Sunday, January 12, 2014

the springing off point

January 12, 2014
All Saints’ Church

May the words I speak and the words you hear be God’s alone. Amen. 

Just a week ago we heard about the visit of three wise men to the baby Jesus, followed by the Holy Family’s escape to Egypt and eventual return to Nazareth. In today’s readings we have fast-forwarded to Jesus at the ripe old age of about 30. We know very little about what happened in between those years. There’s one story about Jesus staying behind in Jerusalem during a festival without telling his parents and so scaring them half to death, but other than that, Jesus’ childhood and adolescence are a mystery. 

The writers and compilers of the Bible think very carefully about each and every word they write, so pay very close attention to what the authors include and what they do not. Presumably Jesus has a typical childhood, so it is not worth mentioning. Matthew chooses to continue the story of Jesus at his baptism. This moment is a turning point in Jesus’ life. He is no longer a child, but has become a man, and his baptism becomes a springing off point for his ministry. Immediately following his baptism, Jesus is sent into the wilderness before returning to preach, teach, heal, and call his disciples (Matthew 4). In the reading from Acts, the author states that the message of peace that God sends to Israel “[begins] in Galilee after the baptism that John announce[s]” (Acts 10:37). 

John, Jesus’ cousin, the one who leaps in Elizabeth’s womb when he hears Mary’s voice, is the one who “prepares the way” for Jesus. He’s the one who compels people to repent and get baptized in order to forgive their sins as the kingdom of heaven arrives. Jesus seeks out John and asks to be baptized by him. John recognizes that Jesus is the Messiah, and is uncomfortable with Jesus’ request. But Jesus seeks to be baptized not because he needs forgiveness, but because this joins him to all those who’ve been baptized. God gives Jesus a sign of affirmation through the Holy Spirit, which gives him the strength to begin this next phase of his life. 

We are joined to Jesus Christ in our baptism. When we are baptized we become part of something much bigger than just our family unit or church community or even the wider Church.  When we are baptized, we join the communion of saints, all those who have come before us. When we are baptized, we become part of the Body of Christ, and heirs to his kingdom and the message he proclaims (BCP 858). 

In a few moments, we are going to renew our own baptismal covenant. We will begin by saying together the Apostle’s Creed, a summary of our belief in God (BCP 304). Then we will promise, with God’s help, to continue to gather together to worship, read Scripture, pray, and share Communion. With God’s help we will resist evil and ask for forgiveness when we stray. With God’s help we will spread the message of God’s grace and love spoken through Christ. With God’s help we will look at each and every person we meet as worthy of love and respect, and work to bring justice and peace to all people. 

Too often Christianity can seem like a club; so many times the emphasis is placed on belonging to a specific church or denomination. However, membership in the Body of Christ should not be inward-facing but outwardly-focused. My previous rector likes to tell the story of an experience with one particular group of eighth grade confirmands. They were gathered in the church around the altar while the rector explained to them about the Eucharist. The eighth graders were listening as best they could, when the rector asked them a question. “What is the most important piece of furniture in a church?” The kids looked at him. He repeated the question, this time patting the altar, “What is the most important piece of furniture in a church?” Without hesitating, a boy answered, “the exit sign.” [facepalm] “The exit sign?” the rector asked, becoming quite irritated that the kid wasn’t taking the lesson seriously. “What do you mean, ‘the exit sign’?” The boy replied, “because after the service we exit and go out into the world.” Membership in the Body of Christ should not be inward-facing but outwardly-focused. 

When you go out of these doors today, what are you going to do? How can you work toward fulfilling the promises you made in the covenant? Living into our promises is not an easy task, but remember that Jesus went through the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry. Be nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ, broken and shed for you. Draw strength in the fact that we are loved beyond reason and all of us are in this together. Know that with God’s help, we can “accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine” (Eph 3:20). 

So let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work! 

Image found here.

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