January 8, 2016
Take my lips, oh Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
I’m sure you noticed that this morning, we heard the story of Jesus baptism as told in the Gospel According to Matthew. To me it’s a particularly helpful reading in this season after the Epiphany. The author of Matthew makes it plain that the voice from heaven publicly proclaimed Jesus as the Son of God. Remember, the story is also told in the Gospel According to Mark. There the author seems most concerned to just get the story down without looking for explanations or filling in the details. Mark, I think, leaves us with a question. Certainly Jesus heard the voice from heaven but what about the other folks who were there? Matthew wants to clear up potential misunderstandings. Notice that Jesus says his act of being baptized by John fulfills God’s will. That’s important. But remember, in the Gospel According to Matthew, the focus in less on the baptism itself than on that voice from heaven. The public proclamation that Jesus is God’s Son is the point of the story. That’s a lot for such a short passage. So, we heard about Jesus’ baptism, and in just a few minutes we will celebrate Clare’s baptism. What about our own baptism’s? Think back to our collect for the day. We asked God to help us keep the covenant we have made and we asked that God empower us to boldly confess Jesus as Lord and Savior. Between the lessons and the collect I have to ask: how does this passage, as well as the other readings for today, help us to think about how baptism shapes our daily lives? After all, if nothing else we can understand baptism as an invitation to us. In baptism God invites us into new life right now. To me, and I hope to you as well, that is a powerful thought. Our liturgy for Baptism makes it clear. In baptism we, symbolically at least, die with Christ and are raised with him into new life. How are we to live right now as Christian people, people who have been made part of Christ’s body, sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever? Let’s revisit that reading from Acts. Today we hear Peter speaking to Cornelius and the other Gentiles.
Already those good Jews who followed Jesus in life are taking the Gospel message out into the wider world, the Gentile world. What a risk they took stepping beyond the bounds of what they always knew to be true, beyond the bounds of what they were comfortable with. Listen to Peter’s statement: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to [God]”. It wasn’t so long ago that for Peter that would have been a statement of deepest heresy. But Peter has had a new experience of God. Peter has seen that in Jesus God is doing an entirely new thing. It was Peter’s experience that Jesus was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit so that he went about “doing good”… “healing all who were oppressed by the devil.” Remember here that in that ancient world view the devil was behind a wide variety of human ills. Peter had experienced Jesus’ ministry. He had experienced both Jesus’ death and his resurrection. Peter speaks for all who follow Christ when he says that Jesus commanded us to “preach to the people and to testify that [Jesus]is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead”. Our Baptismal Covenant put it in question form: “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” And we, at Baptism and whenever we renew our vows reply: “I will, with God’s help.” It sounds like a big job doesn’t it?
It sounds like a big risky job, one that just maybe, we would be more comfortable avoiding.
It’s just that, well, God is with us in our lives and ministries every bit as much as God was with Jesus in his life and ministry. We can have confidence in that. I want to reach further back into our tradition for a moment, all the way back to our reading from Isaiah. This part of Isaiah came into being toward the end of Israel’s exile into Babylon. In other words somewhat before 538 B.C. Understand that, while in some ways, the identity of the “servant” is at times unclear, in this part of Isaiah it seems the servant is understood to be the people of Israel. I think it’s fair to say that as members of Christ’s body we can reasonable think of ourselves as now filling that role as God’s servants. It’s clear in today’s reading that we as the servant have an intimate relationship with the One who chooses us. Did you notice the reason God chooses the servant? God chooses us out of love. Love. “Here is my servant…in whom my soul delights.” Imagine that. God’s soul delights in you. And God has put God’s spirit on you. “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.” Listen for those words in a little bit when Clare is baptized. Isaiah is clear. God’ servants have God’s blessing. We have received from God the authority and the power to accomplish God’s work in the world. God, speaking through Isaiah says it plainly: “I have taken you by the hand and kept you”. But Isaiah doesn’t stop there. Isaiah goes on: “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners for the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” In short God has chosen us, called us, to continue God’s work in the world, the work that Jesus began during his time with us. Yes, I know, a whole lot of religious thought in the U.S. would have you believe that Jesus came to save individuals from some nebulous idea of “sin” so that after death a “good Christian” can be assured of life in “heaven”. And, to some small extent there is some grain of truth there. But that notion is not particularly Biblical, at the very least it is incomplete. Here’s the thing. To return to our Gospel lesson Matthew makes it clear that Jesus’ baptism is a kind of inaugural event. Jesus’ baptism serves to mark a time of beginning. God is doing a new thing. God is revealing God’s self in a new way through the person and the work of Jesus, the man we call Christ. Jesus’ ministry of good works and of healing show us both God’s power and God’s plan for the whole creation. In Jesus we see God’s intent to make whole that which is broken, to bring together that which is divided, and to heal what is sick in this world.
In light of today’s texts, in light of Clare’s baptism, and yours, I have a challenge for you. Why not open the Book of Common Prayer this week. It holds some good Biblical theology after all. Open it to page 304 and then pray with it all the way through to page 308. What do I mean? Read the Baptismal Covenant and the liturgy for Baptism slowly. Read them more than once. Hold the words in your mind and heart. Sit with the words and listen for what God is saying to you. How is God calling you to grow as a Christian person? What new thing is God doing in you and through you? How will God use you, a beloved servant just as surely as Jesus was, to further God’s work in creation? Amen