January 12, 2020

GOSPEL

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.  14John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"  15But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented.  16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.  17And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."

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While you’re watching a marathon, a boxing match, or a football game, do you ever notice how an athlete, when handed a bottle of water, will not only take a drink, but will sometimes also pour or squirt the water over his head and then shake off the droplets with refreshed or braced spirit?  This generally happens after a period of intense physical exertion, or during a hard-fought contest, or while facing a demanding challenge.  The athlete not only drinks the water for inner refreshment and re-hydration, but also splashes and, we might as well say it, baptizes him- or herself for an outer rejuvenation of bracing spirit.  And then it’s back to the fray, or on with the contest!

And after a hard-fought victory has been gained, or an important championship game won, or a record broken, have you ever noticed how teams like to douse the coach or MVP by pouring over his head this icy gush of liquid from the brimming sideline’s cooler, or how teammates will squirt each other with champagne or pour it over a champion’s head?  And there’s joy and elation, the celebration of victory, and the rush of spirit after a great achievement…

So after a trying round, or when a squad comes off a hard-contested field, or as the runner pants onward to a distant finish line, it’s not unusual for water to be splashed, and squirted, and shaken off for the bracing gift of spirit to continue the contest.  And after an exhilarating victory or an outstanding achievement of glory, it’s not unusual for people to be doused as joy overflows… If the truth be told, with water or “the spirits,” there’s a lot of baptizing going on all around us… and not only among sweaty winning athletes and their fans, but also among triumphant candidates and their supporters, and among grimy victorious soldiers and their liberated. For bracing spirit to continue in the fray, or in overflowing joy for hard-fought victory won, there is a lot of baptizing that goes on – and people end up shaking off droplets of refreshing spirit, and sputtering their words of joy through the water dripping down their faces, and standing proud as wet clothes stick to the contours of bodies unabashed.  If the truth be told, there’s a lot of baptizing going on…

And so it was that Jesus, one day at the Jordan River, was shaking off those droplets of refreshing Spirit, and there were sputtering words of joy through the water dripping down his face.  Jesus stood proud as his wet clothes stuck to the contour of his body unabashed.  I’d like to think of Jesus’ baptism in this way – as the giving of bracing spirit, as the dousing of the champion, as the coursing joy of the soon-to-be victorious.  And the dynamics we see along a marathon’s course, on a frenzied sideline as a victory erupts, or in a ring’s corner as a fighter gets ready for the next round – all this baptizing going on around us can help us relate to, and understand what Jesus’ baptism may have been like for him as he walked with Spirit and joy to the sidelines of the Jordan…

So as we picture Jesus shaking off those droplets of refreshing Spirit, standing proud as his wet clothes stick to the contours of his body unabashed, and ready to go back to the fray with Satan and claim his victory – why is it that we baptize a lot of infants and toddlers?  Why do we do that?  …Because an infant or a toddler just does not fit into any of what we have described as the baptizing of champions.  There’s certainly nothing wrong with our infants and toddlers: they’re cute, growing, and full of potential.  But they have as yet endured no contested fray, panted from no strenuous exertion (except to mess a diaper), fought no serious opponent, and accomplished no trying feat.  When baptized, Jesus was about 30 years old, wasn’t he?  When we think of all the baptizing of champions going on all around us, and of Jesus standing tall and fired-up after his baptism – why do we think infants and toddlers are appropriate candidates at all for the baptism of champions?

Well, it is strange.  But if you have problems with infants and toddlers being baptized,      then you’re probably going to have problems with Jesus’ baptism.  For as much as the “baptizing of champions” can help us relate to, and understand some of the dynamics in Jesus’ baptism, the baptizing with water or the spirits that’s going on all around us can also get in the way of our understanding the most important thing about Jesus’ baptism.

Folks, when he shows up for his baptism, Jesus has not yet endured any contested fray, or panted from any exertion of his strength against a demonic challenge, or fought any serious opponent, or accomplished any trying feat at all.  As someone put it to me one day, Jesus has just been being a “regular dude.”  There’s been no stirring teaching, no wondrous miracle, no bout with demons possessing someone, no debate with opponents, and no challenging crowd pressing in for blessing or mercy.  That all comes later.  Jesus is not panting from any physical exertion or bracing himself for the next round…because the ordeal has not even started.  But that bracing Spirit of God still comes. And Jesus is certainly not being doused in a victory celebration after a mighty contest…because the dreadful contest with sin and death has yet to be even entered. But there is still, I believe, much joy and elation to this dousing.  In fact, it’s as if the victory celebration or the bracing splash between rounds have come even before the real contest has even gotten underway.

In the gospels, the baptizing of Jesus is not about what he’s accomplished against all odds, or done to break the record, or won in record wonder.  Jesus’ baptism is not about what he has achieved, but about who and whose he is.  A voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."  And that’s what the joy, and the pride, and the bracing Spirit have all been about –  not what Jesus has achieved (he hasn’t achieved anything), but who and whose he is: the Son of God.  And that’s why we don’t just baptize adults in the midst of life, but also infants and toddlers who have yet to enter the fray, face their ordeals, or meet their life’s great challenges. …Because the baptizing of Christians is not a dousing of what has been done or achieved, but a bracing gift of who and whose you are.  The baptism of Christians by water and the Spirit is not quite the same as that water-and-spirits baptism of champions that we see going on all around us.  It’s all about the incredible wonder of whose you are, which comes before all else of importance, achievement, or triumph.  For Christ’s sake, you are a son or a daughter of God!  That’s what washes over you in the bracing moments of you baptism…

“What am I going to do?”  “What should we do?”  “What is the right thing to do now?”  Much of life, and certainly the challenging times of our life, can be spent fretting over these questions.      And they are not unimportant questions.  But the worry, anxiety, and fear they cause for our lives can often distract and separate us from the incredible wonder that comes before all else in our lives.  With fresh, bracing Spirit and joyful, dousing water, God has spoken: “You are mine.         I love you.”  I don’t know about you, but the times I’ve really screwed up in life were not just about doing the wrong thing, but about doing the wrong thing because I forgot who and whose I am.  Many, many times the best and right thing to do will become serenely clear to us only when we remember, own, and stand proud in…who and whose we are by that baptism into Christ. Jesus did a lot of great things; but the truly incredible thing about Jesus is not his power to do this or that, but his power to be who and whose he is – the Son whom God loves.  Forget who and whose you are by this dousing Water and bracing Spirit – forget that, and even doing the best thing will never feel right in this world of deceit and vanity.

The highest joy of God…is in getting down – getting down into the fray, and sweat, and ache, and mess of these mortal lives.  God’s highest joy is in getting down.  The Jordan River, from the Sea of Galilee to the Great Salt or Dead Sea, is all far below sea level.  For Jesus to go to John at the River Jordan, he literally had to go down and come down.  Now think of that.  The Jordan River was the lowest place in the known world.  It is lower than all the mountains and hills, the valleys and even sea coasts where the rest of all humankind lives.  The highest joy of God is in getting down…to the lowest place of human being – getting down beneath all this struggling, confused, competing, hurtful, and dying mess called humankind.  Even John is not ready for the God who gets down so low as to be baptized with real and rank sinners.  But that’s God’s righteousness and right – to get down so low with us that the love God has for the only Son of God will also be God’s love for you…and me… and all of them. 

When life comes against you, and great challenges and risks swirl around you; when the way is dark, and the waters deep – the first thing you gotta do is to “get down” to who and whose you are by the incredible grace and joy of this God.  You belong to God now.  You are now a daughter or a son of the Most High God, who delights to get down to you with bracing Spirit, dousing love, and joy unabashed.

Pastor Chris Price

First English Lutheran Church

January 12, 2020

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