January 12, 2014 Isaiah 42: 1-9; Matt. 3: 1-17
Similar themes consistently appear in Isaiah and Matthew, so we begin our reflection on Matthew's story of the baptism of Jesus by first reading the Hebrew Scripture passage for the day from Isaiah. It’s a poetic suggestion of what is to come in the life of Jesus Christ. The prophet reminds us that God is faithful to God's promises, and that how we live and order our world matters to God. It matters so much to God that God will send One who will "fix" the mess we've made, transforming it into a time of beauty and grace, healing and justice. This transforming Servant, the chosen one whom God upholds and in whom God's soul delights, has the very Spirit of God within him. I am using a paraphrase from “The Message” by Eugene Peterson.
Isaiah 42: 1-9
“Take a good look at my servant.
I’m backing him to the hilt.
He’s the one I chose,
and I couldn’t be more pleased with him.
I’ve bathed him with my Spirit, my life.
He’ll set everything right among the nations.
He won’t call attention to what he does
with loud speeches or gaudy parades.
He won’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt
and he won’t disregard the small and insignificant.
but he’ll steadily and firmly set things right.
He won’t tire out and quit. He won’t be stopped
until he’s finished his work -- to set things right on early.
Far - flung ocean islands
wait for his teaching.”
the God who created the cosmos,stretched out the skies,
laid out the earth and all that grows from it,
Who breathes life into earths’ people,
makes them alive with his own life”
“I am GOD. I have called you to live right and well.
I have taken responsibility for you, kept you safe.
I have set you among my people to bind them to me,
and provided you as a lighthouse to the nations,
To make a start at bringing people into the open, into light:
opening blind eyes,
releasing prisoners from dungeons,
emptying the dark prisons.
I am GOD. That’s my name.
I don’t franchise my glory,
don’t endorse the no-god idols.
Take note: the earlier predictions of judgement have been fulfilled.
I’m announcing the new salvation work.
Before it bursts on the scene,
I’m telling you all about it.”
Sound a bit like Jesus? Now let’s hear how Matthew describes the baptism of Jesus:
Matthew 3: 13-17
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized,just as he came up form the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
How many of you remember your baptism?
If not your own, how many remember someone else’s baptism?
What do you remember about it?
What many people remember is the emotion behind the ritual - not necessarily the words or prayers - but the feelings attached with that sacrament, which are derived from its underlying meaning.
One of my mentors years ago said to me that the most meaningful part of ministry for her was being present at some of the most important times in the lives of her congregation: times of great joy and deep sorrow. Years later I have to agree with her.
Some of the most emotional moments I have witnessed in the lives of church members have been during baptisms. And the emotions came, not just from the person being baptized, but from those participating. I remember a woman being baptized in the river Jordan when I was there. She was so overcome with emotion she threw herself in the water before the minister had a chance to do anything.
If I had to come up with one word to describe the emotions on display it would be “joy” - the joy of an infant smiling and cooing, the joy of a toddler dipping her hand into the water and placing it on her own head, the joy of a transgendered woman and her wife bathed in tears as the congregation reached out to embrace them as one of their own - placing rose petals in the baptismal font as a sign of their love and support. I look forward to the baptisms at Eliot in the future.
Over time we may forget the words and the prayers, but we never forget the feelings, the emotions that swept over us at that moment. This is the spirit at work, making its presence known to us - the spirit that broke open the heavens and descended as a dove onto Jesus as he emerged from the muddy waters of the Jordan - the voice that said to him: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” That same voice reassures each of us who are baptized, “You are a beloved child of God, and at this very moment God is mighty happy with you.
On the first Sunday after Epiphany, the scripture reading is always devoted to the baptism of Jesus. Epiphany, the season of light, of new beginnings, lasts from now until Lent. With the beginning of the new year, Jesus sets off on foot to gather his disciples and begin the work God has called him to do.
But first, a detour into the wilderness to visit his cousin John, the baptizer. Baptism is a ritual signifying new beginnings. How clever that our lectionary puts these scripture passages in January. Many of us start out the new year by making resolutions - often they are a repeat of last years. We haven’t quite lived up to or accomplished all we had hoped.
John’s baptism was similar in a way to people making resolutions, although of a more spiritual nature - a way of brushing the slate clean and starting over again, this time with God clearly in focus.
Jesus’ baptism is sort of his inauguration. We haven’t heard anything about him since he was an infant, or a teenager in Luke. Now is the time for his public ministry to begin in earnest. So he comes, like the multitudes, to be baptized by John.
You might be asking the same question John asked Jesus: “What are you doing here Jesus? You should be baptizing me!” Could it be that Jesus knew he couldn’t address our human condition without getting down into the muddy water with us? We don’t usually follow someone who hasn’t gotten down into the trenches, who isn’t one of us.
After that joyful experience, where does he go? - into the desert to prepare, where he is tempted by Satan for forty days. Baptism did not guarantee perpetual joy and bliss. And as his Galilean ministry begins he comes face to face with a steady stream of people in need - of his wisdom, his healing, his compassion and love.
In the UCC we refer to Jesus as the sole head of the church, but he is not your typical leader, at least not by today’s standards. Many of our CEO’s and those in power seem more concerned with their own enrichment and advancement then the well being of others. Rev. Charles Hoffacker refers to Jesus as a “servant leader.” He was an extraordinary presence that drew people to follow him. He empowered others to use their gifts.
But he also washed his followers feet. He ministered to the poor, the marginalized, the sick - healing, teaching, encouraging. We sometimes stereotype servants as timid, passive, fearful. Jesus showed us another model: that by serving we can also lead and inspire and empower.
Jesus jumped into the Jordan to be baptized for the love of you and me. The least we can do is jump in too. John tells his followers that “I have baptized you with water, but Jesus will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Matthews gospel ends with “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
As Paul baptizes the Ephisians in the name of Jesus, his spirit is poured into them, the same way it is poured into us when we are baptized.
Through our baptism we are welcomed into the Body of Christ, the universal community of Christians. In baptism the Spirit gives us the power of God’s love and grace. It is our responsibility to take that power and release it into our lives and the world. We are baptized in the hope that we will become servant leaders.
A friend of mine is very active in raising money for The Global Fund for Women, which gives grants to women, mostly in developing countries, to start businesses. She wrote me to let me know that her housekeeper, gave all her holiday tips to GFW. Her sons also donated some of their holiday
money. With a small donation from her parents, they dropped off $300
at the new office. This was a real stretch because she is raising two
sons as a single mom. As a domestic worker, she wanted to help working women in the rest of the world.
She’s is a servant leader. Are you? The opportunities are out there for all of us. The world needs servant leaders now more than ever. January 20th is Martin Luther King’s day of service. What can each of us do that day to serve others?
You will be asked in the coming weeks to once again consider how you can use your gifts and talents and passions in the ministry of our church. What have you been doing this past year? We are having a ministry faire on February 9th during fellowship - an opportunity to learn about our various commissions and what they are doing. Which one would you like to become a part of? How can you become a servant leader in our church?
I found this week a prayer by Henri Nouwen that spoke to me about baptism and servant leadership. Please be with me in prayer:
Dear Lord, even when I know everything about you, even when I have
studied all the Scriptures with care, even when I have a great desire
and willpower to work in your service, I can do nothing without the gift
of your Spirit. Often I realize that the clearest vision of the true life, and
the most sincere wish to live it, is not enough to make me a true
disciple. Only when your Spirit has entered into the depth of my being
can I be a real Christian, a person who lives in and with and through
you. Lord, I pray for the power of your Spirit. Let this power invade me
and transform me into a real disciple, willing to follow you even where I
would rather not go. Amen
Baptism marks our birth as Christians. It is God’s gift to us of the Spirit. Most of us celebrate our birthdays each year. I think it’s important to also celebrate our birth as Christians. So today I invite any of you who would like, to renew your baptismal vows, and in doing so, to invite the Spirit to fill you with love and grace, and guide you in wisdom.
RENEWAL OF OUR BAPTISMAL VOWS
Do you believe in God, your creator, Divine power of the Universe within which we live and move and have our being? If so, say “I believe in God.”
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, brother and guide in faith? If so, say “I believe in Jesus Christ.”
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the presence of God in all that is? If so, say “I believe in the Holy Spirit.”
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself, finding mercy and compassion in your heart for those in need? If so, say “I will, with God’s help.”
Will you be true to the deepest part of yourself, nurturing your own spiritual life that you might nurture others spiritually? If so, say “I will with God’s help.”
Prayer: Loving God, strengthen these your servants, that they may continue to grow in relationship with you, with others, and in service to the world you have created. Amen
Now I invite any who would like to come forward at this time and take a stone out of the water to take with you as a symbol of God’s constant presence in your life through the sacrament of baptism.