opened and the Spirit descended like a dove at your baptism?
Many scholars believe Jesus became a disciple of John for a while before setting out on his own. And it’s no accident that this gospel is matched with the 1st Servant Song from Isaiah. Baptism was the outward sign of Jesus’s acceptance of God’s call to servanthood. His public ministry begins with this baptism in water and ends with the ‘baptism’ of the disciples with the spirit and fire on Pentecost.
This moment, in which we see Jesus and John together, also offers a sharp contrast worth considering. The baptism John offers is a call to repentance. He is clearly another member in the long line of O.T. prophets who call on the people to change their ways, repent their sins, and return to the ways of Israel.
The tools John uses are familiar ones, threats and promises. If you return the Lord will bless you. BUT “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’
The baptism Jesus offers is a call to discipleship and servanthood. He preaches something new – turn the other cheek, love your neighbor ( and all people are your neighbors). The law alone is not enough. Jesus reaches out to people rather than threatening them.
John teaches by fear. Jesus teaches by loving example. John looks to the law to define righteousness. Jesus looks to people’s hearts. John wants to bind us together in Jewish exclusiveness. Jesus wants to include everyone.
Let’s face it. John’s way is easier – in spite of the loin cloth and locusts. Just follow the rules set out by the tribe. You don’t have to think for yourself. You don’t run the risk of feeling any sympathy or sorrow for those who get in trouble for disobeying. All you have to do is mind your own P’s and Q’s. There are branches of our Christian community that still pursue John’s way.
In the long run, the way of Jesus is so much harder. It provides no easy answers, no pat solutions for moral or ethical questions. We have to do the work to figure it out. When we actually make a choice, we must then bear responsibility for the outcome. We can’t ever say, “we were just following the rules – or orders.”
Being a disciple of Jesus means risking failure every day. To step out in faith sometimes means falling on your face. But being a disciple of Jesus also offers us the opportunity to grow far beyond what we think possible. It frees us to develop and grow into new and marvelous forms. Think of Peter’s transformation from simple fisherman to leader of the faith, or Paul’s transformation from persecutor to evangelizer. Consider the growth and transformations that have taken place in your life.
So what does this say about our own baptism? What does it mean to baptize someone in the church today? Certainly it is a ceremony that names us as one of God’s children. It formalizes our entrance into the family of the human beings. But these are clearly lesser aspects of baptism. If we do not see our own baptism in the same way we see Jesus’ baptism, we are missing the main point.
God also calls us to a life of discipleship and servanthood. We too are children of God in whom God is well pleased. God loves us, baptized or not, but baptism is our acknowledgment of God’s love. It’s our saying “YES” to the responses that love calls forth.
Do you remember how we respond to God’s love? Turn to page 304 in the red Book of Common Prayer (renew our baptismal vows)
Once again I have an assignment for you – this time, a two part assignment. The first is private: at the moment of waking in the morning say thank you to God for another day to serve, another chance, another opportunity. Even if you sometimes feel as I do in that first moment and say, “Oh my God, I’m still here!” Say a quick prayer that you may accept what the day brings and that you will see/hear/feel or understand God’s call for you.
The public or communal part is to ask yourself, — while driving, or doing the dishes, or shoveling the walks – what does baptism mean for the group of God’s people who gather each week? If God calls each of us into new life as disciples, what does that mean for the church? What is God calling us together to be or do? What is God calling Holy Trinity to become?
And then, the hard part, — talk to each other about your answers. We have an annual meeting coming up in several weeks. Who do we want to be when we grow up? What role do we want to play in our community? What is God’s intention for Holy Trinity Church of International Falls, MN?
The answers to such questions are not easy, but only come through prayer and discernment as a community, remembering that God is always with us. AMEN