Sunday, January 12, 2020
I love today’s scripture readings. I know. I know. I almost always say that. Can’t help it. I love the Word of God. I love how it is alive. How we find new meaning in it. Almost every time we pick it up and study it. Or, if we are not finding something new, we are being reminded of something old! Something we knew but needed to be reminded of.
We are not far into the new year. I hope you are dwelling in the Word every day! I am finding special joy in writing out the scriptures. Getting in tune with my inner scribe.
I am writing the book of Psalms, copying out the text into a journal. I am expressing myself artistically in it, too. My friend Kerry is writing out the Gospel of Luke. I highly recommend this discipline. It helps me center and focus on the Word. It will probably take a good bit of the year to get through the Psalms. That’s ok. God’s Word is worth it!
What I love about today’s scripture from Isaiah and Matthew is that they are talking about my best friend. They are talking about the one who loves me when everyone else might be having a hard time loving me. They are talking about the one who has stood by me. The one who looked not upon my sin, but upon my soul. The one who saved me. The one who, one day, I know will welcome me into his arms in that great land of glory. They are talking about my Jesus.
I shared with you last week that we were living In the season of Epiphany. A central theme of Epiphany is the Light of Christ. We have already celebrated the coming of the Wise men, the presentation of their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Last week, we talked about how those things were part of God’s provision delivered through human agents. We talked about how we are invited to also be part of God’s provision for others.
Another thing that Epiphany calls us to remember and to celebrate is the baptism of Jesus. Through remembering Jesus’ baptism, we remember our own.
Not long after the birth narrative is told, scripture jumps ahead. Starting in Chapter 3 of Matthew’s Gospel, a man named John the Baptist appears on the scene. We don’t read about the conception and birth of John in Matthew’s Gospel. We get those details in the Gospel of Luke, in the first Chapter.
John is the child of the priest, Zechariah, and his wife, Elizabeth, a cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus. For years, this couple had longed for a child, but they seemed unable to conceive. One day, an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah while he was serving at the altar of the Lord, burning incense before the Lord. The angel tells him that they will have a child that would be a joy and delight to them. That the child would be great in the sight of the Lord.
The angel says that he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. When Mary comes to visit with Elizabeth while she is pregnant with Jesus, we are told that the baby, John, leaps in her womb. Maybe this is when he is filled with the Spirit.
Jesus and John are second cousins. I don’t know how well they knew each other, but they were family. We can imagine that maybe they knew each other a good bit when they were young. I have three cousins, Carol, Beth, and Jackie. I have fond memories of being with them when I was young at family gatherings. I don’t get to see them much now. But when we do get together, it’s always a good time of reunion. Maybe you have fond memories of your cousins also.
John has a special calling from God. He was given a message from God to share with the people. He was to say to the people, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Matthew tells us that the prophet Isaiah talked about John. He called him “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
We are told that many people were responding to John. They were coming out of Jerusalem to hear him. As word about him spread, folks started coming from the entire region.
They began confessing their sins to him, presenting themselves to be baptized. This was a well-known practice, to be ritually washed, to signify one’s dedication and commitment to God.
John told the crowds, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
One day, John was surprised, I think, to see Jesus there on the bank of the Jordan. Then, Jesus was not just there on the bank, but he was walking into the water before John just like the sinners were doing.
John says to him, “I need to be baptized by you.”
Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”
So, John baptizes his cousin. Dips Him down into the water. Raises Him up.
The scriptures say that as Jesus was coming up out of the water the heavens opened right at that moment. Jesus sees the Spirit of God descending, looking like a dove. It settles on Him.
And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.”
Don’t you wish you had been there that day? I wonder if you and I would have any idea of what was going on? Would we have heard that voice? Would we have recognized Jesus as the Son of God, the one loved by God?
To be honest, we might have missed it. I have an idea that there was a good crowd there. That to many, Jesus would have looked just like the others who were entering the waters. I have an idea that the words spoken between John and Jesus were quiet words, just between the two of them.
Maybe we would have noticed the sudden parting of the clouds. Maybe we would have noticed the descending dove. Maybe we would have had our own spirits stirred and felt the voice of God speaking, “This is my son…whom I love.”
God’s love for Jesus was astounding. God’s love for Jesus was the love of a Father. More than that, in ways that we cannot even fathom, it was self-love. For Jesus was also God, the Union between Father, Son, and Spirit. So unique! So amazing!
Isaiah, I think, had the vision of the one who was coming one day. In what we know as Isaiah 42, the prophet was passing on to us words of God.
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on Him, and He will bring justice to the nations.”
God says to the one He would call His own, “I will take hold of Your hand. I will keep You and make You to be a covenant for the people, a light for the Gentiles. You will open eyes that are blind. You will free captives from prison.” (paraphrased)
God was announcing through Isaiah that Jesus was going to do a new thing. He did all those things, in the fullness of time, in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He opened our once blind eyes to the grace of God. He freed us from the prison built around us from sin. He gives to us a new life. He gives us love, the love of God.
At His baptism, God affirmed His love for His Son. Here is the thing I know about that great and awesome love. It is not limited to the Father and the Son. For God’s love is an overflowing love. We get a share in it.
I tell you what. There is a lot of stuff I just don’t know. Sometimes, I think that I know something. Then, it turns out I was wrong. When you get thinking philosophically and theologically, your mind can start spinning. Things can get real complicated real fast.
That is not a reason not to think theologically. We should be trying to figure out what we believe because that becomes the basis for how we act, how we live. It’s not bad. I am not anti-intellectual.
For me, it all boils down to one important, unshakable thing. I might be wrong about everything else, but I am not wrong about this. I am loved by God. You are loved by God. The one who is yet a stranger to us is loved by God. And, I have to remind myself of this sometimes, but even people I don’t like are loved by God. Even people I don’t think should be loved by God are loved by God. We all are. God loves me. God loves you. That love is an overflow from the great love that flows etween Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
That love is an assurance to us. We are not alone. God is with those God loves! We are not helpless. God helps those he loves. We are not vulnerable to the attacks of evil. For as much as evil would want us to believe the lie that we are vulnerable, the truth is we are not. God is with those He loves and upholds us. We have nothing to fear because we have God with us! God never abandons his beloved ones. That is who we are! We are beloved of God, precious and beautiful to behold!
I know it’s hard to believe. How could the love that flows between the Father and the Son overflow to us? But it does! It is ours for eternity!
Let your heart rejoice, dear one of God. Let your spirit soar. Be filled with joy this and every day. Despite your circumstances. Despite your troubles because we still have troubles. We still have woes. We still have sorrows. That’s a part of living in this world, but this world is not all there is! This end is not THE END.
Just as the love overflows from the Father and Son and Holy spirit to you, let it overflow to others! Share the Light! Share the Joy! Share the Love!
Today, as we have remembered Christ’s baptism, I also want you to remember your baptism. If you have never been baptized, and want to present yourself for baptism, we can do that. Now or later. Just let me know.
If you have been baptized, then I invite you to come to the font. In the United Methodist Church, we only baptize you once. Why? We believe that baptism is primarily God’s action. It’s a sign of God’s grace. It’s a sign of being included in the community of faith.
I was baptized as a baby. I am glad I was. It has meant that all my life I have been part of the community of faith, the church.
Some are baptized as youth or adults. They make a confession of their faith at the time of their baptisms. That’s a good and meaningful thing, too.
We do not “re-baptize,” but we do remember and give thanks to celebrate our baptisms. I invite you to come forward and extend your hand over the water. I encourage you to remember your baptism and give thanks. If it is difficult for you to come forward, but you would still like to participate, simply let an usher know. We will come to you.