Sunday, January 10, 2010

Baptism of Jesus
Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
Acts 8:14-17
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

But now thus saith Jehovah that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name, thou art mine.

I donít know about you, but I shake my head in wonder whenever I hear a story about a parent who does something harmful to his or her child. How can anyone drown a baby, let alone their own flesh and blood? How can someone lock a child in a closet or basement for decades? What is it about a few people that makes it possible for them to abandon a human being that is completely dependent on them for life? I donít know how they do it.

Now, donít get me wrong. Iíve been mad at my own kids. I have yelled at them for something I think theyíve done wrong. I have even punished them for their disobedience. Iíve taken away their favorite toy, not allowed them to do something they wanted to do, and made them do things they really didnít want to do. And Iím sure I havenít been a perfect parent. Iíve failed. Iíve yelled a little too loud. Iíve been a little too firm with my punishment. Iíve been too quick to assume guilt and too slow to offer forgiveness. But even when Iím so angry I think I might burst, I canít imagine ever threatening their lives.

We are at the point when both are children are finding their independence. Victoria is in her second year of college. She has a job that pays a little bit of money on a regular basis. She manages to take care of herself just fine from day to day while she is away. She buys her own groceries and even spends her own money to treat her brother to an occasional treat at Starbucks.

It is hard for me to let go because I still feel responsible for her. When we go grocery shopping together, I feel like I should buy her food. But I know that she likes the feeling of independence she gets from buying it herself. Yet, there are some purchases she happily allows me to make. She doesnít mind when I write the tuition check or pay for car insurance. She knows she canít afford those things. Some of the responsibilities of adulthood are scary, and she knows she is not ready to be completely independent. So, I have to find the balance between allowing her the independence she craves and the care she still needs. I also have to allow her some failures, because we do learn from our mistakes. Yet, I canít let her fail to the point of being destroyed.

God is like a parent. He knows we have to have our own independence; He knows that we have to be able to freely go our own way. He also knows that weíll sometimes fail to do what is right. We have to suffer the consequences of our actions, which comes sometimes as discipline by His hand. But God wonít let us fail or punish us to our destruction. If I can take care of my kids, God can certainly do so, too. As a matter of fact, God is far more able to take care of His children than any human parent.

I love the message in todayís Old Testament lesson. Isaiah writes, ďBut now thus saith Jehovah that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name, thou art mine.Ē In this passage, we are reminded that God created and formed us, and He named us. Yes, we are named by our parents who are given as our physical caretakers, but in Godís book, we have a special name: Godís child. We are His. Though we may fail, God will always be with us. He loves us and He will not allow us to be destroyed. We have been redeemed from the consequences of our own failures because we are precious and loved by our Creator.

The psalmist writes, ďAscribe unto Jehovah, O ye sons of the mighty, Ascribe unto Jehovah glory and strength. Ascribe unto Jehovah the glory due unto his name; Worship Jehovah in holy array.Ē God is far more than we can imagine. By His Word, the world exists. By His Word, we have life. His Word gives us all we need to live and to serve Him to His glory. Yet, with our words we try to make Him fit into a box that suits our needs and desires. The psalmist in todayís passage knows that God is far bigger than human reason and understanding can imagine. We see only a part of the entirety of God.

Iíve been known to yell loudly when my kids have done something I think is wrong. But I doubt that my voice would ever have the same affect as that of Godís voice. His voice thunders, shakes the desert, shakes the oaks and strips the forest bare. His voice is like lightning; it flashes forth like flames of fire. This is an image of God that makes us tremble with fear.

It doesnít help that the psalmist brings in imagery from the beginning of time and flood. The water was chaotic, out of human control. We live in Texas and weíve seen the raging waters of the flash floods that came come out of nowhere when it rains. Once, when it had been raining for much too long, one of our roads was covered with a few inches of running water. The road was not blocked; the water was high, but not beyond safety. Unfortunately, I hit an extremely large pothole that had formed during the flooding and water got into my engine. It stalled but I was able to maneuver my car to the edge of the flood. It was a frightening experience for me. I canít imagine what it would be like to get caught in something worse, although Iíve seen pictures and video of people who have. No human can contain the power, but God can. He can not only contain the power, He can bring order to the chaos. Though we tremble with fear at the thunderous voice, we need not fear because we are precious and loved by this same God. He can bring order into the chaos of our lives.

We get confused. We see things that seem like they might be what we think they are, but we find that they arenít as we expected. I thought it was safe to drive through that little bit of water. I couldnít see the huge pothole that had formed below the surface. I canít see everything. I canít know everything. But God can. He sees hearts, knows all, and has control over even the chaos of this world. In the Gospel lesson, the people were amazed by what they heard from John the Baptist. They thought perhaps he might be the one for whom they were waiting. They thought He might be the Messiah. He fulfilled their expectations, but he knew he was not the One. He knew he was just there to announce the coming of the One. ďI indeed baptize you with water; but there cometh he that is mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire.Ē

Lukeís version of the baptism of Jesus is much shorter than the others and it is only in Luke that we see Jesus praying. Prayer is an important part of Lukeís telling of Jesusí story. Weíll see that focus through the coming year. It is in prayer that we see the extraordinary relationship between God and His Son Jesus. They talked often. Jesus listened. He sought His Fatherís Will in all He did. And in prayer God spoke back to His Son; in this passage, His voice proclaims the name of Jesus: Godís beloved Son.

We also see the Holy Spirit coming down onto Jesus in the form of a dove. We donít have such a physical image of our own baptisms, but the same thing happens to us at the waters of the font. God comes to us in Spirit, and we are joined with Christ in the body which is owned by God. At our own baptism, God spoke the same words: we are Godís beloved. We are precious to Him and as one of His, we need not fear. He will be with us, as He was with Jesus. We may experience things that are not pleasant, but God, like a good parent, will not allow us to be destroyed.

The passage out of Acts for this week shows us how chaotic is was in those first days of the Church. The people of Samaria had heard the Gospel message. They had been baptized, but it wasnít quite enough to give them all they needed to be part of the Church. The Spirit had not yet come upon the people of Samaria. It seems odd that we would hear this passage so close to the story of Epiphany, when Godís grace was given to the whole world. But, we are reminded by this story that we arenít baptized to be part of a separate and independent group. The Samarians were divided from the Church in other ways. The Samarians were half-breeds, with heritage in Godís people, but also mingled with the Babylonians who had once been their enemies.

When the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, they took the best and the most intelligent Israelites to Babylonia. These captives were given positions of authority and they were able to gain wealth. Life in exile was not so horrible. Eventually the generation who were taken from Jerusalem died, leaving behind a people who had never known life in the Holy Land. They had certainly heard stories, but those stories would include knowledge that the beloved homeland was little more than a heap of rubble. They had a good life in Babylon. They were educated and gifted. They were respected. They had adapted to their new life. Perhaps the promise did not have such a lure for them. Would they really want to leave the good life they had created to return to a desolate and barren place? Some did not return to Jerusalem. Some did not receive the promise found in our passage from Isaiah. They believed, and still believe, that they were the keepers of Godís Law, that their temple was the center of Godís kingdom.

So, it is not surprising that they would receive the Word of Godís grace in Jesus Christ, but they were separate from the rest of Godís people. God needed to restore His people, make them one. The Spirit didnít come immediately so that they would be brought into the one body through the laying on of hands from the apostles. Peter and John were sent to ensure that there would not be two churches, as there had been two peoples under the Law. The Gospel was flooding the world, but God was always in control.

Even now we wonder about the chaos that has become the Church. We are not just two people worshipping the same God. We are thousands of different groups who believe in Him. We disagree about so many things; many of our ideas are so opposed that we donít even look like we believe in the same God. In some cases, we are so certain about our way that we reject others who believe differently. Oswald Chambers once said, ďIt is perilously possible to make our conceptions of God like molten lead poured into a specifically designed mould, and when it is cold and hard we fling it at the heads of the religious people who donít agree with us.Ē

But we who are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ are all beloved, named by God as one of His children. We have been given the Holy Spirit to make us part of the one body. We might not fully understand how to deal with each other. We donít know where the lines are drawn. But we can trust that God knows what He is doing. He has created us, redeemed us and named us. He is with us. He is bigger than we can imagine, and in His majesty is sometimes frightening. But we need not fear. We might face the thunderous voice or the chaos of fire and water, but God has also come to us through our baptism like a dove, with peace and the promise of His grace.

Back to Midweek Oasis Index Page