Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Last Sunday our bishop made a formal visitation... Grateful to be part of such a hospitable and gracious community... Thrilled to have a great group of folks being confirmed and received... This morning formally recognize them as members of the parish...
Today’s gospel begins by telling us that all the people were in expectation. They expected that God was finally acting: he was sending his Messiah to save them from decay and destruction, to take away their sorrow and pain, to make them prosperous and powerful, to set them up as the envy of the world.
Does that sound familiar? Luke was writing about Jews two thousand years ago, but perhaps you recognize that attitude and anticipation here in this country? I notice it not only in myself, but throughout our society, at least every four years. “Oh come, Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, come and solve all our problems, take care of us, sort things out.” It’s as if we as a people do not bear any responsibility. And it’s not only politicians that we expect to solve our problems and take care of us, but possibly a family member, our doctor, a friend, our bishop, a financial advisor, a boss…
We often look to authority to solve our problems, and when authority doesn’t come up with what we want, that authority becomes less trustworthy to us. We get disappointed with authority when we are not provided with clear direction and protection from dangers. We get disappointed with authority when it does not maintain norms and quell conflict. We get disappointed with authority when it does not shield us from the hard work of changing our habits, our values, our attitudes.
All the people were in expectation. Each expects the Messiah to be their own idea of perfection, the fulfillment of their own dreams, but of course each of us wants something different than the next guy. It was impossible for the Messiah not to disappoint.
Two thousand years ago, many people thought that John the Baptist was the Messiah. He knew that he was not the Messiah. Today’s scene at the Jordan River marks John leaving the stage for Jesus. The spotlight now focuses on Jesus. It was a moment of transition, and like many transitions it was a moment of encounter with God.
Luke wrote that after Jesus was baptized, Jesus prayed, and heaven opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus. These events, Jesus’ experience of God, sort of constitute an annunciation scene. They profoundly shaped his self-understanding. It helped to make him more aware of his own significance as the beloved Son of God in whom God delights.
“Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.” It’s the combination of two verses from Hebrew scripture. First, Psalm 2:7: “the Lord said to me, ‘thou art my Son.’” Second, Isaiah 42:1: “Behold, my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him.” It’s the first verse of one of Isaiah’s descriptions of the Suffering Servant, God’s agent who in all patience and anguish announces God’s teaching and establishes justice. In other words, “thou art my beloved Son in whom I delight” is a statement saying that Jesus is Son of God and the Suffering Servant of God.
It’s a moment of epiphany for Jesus, a flash of understanding about himself, given to him by the Holy Spirit. It shows us the importance of knowing something about ourselves, having a sense of who we are. It is essential not only for effectively engaging in ministry, but also for having a full life and a sense of belonging and purpose.
For Jesus, the voice from heaven, perhaps heard emerging from the deepest recess of his own heart, told him of his special, unique relationship to the Father. It would later inspire Jesus to compare prayer to a son’s request to his father. Jesus said, “As bad as you are, you wouldn’t dream of giving a serpent to your son if he had asked for a fish. If you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” (Luke 11:13) Jesus’ experience at the Jordan strengthened his confidence in God as his loving Father.
Jesus became more thoroughly conscious of his sonship and his intimacy with the Father and the Holy Spirit. In the very next scene after baptism, as Jesus went out into the wilderness, twice the devil tempted Jesus to prove his sonship through miracles. The devil ordered him, “If you are the Son of God, turn this stone into bread… If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from the top of the Temple.” Jesus didn’t act to prove it. He remained confident of his sonship.
So baptism strengthened Jesus’ sense of identity as Son of God and Suffering Servant of God, but it also shows us his sense of identity with you and me. John’s baptism in the Jordan was for repentance, for returning to God. Jesus was one with God, in harmonious relationship with God – not separated, not in sin. He didn’t need to repent. Why did Jesus get baptized? In being baptized, Jesus showed that he was one with the people of Israel, and with you and me. He identified with broken and damaged and sinful people who need God.
He was willing to belong to a group of people and to have their identity shape and influence him. He was not aloof, not a mile above us, not separated from us, not going it alone. John Taylor was an English Bishop. He wrote: “What is so astonishing about [Jesus] is that in all his uniqueness his true self exists in the gathering together of the two or three… he seemed to delight in the interdependence of [humanity].” Jesus delighted in people being mutually dependent on each other, responsible to each other, needing one another.
St. Paul makes this point when he compared a human body to the church: “the parts of the body should have equal concern for each other, dependent upon every other part. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Cor 12:25-26) It’s dependency that runs two ways. It’s different than what we typically assume about the Messiah, the Messiah who takes care of us and we don’t have to assume responsibility, only receiving and not giving. That’s not the kind of Messiah Jesus is. For Jesus, it’s working together, collaborating, trusting, depending upon each other. It’s the cliché that one hand can’t clap on its own.
In the early 1960s, more than thirty people in Manhattan’s Central Park witnessed the stabbing and murder of a woman, and none of them called the police. Now, you may say to yourself, like me, “I would have called the police. I might have even tried to stop the attacker myself.” Well, perhaps. But there’s also part of us that is very reluctant to risk, to put ourselves out there, especially in the moment. The incident shocked people about how fearful we were to get involved. The incident provoked controversy about how guilty the do-nothing onlookers were.
Baptism makes us all brothers and sisters in Christ, the children of God. Baptism shapes our identity, our sense of self, so that we know that we have a responsibility toward helping someone under attack. Jesus got baptized to show us that he was one with us, and baptism binds each of us together. We’re all in it together. Sometimes we have to serve other people in ways that may cause us some inconvenience, discomfort, even suffering.
In a few moments, we are going to celebrate a rite welcoming new members of the congregation. New members accept some responsibilities in becoming part of this Christian community. They are giving something of themselves, making commitments, but they also are receiving acceptance and support. Likewise, the current members in taking on some responsibilities toward new members are giving something of themselves, making commitments, and receiving new sources of inspiration and learning. It’s all about mutuality, give and take, interdependence, reciprocal responsibilities to each other. It’s sacred, holy, modeled by Jesus himself, essential to our identity as the children of God, each of us a beloved child of God. God delights in each of us.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 James D. G. Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit, Eerdmans (first published by SCM Press, 1975), p. 66.
 John V. Taylor, The Go-Between God, SCM Press (1972), p. 93.
 Ronald Rolheiser, Seeking Spirituality, Hodder & Stoughton (1998), p. 116.