Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Beloved

Luke 3: 15-17 and 21-22, NT page As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Sermon Dignified is the word I’d use to describe the way I feel up here in my preaching robe. I feel dignified and distinguished and wise, but regardless of whether I actually am any of these things, certainly I did not feel as though I was last Saturday afternoon when I woke up on my bathroom floor. Last Saturday I suffered a severe allergic reaction to something I ate, and after itching, and then watching my face swell up, and then passing out in the bathroom, which is where the EMTs and the firefighters came to check me out, I felt neither dignified nor distinguished nor wise. There must not have been very much going on last Saturday in Columbia, because at least half the fire department and all the EMTs in town found the time to come to our house, and if I would have known they were coming I would have at least zipped up my pants. Regardless, the thought of them fills me up with gratitude. The thought of Sara holding me in her lap and of Lily and Cece’s worried faces, half the neighborhood walking over to lend a hand, and all of you praying for me makes me feel blessed beyond words – for it is not while I am in this robe that I know God’s blessing, but when I am surrounded by the caring embrace of people who love me. This is where Jesus finds himself in our second scripture lesson for the day: he is not alone, but surrounded. However, when this event is painted or captured in stained glass Christ is most often set apart from the crowd, but Luke tells the story differently. Jesus goes to be baptized by John, and when he goes he goes not on his own but “when all the people were baptized.” Can you imagine – even when Al Roker gives the weather report the crowd stands behind a metal fence. When celebrities drive through town their limo windows are tinted black so crowds can’t see in, and even when a seeing eye dog walks down a sidewalk he wears a vest that says, “Don’t pet me, I’m on duty.” Can you imagine then, Jesus Christ, the son of God, getting baptized when all the people were baptized? In our world the more separated you are the more special you are, but here is Jesus right in the crowd. “And when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” In the same way that Jesus is also remembered as standing all alone with John during his baptism, so also are these words assumed to have been only for his ears. They are special words, life changing words, and if Christ stands by himself with only John the Baptist by his side, apart from the crowd and separated from them, then these words are only his. But here in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is not far from us but right beside us, and these words – they are not only his. “You are mine, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Of course, it’s possible to read this passage of scripture and reach the conclusion that these words belong to Christ alone, that they are meant for only his ears, but what then would be the point of his coming to earth if that were true? We already know that he is beyond us. We already know that we are below him. And if God’s power is anything like the powers that govern this earth than it only makes sense that God would be about the work of establishing power and distance and respect. He would not identify with us then, but like the rich and powerful of our world would rise up a fence to keep us out. He would make every effort to keep us in our place, to make sure that we remember that we are not the same but different – not colleagues but subordinates. And he would not eat with us would he – if God’s power were anything like the powers that seem to govern this earth than certainly God would demand a first class ticket and the curtain would be drawn to keep all of us in coach. However, here is his table – you are his guests. When he was baptized by John in the river Jordan he was not baptized alone. “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” These words were heard at his baptism, just as I say these words to every child who is baptized in this church – it’s not these words that make Christ our example – it’s that unlike all of us, having heard them Christ was bold enough to believe them. Soon enough he will be tested - sent out into the wilderness without food or water to be tested by Satan himself. Not long after he will be rejected in his home synagogue on the Sabbath, claiming to be God’s anointed the crowd drug him out to throw him off a cliff. And where would this path of rejection lead but to the cross, crucified as a common criminal, but would Christ doubt his worth in the eyes of God? That is what makes him different. Only that is what sets him apart. Every part of Christ – his human body, his desire to dine with sinners, and his baptism here alongside people just like you and me – made plain is Christ’s desire to be with you, to identify with you, so that you would know your worth in the eyes of God. “You are mine, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” The temptation is to believe that it can’t be true. Too much time has been spent to convince you that it’s not. How would the hierarchies of our world stand if it were? But it is – and no matter how this world tries to knock you down you must rise up again for through Christ God is saying, “You are mine.” No matter how many times you have felt put down or left out – baptized in his baptism you must remember that you are beloved. And whether it’s easier to believe that you’ve let him down, disappointed him, or made him question what he says here, Christ has come to be with you, and his presence is the great sign that with you God is well pleased. He was not baptized alone, but right beside you, and when God speaks to Jesus, hear the words that he heard for they are yours too: “You are mine, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Amen.

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