Listen to the sermon here:
Scripture – Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17
God has chosen us. For what? Are we willing to obey and follow? What is your excuse when you are expected to do something that you do not want to do or you are too tired to do or you are too depressed to do? Since God gave creative minds to us, we invent various excuses. Or, on the other hand, we may be justified in declining to fulfill an expectation. Truly, our muscles cannot be asked to do one more thing, including our heart which I understand is a muscle. Is it just ourselves making excuses or are we part of a humanity that has become adept at claiming good reasons for not following orders or some muted request?
This is a large group over many centuries, not just generations; in fact, ever since humans were created. We think of Adam and Eve making excuses for disobeying.
We think of Elijah, being chased by the queen of the nation, because he won a contest with the Baal prophets. Actually, God won the contest. Nevertheless, Elijah was the visible culprit. So Elijah needs to flee. He sinks to the ground under a broom tree where an angel brings food to him. Then at God’s direction he finds a cave on a mountain side. He is very depressed. He pleads with God to let him die. Did God let him die? No. God had plans for Elijah. God enticed Elijah to rise and prepare for future assignments. Being in danger of being killed was not a good excuse to God. God expects his people to do our assigned work no matter what! You may be relieved to know that God did lead Elijah to assign his work to new people so that God gives relief to Elijah after Elijah obeyed a few instructions. These stories are so fascinating and so meaningful. This story is found in 1 Kings 18 and 19. The way Elijah’s life on earth ended is very, very interesting. I challenge you to read further in 1 Kings.
Today, we have Isaiah in our binoculars. Does Isaiah have excuses? Don’t forget, we are also thinking about our own excuses. Isaiah lives on earth about 100 years after Elijah. Both of them are major prophets. Elijah’s life is chronicled mostly in the 2 books of Kings in the Old Testament. Isaiah gets a whole book named for him. His story is placed first in the collection of books which are called “The Prophets.” It is the longest of those books. Major! It is Isaiah who is the vessel for God’s words which lead us emphatically to the birth and life and purpose of Jesus, the Messiah. When you take time to read the book of Isaiah, you will recognize the words of “The Messiah” which the composer Handel wrote in a short time of heavy inspiration from God.
While you are reading Isaiah, please look for a time when Isaiah expresses fears and excuses? I did not find such a time yet. How dangerous was Isaiah’s work for God? It seems that Isaiah was fed hope as he spoke for God. Phrases such as “new things” and “sing a new song.” Our passage todays ends with “See the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.” In Isaiah 24 we find, “Tell the whole world to sing a new song to the Lord! Tell those who sail the ocean and those who live far away to join in the praise. Tell the tribes of the desert and everyone in the mountains to celebrate and sing. Let them announce his praises everywhere.”
Do you recognize that we are being addressed by the Lord as much as Isaiah and as much as the faithful people surrounding Isaiah? Yes, this new thing won’t happen without our proclaiming instead of just singing praises in the congregation. We need to go out. What will we proclaim? What will make a difference in the nations? The beginning of the chapter of Isaiah gives these instructions:
“Here is my servant! I have made him strong. He is my chosen one; I am pleased wtih him. I have given him my Spirit, and he will bring justice to the nations. He won’t shout or yell or call out in the streets. He won’t break off a bent reed or put out a dying flame, but he will make sure that justice is done. He won’t quit or give up until he brings justice everywhere on earth, and people in foreign nations long for his teaching.
Then, speaking to his person, God says, “I chose you to bring justice, and I am here at your side.” Is this not powerful? About whom is God speaking and to whom is God speaking. It seems that on one level, God is speaking to Isaiah. We usually assume that what God said to a specific person or group is extended to include us. So this passage could be instructions to us as well as Isaiah. But, did you get a feeling that something even greater is happening here? Did Jesus come to your mind as I read the passage? That is how the book of Isaiah is. It seems that all things lead to Jesus. I think the order of charge is: to Isaiah, to Jesus, to us. The theme is justice. “… until he brings justice everywhere on earth, and people in foreign nations long for his teaching.”
So, here we are with Jesus at His baptism; not infant, as we encourage in the United Church of Christ. Mature person, rather. Born, raised, acknowledged by learned people as the Messiah, and walking right up to the Jordan River without proclaiming Himself in a grand entrance. He was simply seeming to walk past the crowd and John the Baptist senses that this is The One; this is Jesus whom John the Baptist has been announcing and for whom he has waited, all the while shouting “Repent.” After the baptism, God leaves no one who is present in doubt. God’s voice booms from beyond sight saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” There is no doubt. This is The One fulfilling the multitude of scripture passages from centuries past.
What is the connection between the Baptism of our Lord, this Jesus, and the baptisms which are are happening today with very young children. Jesus was mature, ready to serve. He accepted the baptism as a sign of the reality that he is the Messiah, God come to earth. Mature or infant? Which is right? Well, some of us do believe that baptism should be a decision of a mature person. Others of us cling to the “chosen” idea. Did you catch the word “chosen” earlier? God was addressing Isaiah as being chosen for the task of proclaiming justice. There is division on the meaning of the word “chosen.” I believe all people are chosen. Each of us was created by God and he loves every part of his creation. I believe that God chooses each of us to belong to him but that he has a different goal for each of us. We were created for a special reason, all of us, each of us. The water of baptism is accompanied by the sign of the cross on the forehead. Once baptized, we are forever a marked child of God. We move forward bearing the mantle and mark of our baptism as the cradle of shaping us to be what God created us to be. Whether infant or mature for baptism, we have this embracing cradle of formation; we are marked forever, vaguely like having a tatoo. Are we going to hide our mark of baptism; are we going to smother the Holy Spirit? Are we going to make excuses? You know Jesus made an excuse just before he was placed on the cross to fulfill the prophecies and to provide salvation for us so that our future time may be passed in heaven beside our Lord Jesus. Jesus is recorded as having said, “Father, if you will, please take this cup from me.” You will have noticed that immediately Jesus switched gears and said, “Yet, let Thy will be done.”
So we, in our baptisms, shall proclaim justice among other proclamations. Do you remember Peter, who spoke to the Gentile Cornelius and his family? This was a justice issue. Gentiles as well as Jews are being invited to this baptism water. We are being invited to become a chosen person in the family of God, remembering that the belief is not “ chosen or unchosen.” The belief is that each of us is chosen to be the person we were created to be. There is a task to which we are called. Will we accept or make excuses? Will we wear the mark of baptism gladly and joyfully and with action? Will we say, “Count me in. I want to be part of this new thing; this new song?” Amen.