Isaiah 42:1-9, Matthew 3:13-17
In the passage from Isaiah that we heard a few minutes ago, we are reminded that God is faithful to promises. And in return God expects and wants the people Israel to live in a certain way. How they live, matters.
Righteousness, or right living that is congruent with God’s purposes and law, is one of the major themes expressed by the prophet Isaiah. Israel is to serve God and “righteousness is expressed as compassionate justice, care for the poor and marginalized, humility and faithfulness that always point to God as the One who is at work for transformation.”[i] Israel is to establish justice not by brute force but by humility and endurance. This passage is about what is demanded of those who are called by God.
This call to reconciliation is what was heard by the people who were in exile in Babylon who were given a glimpse of freedom. This call to establish justice was heard throughout the successive generations. This call to righteousness, reconciliation, faithfulness was what must have been in Jesus’ heart and mind when he came to John that day for his baptism. Jesus lived as a Jew and was brought up steeped in scripture of the Torah and the books of the Prophets. He knew what was required of him, his time had come.
Here now the account of this baptism from the Gospel according to Matthew, the third chapter:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And 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. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt 3:13-17)
Up until now Jesus had been living his life up North in the region of the Galilee and he comes to the Jordan River to be baptized by his cousin John. This is the first recorded public appearance of Jesus as an adult according to Matthew.
John had been out baptizing many people that day but when Jesus came to him he stopped. ‘Wait a minute,’ he says, ‘I need to be baptized by you, not you by me!’ ‘Just do it’, says Jesus, ‘baptism is a fundamental part of living a righteous life’. Isaiah’s words must have echoed in Jesus’ ear. And then just as Jesus was coming up from his submersion in the Jordan the heavens broke open. The Spirit of God, sort of like a dove, alighted on him. And a voice from heaven reassured Jesus, ‘you are my son, you are marked by my love, I am delighted.’
Jesus then begins his ministry and a short lifetime of following the precepts of God. Jesus never points to himself, always to God as the source. So with Isaiah in his heart he begins a life of servant hood. That’s what was conferred on him that day in the Jordan River under the hot wilderness sun. Baptism set him apart to be about the work of God. It’s been said that “Baptism is a once in a lifetime event but it takes a lifetime to complete”. Jesus lived his baptized life until the end and so do we.
One year ago I preached my first sermon here at Orange. And, like today, we celebrated the Baptism of Jesus. I’m sure you remember the words of my first sermon (!!), when I said that we were beginning a baptized life together. That this interim time could be one of the most exhilarating, affirming and exciting times in the life of this congregation because you are not bound by ‘should’s’ but surrounded by ‘what if’s’. I also said that the work we do together is essential and with Christ leading us we can do great and wonderful ministry together as a community of baptized believers.
So how are we doing? Have we maintained our baptized life together, striving to do the will of God, and not our own? Has everything we’ve done furthered the mission of the church? Have we followed Christ, could we count ourselves as disciples? Have we made a difference in Orange, in the surrounding communities, and in your personal life?
Making a difference is what we are about, that is, making a spiritual difference. How do you think the spiritual vitality of OCC is? We all have ‘vitals’, you know blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate, etc. These are our bodily functions that let a doctor know how your body is operating. You can’t go out dancing when your heart rate is too fast! You can’t sing an aria or even “Jesus Loves Me” if you lung capacity is far below its functioning level!
Same thing is true of a congregation. If a congregation’s spiritually vital then it is functioning nicely. And if not they will feel as if they are spinning their wheels and going nowhere, dancing to a tune that never ends. What are functioning vital signs of a spiritually healthy congregation?
Well to name a few your focus is ALWAYS on God – Jesus Christ - God is why we are here – God is why we exist together as a congregation. If you loose God – you’ll loose your way.
God is your purpose, God is the heartbeat of a congregation. Does each meeting begin and end in prayer asking God for guidance of the Spirit? A spiritually vital congregation asks, what would please God most when we make decisions?
Another spiritually vital sign is your spiritual health. Do we help one another reach God’s greatest potential for our lives? Making disciples is just not about ‘church growth’, it’s about growing your own discipleship and what it means to follow Jesus. It means paying attention to your own spiritual welfare and being.
Are our doors open to all, do we extend that most extravagant welcome to every soul? Yes, you might say. But how will people know? How will those who have been hurt by the church know that it can be a safe haven offering reconciliation and hope? We have such an important part to play in ministering to all of God’s children.
I believe that we all thirst for a spiritual connection to something greater beyond ourselves and the church can be that place where we can find community, connection and contentment. It is where we can live out our baptized life together.
Figuring this out together is a part of bringing our Baptismal promises to bear at this time and in this place. We are the keepers right now of this sacramental act.
Baptism sets us apart to do God’s work. Our baptism is not over when the water dries for when the water dries it is just the beginning for us. Our baptism sets us apart, not because we are special, but because we now carry the mark and ministry of Christ and the command to love God and to love our neighbor. And to do both means that we uphold the ethical standards that God has set out for us and to work towards justice, equality, reconciliation and freedom.
The seeds of a Christian life are sown at our baptism. May those seeds be nurtured again and again and may they grow into a life that’s filled with the word and work of Christ for we are called as disciples claimed long ago through our baptism.