Sermon – 01-13-19 – Epiphany II – The Baptism Of Our Lord – Cycle C
Scriptures: Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17;
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Sermon Title: The Voice Over The Waters
There is this man – born of God for a special mission. You would not want to invite this man to a dinner party. No, this man is a most distinctive character who wears wild clothing, lives in the desert on locust and honey, and preaches a strange message.
Meet John the Baptist, cousin of the man named Jesus. The mother of John the Baptist is a cousin of the mother of Jesus. Elizabeth and Mary. Both births are miracles. One to a woman way too old to conceive. One to a quite young woman who was a virgin. Both planned by God for the good of humankind; for our good!
John the Baptist baptizes with water with the theme “repentance.” It is to wash away sins and to turn one’s life around, to face God with a clean heart. His baptism is once for a lifetime. People come into the wilderness where John is baptizing in the River Jordan. He tells people in his loud voice, in his strange clothing, that he is not the Messiah. The Messiah is coming. It is not he.
One day a stranger approaches – but then, all of these people are probably strangers to John, considering that he is a hermit of sorts, eating wild locusts and honey. But by God’s inner signal to John, John knows that this stranger is the Messiah – the one who is coming to save the world.
John shouts, “Here he is; here is the one for whom we have been waiting!” Here is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” We find two puzzling statements in this passage. First, what does it mean that Jesus will baptize with fire? Second, John says that this Messiah will winnow the chaff from the grain and the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire – no amount of water can extinguish the wrath of this fire! This could be one of our discussion points on Thursday in our Faith Conversations session. What boundary does Jesus use to distinguish who is grain and who is chaff – so much fluff or worse?
Leaving those questions for now, the glorious point of this account is that God made it known in a bold way that this Messiah, this person standing in the River Jordan, having just been immersed in water, is the Father’s Son, “my beloved son,” the voice says from the opening in the heavens. And then, out of the blue comes this symbol of the Holy Spirit, the dove.
Right here we have the three persons of God: Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit. God is not God with Father alone, or Jesus alone, or the Holy Spirit alone.
John the Baptist steps out of the limelight at this point. His work has been accomplished. He does continue to preach and get in people’s faces. That is why he lost his life shortly thereafter. He preached to a couple who had become a couple when they had no business being attracted to each other. This couple was the ruler Herod and his wife, called Herodias. Herodias tricked Herod into owing her a favor. She demanded that Herod kill John the Baptist.
So we say, “What an awful punishment for God to allow to happen!” But, I maintain that John the Baptist’s reward was in heaven. He did what God expected him to do. He was obedient. He ushered in the reign of Jesus as the Messiah, as our Savior. Bless John the Baptist, happy now in the blissful kingdom of God.
God created John the Baptist for a purpose. John could have been singing the words of our Hebrew lesson, Isaiah 43:1-7. “”When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you . . .”
Aha there we have the fire piece! John gave his life in obedience. He answered the call. He was not burned by the unquenchable fire.
Where do you stand with this obedience idea? Where do I stand? The wise mem from last Sunday were obedient. They played their part in history. Jesus in the temple at twelve years of age was obedient. He was teaching the scribes and pharisees.
Are we obedient now? In our baptism, the gifts God gave to us were opened; the gifts for the good of the kingdom – the kingdom of God – Christ’s body.
Congregations are varied gifts being assembled into one body. Picture wrapped gifts coming together. They need to be unwrapped to matter, to be effective. Each gift is important and helpful.
Today we focus on the part of the congregation called the Consistory. The Consistory is symbolic of the gifts in this congregation.
Some can preach, Some can teach. Some can visit and pray. Some can minister by maintaining the building. Some are so gifted that they can thrive in all of these ways.
In the congregation we have elders who care for the spiritual and physical well-being of the members. We have deacons who care for the material needs of the congregation, including the building and the bills, the members and the meals. We have trustees who hold everything together – elevators and bell towers, vacuum cleaners and heaters, leaves and snow.
A Consistory is not an exclusive club. It is a bee hive of cooperation and work. You are welcome to take a turn. Each individual agrees to three years in a position. Just think, that same person is welcome to sign on for three more years and then three more years – yes, a total of nine years of a person’s life. What a privilege. You will feel wanted for 3+3+3 years. Of course, you may bow out after 3 years but by then you are just getting warmed and skilled in your position.
Rick Rentschler says from afar, “We are all partners in the service to Christ.”