The Sunday Sermon: Baptism of the Lord – January 7, 2018
Scripture: Matthew 3:(1-12)13-17
So, I told you it would happen last week. This past week, during the single digit temperature days and sub-zero temperature nights, we traveled through a time warp of sorts. Last Sunday morning, according the Gospel of Luke, Jesus was forty days old being presented to the Lord in the Temple and today, as recorded in all four Gospels (though we’ll be hearing from Matthew), he is thirty years old stepping into the waters of the Jordan River.
We turn to Matthew’s gospel for this morning’s scripture reading. I won’t read all the scripture verses listed for today, you remember them so well. Matthew informs us that, some thirty years after the events we anticipated and then celebrated in Bethlehem and Nazareth, a man named John, the Baptist, has appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven has come near.” He’s wearing camel’s hair and a leather belt and he’s eating locusts and wild honey and he’s baptizing the people of Jerusalem and all Judea in the River Jordan, as they are repenting and confessing their sins.
He’s railing at the Pharisees and Sadducees of the Jewish Temples, calling them a “brood of vipers” and warning them that “even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees” ready to cut down the fruitless ones and throw them into the firs. John instructs the crowds that are gathering so “counter-culturally” that they are all filled with expectations and questions concerning John,. Luke says the crowds are asking him whether or not he might be the Messiah. John assures the people, in our Gospel stories, that he is not the awaited Messiah, that there is another coming. It’s not clear, historically speaking, whether John might of thought of himself as the long-awaited anointed one, but our Gospel stories are not about him, so in our sacred scriptures he demurs and continues to proclaim the good news to the people while they all wait. And then, on this particular day in the ministry of John … Listen for the Word of God … Then …
Read: Matthew 3:13 – 17 The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
So … here you are, here we are, far away from Christmas already, but with the “work of Christmas” just beginning. You see, while our Christian story may begin with a birth – in a manger (or a house) in Bethlehem surrounded by shepherds (or Kings, or both) paying homage and bearing gifts, or in whatever other way we choose to recognize it, our life as Christians begins in a river in Galilee. While our identity and our vocation as Christians begins with the experience of Resurrection on Easter morning, our life begins in earnest on the banks of the Jordan River.
It is the first time that all four of our Gospels will agree on something: Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan and was baptized, and John had something to do with it. The birth stories found in only two of our Gospels, and those two stories so different one from the other, express some profound understandings of how our God enters the world and how our God dwells among us, but Jesus’ earthly life, his story as far as Christianity is concerned, truly begins “as he was coming up out of the water” (according to Mark), as God’s Spirit “descended upon him” (according to Luke), as he embraced his nature as “God’s chosen one” (according to John), and as “the heavens were opened to him” (according to what we just read in Matthew).
This is where our story begins too. At this font. Death and new life …
It’s our story, over and over again. It’s in the major narratives of our sacred scripture from beginning to end – the story of Creation and of the Exodus, the story of the Exile and the return, the story of Emmanuel and the son of God, the story of the Resurrection and the new Heavens and the new earth. We constantly seek ways to live without God or at least to live with God on our terms. Over and over again we “die” and when we realize again, if only for a moment or two, that Jesus just may have been right, when we confess that we are less than we were created to be, we are given new life. We reenact that death and resurrection every time we gather here through our prayer, our pardon and the Doxology that follows.
We haven’t yet gotten out of this cycle because we always put God “out there,” apart from us, different and distant to our lives. The closest we get is Jesus at Christmastime and maybe a little bit on a morning like this, when we celebrate his own baptism. We were born and baptized, most of us, too. But we keep God distant from our own “being” by not acknowledging our own role as “Emmanuel” and as God’s beloved with whom God is well pleased.
But we’re on a trajectory this year, since the church year began on the first Sunday in Advent we’ve been on a journey to discover ourselves in the life of Jesus to take our own role in the world as God’s anointed seriously. So, Imagine this morning a river … picture it in your mind … do you have it? At this river’s edge there are hundreds of people standing around, a few are in the river, on both sides, some laughing, some arguing, some sitting quietly, and all waiting. All are aware on some level that they came, along with so many others, old and young, for a greater, deeper purpose. But, they’re wondering “… what was that, exactly, that purpose?” And then … in walks a distant memory, almost forgotten, but instantly recognized. In walks someone else coming to be baptized, coming to accept the call from God that will change everything, coming to acknowledge the divinity that is within them. In walks … you. You are the one the world has been waiting for.
As Jesus accepted the sacrament of renewal at the hands of John, through the waters of the Jordan, we, too, have been baptized into new life – whether we remember it or not, whether as babies or believers, we are God’s anointed now. As Jesus acknowledged the divinity within him, we, too, must accept our call if anything is going to change. We are the Beloved with whom God is well pleased. The Incarnation, our scripture’s telling of how God comes to us in human form, is not just about Jesus of Nazareth. It is about you and me. We must not be afraid to admit, to acknowledge, the Christ in us, to find ourselves in Jesus of Nazareth, differing not in kind, only in degree, only in our willingness to accept our role as God’s anointed. Emmanuel, indeed. Will we live into that destiny this year? Or keep it separate, housed in someone else only, disconnected from our “real world” because Jesus the Christ is only a memory, not a reality today.
In the weeks ahead, we’ll continue the journey and answer the questions with our new commitment to be all we were created by God to be. But this week, this morning, right now, let us accept that the call is ours in the world today.
In fact, this morning, we celebrate three among us who are doing just that. In simple but profound ways they have accepting their call to lead and “order” the life of this community, those of us gathered at the riverside. We ordain and install new Elders every year as we recognize in them, and they recognize in themselves, their “belovedness.” We anoint them to guide and shepherd us in the years ahead. Nick, Hope, and Jay faithfully respond to their call from God through this congregation. Let each one of us pause, as Jesus did in the Jordan, to “fulfill all righteousness,” to satisfy God’s will by acknowledging God-in-us. We have been made “ready,” we have been “set,” and this morning we must “Go!”
To guide our own journey, at this time, we call forward our Elders-elect – Nick Clark, Hope Gardiner, and Jay Poole. Will you come and join me around the font. As these four come forward, we remind ourselves … (Elder Ordination/Installation litany) …
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / January 7, 2018