Sunday, January 9, 2011
What does Baptism have to do with anything?
To follow is the text from this morning's (Baptism of Christ Sunday) sermon. I am convinced that so many of the problems of this world would be solved if we would only believe - really believe that we are God's beloved! (please excuse the punctuation - I write for the ear)
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 from 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."’
For Christmas Hannah, my number two daughter, gave me the Topsy-turvy. What a thoughtful gift for her mom who may not get to do much gardening, but always tries to grow a tomato or two. Have you seen one of these? They're pretty cool, huh? You put your tomato plant in, followed by soil and water, hang it UPSIDE down on your patio or from a pole or wherever you can get 6 hours of sun and there you have it – tomatoes all summer long.
We know that our world often seems topsy-turvy. Churches that were built in the golden age, built for the huge crowds of baby boomers who were going to fill the pews, now worship a fraction of capacity. There are other things demanding our time – we are more mobile, we can jump in the car and be in Cedar Rapids or Des Moines or hop on a plane and spend the weekend on the beach - in no time at all.
And you know, as crazy as the pace is for our lives – some families just need Sunday mornings to rest and regroup…I get that – the church and church leaders are starting to get that.
And so for the past 10 or 20 years there has been an emphasis on making churches more attractive – if we have an awesome band, if we play the most contemporary music, if we put together inspiring videos and 'wow' them - they will come back – and new ones will come to church too and our churches will grow again.
Hows that working for us? We now have a generation of Christians without depth, without roots – like a tomato plant growing in the topsy-turvy. Sadly most folks are more spiritual religious - and they are finding religion like everything else - self contained. We can get our spiritual fix from the internet, or we can even have our own portable preacher with any number of books or cd’s or videos… anything goes seems to be the way of our current culture when it comes to faith.
I think it was the same around 2000 years ago.
The Bible tells us that there was a powerful evangelist by the name of John, some even called him a prophet, like Elijah! John was calling out everyone in Israel – he was telling them that they were missing the whole point of God’s plan for their life – he was so convincing that people from across the region were drawn to him. The common folk, the religious elite, even the leaders from the temple were there, and John let them have it; 'you brood of vipers,' he proclaimed! He warned them that God was almighty and powerful and that God was going to reign down his wrath upon them! God was going to chop down every tree that wasn’t bearing fruit – and he was going to burn everything in his path.
Confessing their sins the people came running to be baptized by John in the Jordan River. The Jordan River. The place where the Hebrew people, after decades of following Moses out of Egypt and through the desert they crossed into the promised land. And fortified by the 10 Commandments they were finally set free to become the people who God had rescued from slavery in Egypt. Of course, that was centuries earlier and the people didn’t quite get it right then either. Even with Moses leading them.
Our Old Testament is full of the stories of God’s people doing their own thing and not getting it right. Time and again they were corrected, even punished by God, and they still didn’t get it right.
If I took my topsy-turvy today, January 9, 2011 and put a tomato plant in it, put the soil in it and watered it and put it outside on my front porch today…what kind of results would I get? In a matter of minutes the plant would die and by tomorrow the soil and water mix would be frozen as hard as a bowling ball. The timing isn’t right – is it?
God, in God’s infinite wisdom, over hundreds of years, with love and care, formed a people who would have the categories capable to receive God’s own self - God become flesh, Emmanuel, God with us, so that once and for all we would learn how to live as His people. How to love as His people, how to care for one another as His people and how to care for all of creation as His people!
The Jewish nation had been waiting for the Messiah thinking that he would be a great military leader and king, just like David. But God went all topsy-turvy on them – and instead He came as Himself. Jesus the carpenter from Nazareth, the 2nd person of the Trinity, turned everything upside down.
Here is Matthew 3:13-17 from Eugene Peterson’s translation in the Message:
Jesus then appeared, arriving at the Jordan River from Galilee. He wanted John to baptize him. John objected, "I'm the one who needs to be baptized, not you!" But Jesus insisted. "Do it. God's work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism." So John did it.
The moment Jesus came up out of the baptismal waters, the skies opened up and he saw God's Spirit—it looked like a dove—descending and landing on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: "This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life."
In the sacrament of Baptism we hear these same words. Words spoken to you and I… this is my daughter, this is my son – chosen by me – adopted as my own – marked by my love – you are the delight of my life.
And it is in this sacred moment that we are changed forever…there is nothing special about the water or our parents or sponsors or even the pastor who makes this possible – it is all about God! God loving us, wanting us, adopting us, cleansing us from the inside out so that we may claim our inheritance…the one that even now is waiting for us – you and I.
What is our inheritance? Love. Boundless love…the depth and breadth of which we have no concept…the kind of love that searches for the least and the lost, that holds us together when everything else around us is falling a part. The kind of love that never, ever, ever lets us go. Never. God’s love poured out for you and for me in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
God on earth, Jesus, the Messiah, did not call the Jewish people to arms – throughout his life he was devoted to one thing – sharing God’s love…teaching us that God’s kingdom is not a dream in the future but is present even now the kingdom of heaven is all around us. We have to open our eyes, repent of being focused on our own selfish ways and then believe that God’s love is the most powerful and driving force in the world. Darkness has already been defeated! Sin will not rule the day! This is the Good News for us and for the whole world.
And it is why owe baptize our babies, and we renew our baptism covenant – and we play in the water so that we may claim God’s love with confidence, and go into the world to be light and hope and love in His Name.
Peace, love in Christ,