Passage: Isaiah 43:1-7; Luke 3:15-22
Date: January 07, 2007
Preacher: Rev David Hutchinson
Having trouble playing the audio? download the mp3
Some of the best things in life - begin - with an uneasy feeling. That's what I believe. Some of the greatest beauty - starts - with a little nauseous-ness. For example, morning sickness comes before a beautiful baby. Nervous energy comes before a great performance. If we didn't just "do it scared" sometimes we would never do it. Am I right?
It occurs to me that this is sometimes how I feel about faith. That I'm sort of, "doing it scared" some of the time. I'm definitely doing it. I'm showing up. I'm singing the songs, and praying the prayers, and giving the money, and doing the service. And yet sometimes I feel - a little uneasy about it all.
Do I really get it? Am I really, authentically, deeply a person of faith? I'm sometimes a bit uneasy about it all - - and yet it is nevertheless - forming me. I'm being made into a new creation - almost in spite of myself.
Anyway that's how I sometimes feel about it.
Because I know there are parts of myself that I would rather NOT take before God. There are times when I would rather back away from God's call. There are times when I can't believe that I'm hearing God correctly: "You mean, God, that you want THAT for my life?"
And so part of the struggle of our calling as Christians, as people of faith, our baptismal calling - - part of the struggle of that calling is - to bring our whole selves. But that's the call I hear today, as I look at that baptismal font. A calling to us - to bring our whole selves. A calling to be submerged in God - and God's way for our lives together.
Jesus Christ came before John that Baptist before Jesus began his ministry - and he stooped down and humbled himself and was baptized by a human being. He went down under the water. And when he rose a dove descended upon him the holy spirit.
That is the promise to us today. The Holy Spirit. God's spirit claiming us fully.
I have read that - many years ago - when a king converted to Christianity he would order his knights to be baptized. And when they were, sometimes, some of them would HOLD their RIGHT ARMS OUT of the water. As they were submerged in the water of baptism, they had this uneasy feeling about it. They were not ready for it to fully claim them. And as they were submerged they kept their right hands dry - and in so doing they kept their weapons dry. That way they could continue using the weapons in the ways of killing and warfare.
I have no idea how their lives all went after that. But I wonder if even a few were not in fact changed in some way.
To submerge our whole selves in God's power can make us queasy.
To fully confess our sins, and change our lives...?
But if that's what happens, you might ask, then what about Jesus? It's a good question. Why did Jesus, perfect Jesus, need to get baptized? Which leads me to more uneasy-ness. Hopefully leading somewhere beyond...Why did Jesus - who was God, right - why did Jesus need to get baptized?
One of the best ways I've heard that question answered is by a man named Robert Tannehill, who wrote a commentary on Luke. He said, we've got the question slightly out of focus. Rather than asking what in Jesus' life would possibly require a sinner's baptism - implying that Jesus was a sinner, and making a whole bunch of people really uneasy - rather than that - Luke's Gospel wants us to ask: "Why was Jesus in the water?"
Why was Jesus in there, in the water, among people who were enslaved to sin?
John the Baptist proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Luke wants the people in the water to be set free.
And for Luke, Jesus had to go down under the water, and get wet, and drown in sin and evil, in order to - - raise them up.
In the Old Testament reading for today, in Isaiah, chapter 43 the prophet says, "I will be with you when you pass through the water". Written many years BEFORE Jesus, these words, nevertheless, remind us of baptism and it's waters. [ read Isaiah 43:1-7 ]
Notice that for Isaiah, the waters are the TROUBLE. And in Luke's Gospel, and in baptism, water becomes a sign of the way OUT of trouble.
Maybe the water OUGHT to make us a bit uneasy. It's not easy to scared of a cup of water. But try a raging storm, or an ocean crashing on the shore. There is enough in life that reminds me of a raging storm for that to ring true.And it all makes me thankful that Jesus was there too. In the midst of the raging storms and the trouble, is Jesus, ready to raise us up.
But another thing that sometimes makes me uneasy about baptism, are these questions we respond to. How can we live up to them? How can we really live in Christian community, and nurture each other, and our children, and people who might move away? How can we keep these promises, given the way life is today?
I think that part of the answer is the RENEW the promises like we do today. To remember the promises over and over again. And to remember that in them - we meet Christ. In them, we encounter God's amazing grace. Over and over again.
In cartoons and illustrations, the YEARS are often represented as a baby and an old man. 2006 is an old man with a long white beard exiting life stage left. And 2007 is a little baby in diapers, toddling into life heading for center stage. Every year it's the same baby and the same old man, only with a different year.
Maybe somewhere there is a cartoon of an old woman and a girl?
In any case, you might ask, how can a person get so OLD in just ONE year?
And the answer might come back, "Hey, if you had lived through a year like 2006 you would look old too!" That would, in fact be, my statement about 2006. there were some tough things in the past year for a lot of people.
How do we make it through these raging waters? I think part of the answer is in this cycling by of time. The repetition and renewal.
"Time like an every rolling stream, soon bears us all away, we fly forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day." But while we are still here, year after year, we have a chance to renew over and over.
Our God is NOT a God of routine humdrum. But our God DOES continue to RENEW patterns. And one indelible pattern, is rebirth. Life emerging out of death.
If our God was a God of routine, Israel would still be enslaved in Egypt. But God gave birth to a history of hope and courage, out of the uneasiness, and the stormy waters of slavery in Egypt.
If God was a God of routine, Jesus would have gotten a job in the temple in Jerusalem, and retired with a nice pension and a few good books to his name. And Rome would still be in power, and the cross would be nothing more than a gruesome ancient device once used in executions.
But the cross is a sign of hope, and rebirth!
There is a difference between ROUTINE, and REPETITION.
In repetition, we seek renewal.
Renewal of ancient patterns that bring hope, and life, over and over.
One such ancient pattern is baptism.
I have heard baptism compared to a water-mark on a piece of paper. A water-mark, may be a good image for COMBINING Baptism and this time of the year, which is the celebration of LIGHT on Epiphany, which was January 6th. Baptism as a sign of grace, and the light of Epiphany. God's light in the darkness. Jan Bush has made this comparison in her book, "Mark's of the Maker".
A water-mark is found on a piece of paper. Expensive stationery or money for example. It is that mark you can see, only when you hold the marked piece of paper up to the light. If you hold a Jamaican bill up to the light, you'll see a pineapple. Pull away from the light and the mark is gone.
In the Christian tradition, our water-mark is baptism.
God recognizes us, and claims us, and marks us forever by the Holy Spirit. But God's mark on our lives is not always visible to the naked eye. Our lives are filled with uneasy, queasy moments. And yet, when held up against the light of God's love and grace, sometimes we see, and remember, and understand.
It is something to remember over and over.
Something to celebrate.
NOT something we ever need to redo.
But something that is always there.
But something worth celebrating over and over.
Something that might even make us a bit uneasy from time to time, because of what sorts of things it calls us into. The kinds of commitments and changes we are moved to make in our lives.
But in the end, even these changes, and uneasy moments, are signs of God's grace. Maybe they are even the best signs. With fear and great joy, we give thanks for God's amazing grace in baptism.