Sunday, January 7, 2018

God’s Message for You January 7, 2018 RUMC

God’s Message for You

January 7, 2018


Your head should be spinning just little bit.

2 weeks ago we were at Christmas Eve, getting ready for the incarnation of God as a tiny little baby in Bethlehem.

Today, it is like we have stepped out of a time machine after being flung into the future. Suddenly the baby, who was just born, is 30 years old being baptized in the Jordan. Is this the Holy Spirit time machine or what?

Let me reassure you, there is no time machine here.  Jesus and John the Baptist were born about 4 BC.  Then the story has a lot of holes in it.

The Bible tells us four things about Jesus childhood.

·         He was dedicated at the temple at 40 days old.

·         He was visited by wise men sometime between the ages of 40 days and 2 years, usually we guess a year old.

·         The family fled to Egypt for a while.

·         When he was 12, Jesus was so engrossed discussing holy things with the priests that he missed the caravan back to Nazareth. After frantically looking for him, Mary and Joseph found him in the temple.

And then there is the 18 year leap to the baptism.

The time machine illusion comes because of the liturgical calendar. We celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December, Epiphany (the coming of the wise men) 12 days later on January 6, and the Baptism of our Lord the first Sunday after January 6th, which would be today.

To tell you the truth, the baptism of Jesus we celebrate today is more closely connected to Christmas 1987 (30 years ago) than Christmas 2017, There is no time machine here, but the liturgical calendar drastically compresses Jesus life. He lived about 33 years, but in just over 4 months the liturgical calendar will have him born, baptized, dead and resurrected. 

So if we set the question of time travel aside, we have a great story of Jesus being baptized by his cousin John in the Jordan River. 

We have to start with the question, “What was John doing?”  We know that ritual cleansing was not a new idea in the Jewish community. The Old Testament law prescribed washing as a means of ridding oneself of impurities, or uncleanness that might have been received by contact with unclean animals, human blood or even non-Israelites.

As the Greek empire moved through the region, there were Greeks who wanted to become Jewish.  Ritual cleansing was used, along with circumcision to make them part of the Jewish people.

Finally, there was a desert-dwelling community south of Jerusalem call Qumran.  You might have heard of the Dead Sea scrolls.  The scrolls came from this community. Some say that John the Baptist, who did not live far from the community, and whose ministry seems to have been at the south end of the Jordan River, was a member of the Qumran community.  If not a member, I think it is likely that he was influenced by them. Their manual for the community read that those wishing to enter Qumran "shall go into the wilderness to prepare there the way of Him; as it is written, Prepare in the wilderness the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a path for our God." That sounds almost exactly like John the Baptist, doesn’t it?

So John may have had a little different understanding of baptism than the general Jewish community. Instead of being a superficial cleansing of impurities, John preached a baptism of repentance. In other words, it was more than cleansing the outside of impurities, it was a symbol of an inward change.  It was a way of submitting the soul or the heart to all the ways of God.

That is what Jesus came to do. He came to submit himself to the work he was sent to do.  “Not my will but thine be done.”  He would say at the end of his life.  For Jesus, this was not just something he did for show.

 It was a way of giving himself wholly to the work God has sent him to accomplish.

We need to do the same thing. Although none of us are Jesus, just like Jesus we were born for a particular purpose. We were born to love God and love neighbor. Jesus says on these two hangs the whole of the law and the prophets. That is why each and every person is born. Not everyone, however, focuses on that one purpose.

Clyde Tombaugh, dedicated his life to the one purpose of discovery. "He studied tens of thousands of star images in pairs under the dual microscope. It often took three days to scan a single pair. It was exhausting, eye-cracking work--in his own words, 'brutal, tediousness.' After 20 million images on February 18, 1930, he saw that to which he had dedicated his life.  He discovered the planet Pluto.

John Baker is the best of what they call “hard men;” Rock climbers who scale sheer smooth vertical walls of rock.  His skill has not come easily. It takes commitment, dedication, and training. When John isn't climbing, he's often to be found in his California home hanging by his fingertips to strengthen his arms and hands. That is a life focused on one thing.

Lou Gehrig was such a clumsy ball player that the boys in his neighborhood would not let him play on their team. But he was committed. He threw caught and hit thousands of baseballs… He did not give up. Eventually, his life’s focus earned the “sultan of swat” a spot in baseball's Hall of Fame.

Maybe you know someone whose life is focused on money, or power, or fishing, or work, or just about anything. There is nothing wrong with those things unless they divert us from the real reason we are here… what if we focused our lives to loving God and loving neighbor as seriously as Tombaugh looking for that one flickering star among millions, with as much dedication as a rock climber hanging from his fingertips for hours at a time, or Babe Ruth hitting ball, after ball, after ball?

Baptism and baptism renewal are the lens through which we focus our lives on the one purpose for which we were born. Sure, we all have jobs and families, and hobbies and things to which we dedicate significant amounts of time…. But baptism is the one lens that focuses us on the one thing more important than all the rest put together. Loving God and loving neighbor.

Jesus came to be baptized as a way of focusing his life on that one track for which he was born: to love and save the world. We renew our baptism as a way of focusing our lives on that one track for which he was born: to be more and more like Jesus loving God and loving neighbor.

But baptism is not just something we do, or something the church does, or something the pastor does for us.  It is something God does.

In Jesus’ baptism, something very special happened. Each of the Gospels tells of a dove descending on Jesus and three of them repost God speaking. Matthew reports God’s words as a testimony to the crowd, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” Matthew, of course, was more interested than the others in proving that Jesus was who he said he was.  Mark and Luke agree, however, that the voice said: “You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”  The difference is subtle but important to me. In Mark and Luke the voice speaks to Jesus alone saying, “You are my beloved son.” Why?

I think of a youth I had in Bettendorf. We read this passage at our Sunday evening Revolution service one week. It might have been Baptism of our Lord Sunday.  I noticed this big tough kid getting very uncomfortable. This was a kid who had a tough life. He had been kicked out of the house, more because of his parents’ problems than anything he did. He lived on the streets.  To his credit, he stayed in school and when I knew Nate, he was bouncing back and forth between homeless shelters and friend’s couches. Eventually this tough as nails kid started to get red around his eyes. He started to tear up. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. I made a special point of taking him back to the shelter that night, which I often did.

On the way back asked him what he was thinking during the service. He started to tear up again.  It was a long time before he said anything.  We sat in front of the shelter quietly as he wept. Eventually, he said, “I have always wanted someone to say that.”  I waited and he sobbed into his dirty sleeve. He said, “I always wanted to hear my dad say that.”  I asked what he meant. He said, “I’m proud of you. I always wanted my dad to say I’m proud of you.”

We continued to talk about all the things for which I was proud of him, but I knew it wasn’t the same.

2 ½ ago when my dad was dying, we each had an opportunity over his last weeks to visit with him one on one.   I got to say the kinds of things we never seem to get around to saying. But the most important thing Dad said to me was “I’m proud of you kid.” It’s not that he never said it before, but that is the main thing he wanted me to know that day.  I remember the night before he died when he could no longer speak, sitting in the chapel at St Luke’s hospital just aching to hear him say it one more time.

Don’t you suppose that’s what Jesus needed to hear?  We all need to know that someone is proud of us, but given what was in front of him don’t you suppose he needed more than ever to know that his dad was proud of him.

I have performed dozens of baptisms and I have never heard God’s voice from a cloud like that.  But internally, I remember hearing that voice at my ordination and I hear that voice again every time I renew my baptism. “I’m proud of you. You are my beloved child.”

Don’t we all need to hear that?  But maybe you need to hear something else. What does God need to say to you today?

·         I’m proud of you

·         You are my beloved child.

·         I love you anyway.

·         You are forgiven.

·         Well done good and faithful servant.

·         I’m glad you’re here.

·         Don’t worry, It will be OK

·         Or maybe God is saying, “How long before you do what I have asked you to do?”

I don’t know…

What does God have to say to you today?   What do you need to hear from God today?

Listen… Listen for that voice… listen for that word from God… as we share baptism renewal today. As you live each day in God’s presence… listen for a word of comfort, encouragement, hope, or even challenge… whatever that voice says,  I assure you that behind the words are one important message… You are God’s beloved child and God’s proud of you.  

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