Monday, January 9, 2017

Called but not Qualified

Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 42: 1-9 and Matthew 3: 13-17, NT page 3 Sermon Title: Called but not Qualified Preached on January 8th, 2017 This is a time of year for reading some of the most familiar Scripture passages. We started last month with Mary and Joseph, then the baby Jesus was born and we read on Christmas Eve that he was visited by the Shepherds, last Sunday we read that he was also visited by the Wise Men. Considering all those passages telling of his miraculous conception and everything else, is it surprising that his baptism is equally amazing? As I said, these are familiar Scripture passages that we’ve been reading lately and every year at this time we read about Jesus’ baptism – the voice of God saying “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” and the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him – and these miraculous elements are vitally important in helping us understand who Jesus is, but with all the miracles that we’ve already seen, it’s not all that surprising is it? He was born of the Virgin Mary, conceived of the Holy Spirit – so why wouldn’t his baptism be miraculous – why wouldn’t the Holy Spirit of God be present? The Prophets spoke of his birth years before he was conceived – so why wouldn’t God speak at his baptism? He is the Son of God, we know this already, so the fact that God says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” reaffirms what we already know. But what surprises me about this familiar passage, is that while the Divine is present in his baptism as at his birth, here in the Jordan River, the human is called on too. Now that’s been the case all along – Jesus has a human mother named Mary. A human Joseph is called on to raise the divine child as well, but it strikes me today to see and know that the voice of God is heard and the presence of the Holy Spirit is felt, but Jesus was baptized by a mortal man named John, who hesitates to be involved. Our Scripture Lesson begins: “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?” The author of the book of Matthew tells us that John would have prevented him, and I can understand that. Getting called on by God can be a frightening thing. Our neighbor, Kile Patrick, he called his wife Connie last week and he says, “I just had the most incredible thought. If my cell phone rang and the caller ID said that it was God calling, would I pick up?” Not everybody would. Not everybody does. Think about it – isn’t it an overwhelming thought that God would call on you or me to do something for him? Just about every time it happens the one who’s called on hesitates. The Lord appeared to Moses in the Burning Bush and Moses says: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh.” The Lord woke young Jeremiah from sleep in the Temple and Jeremiah says: “I am only a boy.” The Lord calls Isaiah and Isaiah says: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.” The phone rings and God is calling – but not many people are ready to pick it up – so also Jesus came to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him, and John would have prevented him asking, “who am I to be baptized by you?” Isn’t that what we all ask? Who am I to serve the church as an Elder? Who am I to teach Sunday School? Who am I to comfort those who mourn? Who am I to preach? How do we respond to the honor of being called? At first some are afraid, but we must all answer, because Christianity is not a spectator sport, though sometimes we treat it like it is. Sometimes we walk into this sanctuary, and because there are seats out there, there’s a platform up here, it’s easy to fall into the assumption that this place is something like a theater. In a theater, there are three basic stations – there are three basic roles. There’s the audience, the actors on the stage and then there’s the director who is back behind the curtain. That’s true in so many places we go. At a dance recital, there are the dancers on the stage, Millie Landers and Dorie Richcreek are behind the curtain helping them along, and the parents and grandparents are loving every minute of it in the audience. But this sanctuary is different. Every Church is different. According to the great Danish Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, in the sanctuary God is the audience, you are the ones on stage, and it is the job of those of us who stand up here to direct you in your performance of praise and worship. How then is it if someone falls asleep in the back? To God it is the same as if a dancer fell asleep on stage. Christianity is not a spectator sport, though many treat it as though it were. Many are called on but don’t pick up the phone. We don’t feel worthy, we don’t feel able, we don’t have the time, but the Lord calls on humans to take on divine work just as Jesus called on John at the Jordan. Maybe we hesitate saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” but still he does. He does again and again and again, and this is what surprises me today as I read this familiar passage from the Gospel of Matthew – God calls on the human to participate alongside the divine. And John doesn’t feel worthy to do so. Neither do I. We sing to worship God in here, but have you heard me sing? Still, here’s the truth – I don’t sing for you nor should you ever sing for me – for in worship the audience is God and God would rather hear my off-pitch voice than my whisper. It sounds strange that God would need our voices, maybe because we don’t know that God uses them, but let me tell you something – I was at a funeral last week. The little chapel was packed, and as the congregation rose to sing the family wept. That’s a thing that we don’t always remember. A funeral is scheduled and we wonder if we should go. They won’t notice if I’m there, we say, or we wonder who am I to believe that I would give any comfort with my presence, but if you could see what it is like as a congregation stands when the grieving family enters the sanctuary you too would know that your presence gives more comfort than any words this preacher could ever say. God calls us. God uses us. But like John we hesitate, saying, “I’m not worthy” but God doesn’t call perfect people. God doesn’t call the qualified. God qualifies the called. Christianity is no spectator sport, and just as Jesus called on John to baptize him in the Jordan, so also you are called on every single time a baby is baptized here. You are not to watch as I sprinkle that water on her head – you are to participate, making promises to everyone who is baptized here “to receive the child into the life of the church” and to “support and encourage her through prayer and example to be faithful in Christian Discipleship.” Now that I’ve explained it this way you might be thinking what John was thinking and wishing that you could have prevented all that, but hear what Jesus said to John, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Isn’t it a miracle, an amazing miracle, that all righteousness is fulfilled with the help of a human’s hands? That a church is called on to teach a child about the grace of God? But this is the way of God – the divine inviting the human, not to stand by and watch, but to play a part. So, do not hesitate – you may not be qualified, but you and I, we are called. Amen.

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