10 Jan Jump In: The Plunge!
First Reading Isaiah 42:1-9
1 Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
2 He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
3 a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
4 He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
5Thus says God, the LORD,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
6 I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
7 to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
8 I am the LORD, that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to idols.
9 See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth,
I tell you of them.
This is certainly a different perspective standing in the middle of the chancel this morning. I’ve always loved this sanctuary with its big windows, deep pews, and simple purpose. The original plans are truly reformed – everything is designed to enhance our worship of the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with the exception of one thing (two things really) – the pulpit and the chancel are off to the sides. The central act of any Presbyterian worship service must always be the Word read and the Word proclaimed in the sermon. It is the central part of our faith, and it needs to be in the center of the church.
With that said, I’m a little nervous. I’ve preached from the middle of the chancel many times, but I’ve never done it here. I am fearful because it is different. I don’t think I am alone.
We just entered a new calendar year together and 2017 feels a little scary and many of us are bringing apprehensions about our families, our country, our world, and yes, our church with us this morning. Will the New Year bring something different or will there be new things ahead?
Gospel Matthew 3:13-17
13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And 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. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
It is good to be back in Joplin. We enjoyed our trip to Southern California and Arizona over Christmas and New Year’s. Our kids loved most of it, but they adored the ocean, and so on our last day in Orange County, after repeated requests, I drove Amelia, Sadie, and Sam down to Huntington Beach pier to see the water. They didn’t have swim trunks with them, and the temperature was in the low 60’s, so I rolled up their pants and instructed them not to go too deep into the water (and, of course, they obeyed.)
It started out slowly enough – our little sandpipers ran toward the edge of the water with every ebb and flow – but that wasn’t enough, and so they went in to their feet…and then ankles…and then calves – complaining about the frigid water but laughing in the surf. There was no one in the water but a few die hard dedicated surfers and three kids from the Midwest. It’s a much different scene during the summer…where you can’t find a spot on the beach or in the water
In January, it was unique and special. The locals take it for granted, but what was ordinary to them was extraordinary to our tribe.
Faith is a little like that trip to the beach – it promises joy, laughter, and amazement.
- Some avoid it – because they aren’t interested or they are waiting for the right time.
- Some are content to stay on the side – observing and enjoying it from a distance. They see it, but they don’t jump in.
- Some do go in to the surf – a little at a time – never really fully committed…
- Some dive in. It’s shocking at first, but it is the only way to being fully committed.
Coming to church and hearing God’s Word read and proclaimed might feel ordinary (routine)…but if we listen to Scripture, we recognize something extraordinary is taking place.
Listen to what Matthew is saying today.
- It is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and John the one with all the followers and the acclaim. He is baptizing in the wilderness, and people from all across the countryside and cities are coming out to him. John offers a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. It’s preparing people for the coming of the Messiah.
- Jesus arrives on the scene, and John recognizes the significance of God’s Son standing before him and, in the face of such holiness, it is John who needs to be washed clean. He suggests they trade places because Jesus is without sin.
- Jesus says, “Let it be so now.” Let’s not wait another minute. This must happen to fulfill all righteousness.
- Why did Jesus need to be baptized? It wasn’t for the forgiveness of sins (he was blameless.) He did it to provide an example. He consented to the waters, to his purpose, to his Heavenly Father’s will.
- The Heavens open. The Spirit descends like a dove. The voice of the Father speaks out approvingly. “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.
If we hear this extraordinary story with ordinary ears, then we need to be shocked out of our routine. Jesus is baptized – showing God’s will is not in mighty proclamations, but in humble obedience. This is the key to our faith.
Perhaps, the reason faith seems so ordinary is that we have lived with it for so long. It’s like the waters of the Pacific – if you see it every day, it likely loses its wonder. That’s why new Christians, while lacking in fuller knowledge, are exceptionally eager in their faith.
“10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:10-12, NRSV)”
Why are we so afraid to invest more in our faith and spirituality? I think it may be for the same reasons I feared moving to the middle…the same reason we don’t want to dive into cold water of the Pacific. It’s going to be a change, a radical reorientation, from being in charge to allowing another to take the wheel. We sing the old hymn, “I Surrender All”, but we are more comfortable surrendering some. Perhaps, it is the fear that we don’t have enough to give, or what we have isn’t needed.
When you feel like you have little left to give – there’s a place for you. When you feel broken and battered – there’s a place for you. When you’re tired of the façade and only going through the motions – there’s a place for you.
- This is the God whose Spirit hovered over the chaotic deep at creation.
- This is the God who parted waters, walked on the sea, and stilled the storm.
- This is the God in Jesus Christ who consented to baptism – a little death and resurrection – to show us the way – a star always inviting us to come closer and closer to our true home, our unique purpose, the perfect peace only the Lord can provide.
- A bruised reed God will not break. God will not snuff out a fire reduced to embers. There is light in the darkness, freedom for prisoners, sight for the blind. This is what Isaiah is talking about.
I know it’s easier to stand on the beach with our toes wiggling in the wet sand and think that’s enough – standing at a distance and observing – maybe even racing to the waters…only to run back when the tide rolls in…
I know these ocean is cold, but the water is fine and freeing…It’s a living spring welling up to eternal life.
See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth,
I tell you of them.
Let it be so now.