Stepping in the River with Jesus

buy Pregabalin The Sunday Sermon – January 10, 2016

buy you a drank lyrics Scripture:  Gospel Accounts of Jesus’ Baptism  from this source Stepping in the River with Jesus

So, if you were here last week (and I sure hope you were …), then you will recall my reminder that our story – the story of how the mystery that we most commonly call “God” was present in Jesus of Nazareth over two thousand years ago – and because of our memory of that presence is still among those of us who follow his Way today – that our story has not ended with the final celebrations of Christmas. No, our story is only just beginning!

Pray with me …

We’re only just beginning because all of that Christmas stuff, powerful as it is for us, was just the set up. Our Christian story actually begins, not in a manger (or a house) in Bethlehem surrounded by shepherds (or Kings, or both) paying homage and bearing gifts.  Our story really begins in a river in Galilee.  Our identity as Christians begins at Easter, but the story we tell about resurrected life begins in earnest on the banks of the Jordan River.  Listen for the Word of God …

Read the four scripture passages from the Gospel:

In those days, Jesus came from Nazareth to Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus said, “Let it be so for now.”

Now when all the people had been baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized …

John testified, “I saw the spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.”

For the first time, all four of our Gospels will agree on something: Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan as was baptized, and John was had something to do with it.  More on that in a moment or two.  But, for now the overture is done, the opus is about to start.

Jesus’ earthly life, his story as far as Christianity is concerned, truly 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 nature as “God’s chosen one” (John). That’s where our story begins too.  At this font.

How many of you remember your baptism? (…)  For most (many) of us, the vows at baptism were made on our behalf by our parents or other guardians.  Theologically, the Baptism of infants and children witnesses to the truth we hold that God’s love claims us before we are able to respond in faith.  Our response may come later, through our “confirmation” of the vows taken for us.  So most (many) of us don’t remember our own baptism.  But all of us who are members of this church, or any, have stepped into the waters ourselves.  The bigger question for us as we begin again is, “Do we remember what it means?”

Baptism is not just, it isn’t even primarily, about joining a religious group, a church. Baptism is about death.  (So how many of you were baptized, again?!)  Baptism is about dying.  I say it every time we celebrate the sacrament here, and you’ve heard it long before me in other Pastor’s words:  In Baptism, we participate in Jesus’ death.  In Baptism we die.  As little babies, as young girls or boys, as teenagers, as adults, when were baptized we … died … to all that separates us from God.

Jesus and John and the men and women of Galilee in the first century AD had the exact understanding.  How could they have?  Jesus was a Jew.  Christianity was a century or more away.  But baptism has always been a “cleansing,” a preparatory act that signifies a return to God and God’s Way. God’s Way …

In this day and age, in our time, God’s “Way” is understood quite differently across denominations, even within them. We all claim to be Christians, but some of us claim that God’s Way will ultimately destroy the world and all the non-believers with it, and the true believers will be “taken up” to heaven.  Others claim that God’s Way will not destroy, but restore, this world and all of creation to the “Edenic,” Eden-like, garden as “it was in the beginning.”  That’s a pretty big difference in understanding about the “Way of God.”  And I’m not so sure it’s anything new.

You see, Jesus had some different ideas than John. John was an “apocalyptic eschatologist,” a prophet/teacher who revealed the end of things.  John’s “revelation about the end” included the imminent, any time, arrival of God with a fiery, ax-wielding judgment that would destroy any who do not bear “good fruit.”

Jesus was an “apocalyptic eschatologist,” too, a prophet/teacher who revealed the end of things. But, Jesus’ “revelation about the end” included the message that God was already here, among us working through us, not to destroy, but to transform creation.  The Kingdom of God on earth … as it is in heaven.

I know we most often think that Jesus and John agreed on everything and were “cut from the same cloth,” but I don’t think that’s actually the case. Take a look at the four accounts of Jesus baptism in our Gospels.  I read one verse from each of them for this morning, beginning with Mark, then Matthew, Luke, and then John.  But read the full accounts in each book.  Chronologically speaking, Mark was written first, then Matthew, closely followed by Luke, and finally John.  The Gospel writers “distance” Jesus from John, if only just a bit, as they write further and further from the historical event.  Mark, the oldest that begins with Jesus’ baptism, simply states “Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John.”1:9 Matthew records the only dialogue between these two, having John say, “I should be baptized by you,” and Jesus reply, “Let it be so ‘for now.’”  Luke doesn’t have John and Jesus even meeting in what he writes, actually mentioning Jesus’ baptism after reporting John’s imprisonment.  And John (the Gospel writer) unlike all the others doesn’t describe Jesus’ baptism at all.  He just writes of John the Baptist’s response to it.  It’s not even clear, however we’ve assumed it to be, that John did the baptizing!

The point is, as with the different understandings of God’s Way, today, there were different understandings of how God was at work in first century Galilee.  As our story begins again, I want us to be sure we “step in the river with Jesus” and follow the Way of God that he taught and modeled and died for.

Nobody was there to write it all down as it was happening to Jesus, any more than anyone has been writing down all the events of our own lives from our birth to baptism to Confirmation to now.  That kind of writing only comes after a life is so fully lived and a love is so wastefully shared that it creates a powerful void and demands an accounting when it’s gone.  Jesus life was such a life, his death was such a death, creating the need for new life in his name.  And not long after his death, three days we are told, stories began to circulate about the life he lived and the life he gives.  A few decades later these stories were written down.

But, Jesus is not ultimately someone we simply 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 that 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 others.  We must step into the river with him.  To die and to be reborn, over and over again.

If we can – or let me be more optimistic for the weeks ahead: as we do – we will walk together with him into the weeks ahead before Lent in search of direction and explanation and 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 as a church.

This morning we mark this new beginning in one of the most profound ways anyone of us can do that as a Presbyterian, beyond Baptism itself: through ordination and through  installing new Ruling Elder to serve the Body of Christ, wherever it may be.  Four among us have agreed to gather around our Baptismal font this morning, responding to your call as a congregation, and to God’s call, to “step into the river.”  Two will be ordained, Alison Clark and  Myles Scott, and they will be joined by Dan Kinicutt and Sue Toole, already ordained, in being installed as our newest Elders.  Will all four of you come forward and gather around this font to respond to the questions we have of you?

The Ordination and Installation service begins, ending with the following prayer:

You know our hearts, O God; you know our weakness and fear. But you also know the goodness in us, for we are your children.  Lead us to the saving knowledge that, while too often we feel we do not have it in us to be disciples of Christ, we respond to his call.  Our hearts choose you and your way again, this day, trusting that you who called us will see us through.  Make Alison, Dan, Myles and Sue profoundly aware that as they lead this congregation, you, O Lord, will be there before them, preceding all of us and the gospel word of your unconquerable love will be the last and everlasting word we shall hear.  Amen.

Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / January 10, 2015