The Sunday Sermon: January 10, 2021 – Baptism of the Lord Sunday
Scripture: Matthew 3:13-15, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22, John 1:32-34
So, if you were with us last week (and I sure hope you were …) then you may recall that I told you that, as we recognized Epiphany and the end of the days of Christmas, our story – the story of how the mystery that we most commonly call “God,” how life and Being itself, how Love with a capital “L” was present in Jesus of Nazareth over two thousand years ago, and because of that presence is still among those of us who follow his Way – that story, our story, is only just beginning!
As beautiful, as fantastic, and as “true” in a more-than-literal-sense our Gospel Christmas birth stories are, our Christian story, our Christian life, actually begins, not in a manger (or a house) in Bethlehem surrounded by angels, shepherds (or Kings) paying homage and bearing gifts. Our story really begins in a river in Galilee surrounded by crowds of people asking questions and bearing burdens. Let’s pray together first …
There it is … there they are. For the first time, all four of our Gospels agree on something: Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan and was baptized. All those narratives that we’ve shared throughout Advent and the twelve days of Christmas have set the stage for the real story – the life, death, resurrection, and saving Love of Jesus the Christ. In fact, it’s remarkable how much these four different accounts are “alike” from this point on, written as they were at different times and in different places.
Jesus’ story begins “as he was coming up out of the water” (Mark), and “the heavens were opened to him” (Matthew), and God’s Spirit “descended upon him” (Luke), and he embraced his identity as “God’s chosen one” (John). That’s where our story begins, too. At this font. Nobody was there to write it all down as it was happening to Jesus, any more than anyone is writing down the events of our own lives from our birth to baptism to our own growing in divine and human favor. That kind of writing only comes after a life is so fully lived and a love is so wastefully shared that it demands an accounting when it’s gone. So it did for Jesus of Nazareth. (And maybe it will for one or two of us – but if we live our lives right, we’ll never know it! Jesus didn’t.) But still, some forty to seventy years after the end of his life, stories about him were written down.
In Jesus’ story we meet a human being capable of loving in every occasion of his life, never failing to respond to the purpose that this Love has for his life, never apart or separate from it, or as we like to say in church “he was without sin.” Jesus modeled a life that was obedient to the Way of Love and he called all those he travelled with and taught to do the same.
In Jesus’ story we meet someone whose life comes to a sudden and violent end. He was crucified for saying the things he said and teaching the things he taught; for doing the things he did and loving the people he loved; for claiming the truths he claimed. Justice without love is brutality. We know that. But Love without justice is banality. It’s trivial and sentimental and sappy. Jesus’ love was not sappy, it had teeth. It demanded that Rome, or any empire of this world, and Judaism, or any religion in this world, offer the poor good news, too; release the captives and the oppressed; and give the blind sight. Jesus’ love had teeth, and it got him killed. But that’s not the end, of course.
In these stories we meet someone who transcended, who rose above, even the grave. We proclaim a resurrection, on what has become known as Easter. We experience this resurrection for ourselves, here and now and we confess it for ourselves after our own death. It is in the experience of this event, Resurrection, the experience that Love triumphs over hate and life conquers death, that Jesus becomes our Christ and that our own Christian faith is born. And it all began, it’s all beginning again, in a river outside of Galilee.
Now, I hope I’ve thrown in enough “we’s” and “our’s” in this quick summary of our Gospel good news to get the biggest plot twist of all across to you: Jesus is not ultimately someone we just meet in a story. Jesus, if this human is to mean anything more to us than a bit of recorded history – is to be anything more to us than just a good teacher and a good example – Jesus must be an experience we take part in, must be a life we follow and must be a love that we use to save. A proper understanding of our story discovers the experience of Christ, God’s anointed, in Jesus and then uses that experience to discover God’s anointed in ourselves.
Jesus lived fully. We must live fully, too! This is our story.
Jesus loved wastefully. We must love wastefully, too! This is our story.
Jesus had the courage to be all that he was created by God to be. We must have the courage to be all we were created to be, too … This is our story.
And it’s just beginning … again.
As we “come up out of the water ourselves” – the waters of another beautiful Christmastime, different as it was, we will walk on together in search of direction and explanation, in search of vision and vocation, both personal and political. We will search the mystery at the center of our own lives and the purpose of our life together as a church. Maybe we can find a way to use this time of distancing as a way to figure out how to be even closer – to one another, to Jesus, to the Christ within us, and to God.
Let us begin again. Amen.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / January 10, 2021