Here We Go Again 1-8-17

In this sermon, taken from Matthew 3:13-17, I explore the Baptism of Jesus and just why its so important for us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

There are a few different things that I do that…admittedly, I start to get a little obsessed with. One of them is running, which I guess is a healthy activity, so maybe that’s not all bad…but over the years that I’ve been running, I’ve gotten more and more obsessed, and this has manifested in different ways.

First was just the running itself. I used to mix it in with several different types of exercise, but eventually the rest kind of phased out leaving me with the running by itself. Then after a while I wanted to know how much I was doing, so I started tracking my runs with an app on my phone…logging the miles and the minutes that I cover.  And eventually that led to yet another step…as the app I utilize offers various challenges to keep a person motivated.

Most recently, I participated in a challenge to cover 1000km over the course of 2016…and as we aren’t European, that translates out to about 620 miles if you’re curious.  And yes…I got obsessive over it…constantly checking and rechecking…doing the conversions and the calculations to see where I was at and how much I had left…and sure enough…I finished up my goal about a week and half before the end of the year.

Once I reached that point I thought to myself “Ahh…now I can relax…just go back to regular running, regular distances…and I don’t have obsess anymore.”  Well that lasted about a week…and then I noticed that 2017…has the very…same…challenge. (Pause) Here we go…again. (pause)
The repetition strikes me as funny…but the notion of doing the very same thing this year as I did last year put me in mind of the church year…and the repeating cycle that we go through as one season leads into the next…and into the next…and we see the same holidays repeated every year…we hear some of the same stories repeated every year…Christmas and Easter are the big two…but also other ones like Pentecost and today’s story…the baptism of Jesus. (pause) Now if you’ve been tracking the church calendar, you know what I’m talking about. We celebrated Christmas 2 weeks ago…and following the proverbial 12 days, we hit Epiphany just two days ago…as the church celebrates the arrival of the magi to worship the baby Jesus…and as that kicks off the season of Epiphany…the time that we continue to recognize how Jesus, as the Messiah, is revealed to the world, we come around to his Baptism, always recognized here on the 1st Sunday of Epiphany. (pause)
Now maybe, you hear this story…and you recognize the way it repeats…and you think to yourself…Here we go again…and like some of those other common stories, this is one that we can list off the details pretty easily. Jesus is about 30 now…and his cousin John the Baptist is out in the wilderness along the Jordan river, living up to his name…as he is of course baptizing…and he’s calling out the brood of vipers and warning of the one coming along after him who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire…and low and behold, here comes Jesus…John is like “Dude…hold on, you need to baptize me.” But Jesus assures him that no, this is all good…let’s do this. (Pause) And Jesus is baptized and the instant that he comes back up above water the heavens rip open…and the Holy Spirit comes fluttering down in full-on bird form, landing on Jesus…and the big booming God voice breaks out “this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” (pause)

That’s the story…pretty simple isn’t it? Sort of makes you wonder why we need to hear it so often doesn’t it? And honestly…I think there are times that the baptism of Jesus raises more questions that it answers…like why does Jesus need to be baptized in the first place? He’s God right? And we all know that he is without sin…and if baptism, as we understand it, is a cleansing from our sins, then why the heck did Jesus need to do it? (pause) These are good questions…honest questions…questions that many people have wrestled with…and while some of them will try to offer you answers to these questions…and try to explain away everything that’s going on here with the baptism of Jesus…I’m not going to do that…because honestly, I don’t have any good answers to why Jesus had to do it…and what the “fulfillment of all righteousness” that he mentions to John is all about. I honestly don’t know. (Pause)
But I do know that there’s some cool stuff going on here…and Jesus, who is God, is taking something old and making something new out of it. (pause) Maybe you’ve heard me talk about the notion of baptism before…its actually not some newfangled thing that Christians came up with…and for that matter, its not something that John the Baptist came up with either.  The practice of baptism had already been around by the time John came on the scene.

It was a ritual of purification, stemming from an ancient practice that the Jewish people would do when they took spoils of war. They had to purify it. If it could take it, they would put the thing through fire…if not, then water…and since human flesh doesn’t stand up to fire overly well, when the ritual started being used for Jewish converts to symbolize a purifying from their old gentile ways…water.

So by the time Jesus takes a dip in the Jordan and the heavens tear in half so a spirit bird can come fluttering down…this was old news…but we have a God who does some amazing things don’t we?  And for the first time ever, a person is baptized and God…shows…up…in a big way.

Actually, all three members of the trinity are on display here aren’t they? Jesus, the son…he’s of course there…the Holy Spirit shows up…and the voice of the Father…all three here together…and you know what, there’s only one other time that this happens…and its at the tail end of Matthew…in something called the Great Commission…when Jesus instructs the disciples…and us…to go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Now that in itself is amazing enough…but there’s another point to bring up…the Great Commission is the last thing in Matthew’s gospel…and therefore it’s the last thing that Jesus says…but the very first thing that Jesus says here in Matthew’s gospel, is his exchange with John about baptism.

I don’t know about you, but that seems like a pretty big deal to me…that the very first and the very last thing that Jesus talks about is baptism…no wonder we make a big deal out of it…but then, it is a sacrament isn’t it? A time when God comes to us through the simple element of water along with the promise that God makes on our behalf.

A promise that we actually share with Jesus. For in his baptism, the Spirit comes upon him, empowering him, and God claims him as his beloved child…and we profess the very same thing in our own baptism…that we are empowered with the Spirit, and God claims us as his children.  And that’s the spectacular thing…that its all about what God does…what God says, both for us and about us…its NOT about what we do or think or say.  The promises of God are for you…and through the waters of our baptism this promise is given to you and you are brought into the body of Christ. (pause)

Now that’s wonderful…but it raises a question…what comes next? Jesus tells his followers to make disciples and baptize them, but just what does it mean to be a disciple? What does it mean for us to be a follower of Christ? (pause) I often wrestle with this question…and I wish there was a road map…check points that we can achieve and mark off to show ourselves that we are making progress…that we are becoming more Christ-like.

Granted, we do have rituals in the church that sorta of point this direction.  We typically baptize as a baby…and then about 4 years old the child starts Sunday School…and eventually moves into Confirmation and then at the end of 8th grade they stand up front, say a couple things, receive a prayer…and that’s kind of it.

I don’t know about you, but I find that model lacking…and while I don’t know exactly how else to propose that we “map out” the life of a disciple, I do know this…we are called through our Baptism…we are joined with the one body of Christ…we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, and we are all ministers…called to proclaim what Christ has done in our lives…and to live out the truth that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.

And the thing about it…is that we do this…in the grind of life…in the routine…in the stuff that happens over and over again…because that’s where God meets us…and there are times when that might seem kinda daunting. (pause)
I mentioned earlier, that I no more than finished 1000km a couple weeks ago, and then I found myself at the beginning of another challenge…this time, its 1017…and as I face the vast majority of that challenge still ahead of me, I keep thinking “here we go again.” But that’s life…that’s the life we lead…and though at times it might seem repetitious…or boring…that is the path we walk…and what a blessing to realize that God walks it as well…That’s why Jesus entered our reality…that’s why he became one of us…to experience life as we do…and not only that…but to meet us there…and to come along side us as we move through this life as disciples…with no roadmap in front of us…only the knowledge that God is constantly inviting us forward, out of the old, and into something new…and this is true, even in the times when everything might feel the same.

Here we go again. (pause) Yep…but you know what, God’s right here with us. Amen.

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