Luke 3:17 “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
Luke 3:21 “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
What’s missing? Often times, in our eagerness to close loose ends in life, we find it easy to overlook some things. If we want to get to the end of the day, we overlook the trees on the way home. If we want to share stuff with our spouses, we negate the voices of our children. When we long for month’s end, we overlook the offering envelope. In other words, life can be a bit more complicated than we would prefer at times. So, it becomes quite easy to blank out somethings, or worse yet, blank out some people. St Elizabeth's, I am hoping is a place where no one gets lost or finds themselves overlooked. We are more than simply “doing church”, we are forming and sustaining a faith community.
For Jesus' baptism the goal was the same; make God assessible. Build a faith community. But religion had become empty rules, liturgies and power structures in which earthly power, and greed had become combined with religious acts, so many were overlooked, forgotten or victimized. Those who lived outside of the established religious structure, looked for help that didn’t come. They didn’t see God in themselves or in their neighbors. And, without the support so often provided by faith, a new, abusive environment evolved where the godless preyed on one another, where the helpless became trapped. “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mathew 9:6)
My friends, it is that world of desperation in which God decided to act decisively. God launched a fresh and new understanding of God/human relationship through John the Baptist, the one through whom the power structures were turned upside down. The placing of God’s powerful prophetic word in the ministry of John the Baptist gave His message mobility, and He moved it out into the wilderness away from the center of the Jerusalem. This mobility was a seismic shift in how the word was delivered; in other words, God’s word now dwelled among common humanity. He wrestled the spiritual monopoly away from the wealthy and powerful in order to spread His teaching of love to the poor, sinful and oppressed.
Thus, the baptism experience should be seen as God declaring His own freedom and power. “I am God, and I am as free as the wind blows”. "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So, it is with everyone born of the Spirit." (John 3: 8.)
Baptism then is about those who are now seeking to be engaged with a God who is free from human limitations and human expectations.
In baptism we are now free to worship the greatness and power of God.
Psalm 29:1 Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD’s glory and strength.
Psalm 29:2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.
Yet, what is overlooked or what is missing in the St. Luke version of the baptism of Jesus is the fact that John the Baptist is absent. The lectionary deliberately leaves out verses 19 and 20, “But Herod the ruler, when he was rebuked by him over the affair of his brother's wife Herodias and for his other misdeeds, crowned them all by shutting John up in prison.”
Jesus according to Luke was not baptized by John but by the followers of John. In other words, as much as evil was seeking to stop the work of God, the disciples were eager to carry out His task. My friends in Christ, I believe this knowledge is valuable for our work here at St. Elizabeth’s, for our understanding of who we are and for what we are called to be when we claim Christianity as our faith. The work of God must continue to go forward it cannot be stopped by human will. God depends upon us as His servants to carry forward the faith we have received. This was the message Phillip took into the lands of Samaria and other places outside of Jerusalem. God has no respect for human walls and is not held back by our created boundaries. Yet God needs us!
But, as Christians we must remain vigilant. Evil leaves a residue. We Christians must pay attention, otherwise we would miss seeing injustice and the victims of injustice. They will disappear before our very eyes and hate and injustice will again raise their heads when we are asleep. Baptism says I am my brother’s keeper.
One example I can use because many of us come from banana producing countries. Please, tell me how much you think workers in Honduras are paid in order for Walmart to sell a banana for 25 cents? We are lulled asleep by the sweetness of the banana, and we forget the bitterness of the hard work it took to get it to us. These people standing on the Mexican side of the border need to know the people of God are awake and working and praying on their behalf.
Baptism ushers into the world a refreshed understanding of how to build new relationships with God through the rekindling of relationships and the building of new human relationships. Baptism also asks of us to repent. Repentance is not about changed emotions, but about changing our ways of living. If the early Christians were expecting that a little dunk in the Jordan River would, by itself, get them right with God, they were sorely mistaken. Rather, they were to "do fruits worthy of repentance." If they really wanted to be on God's side, they were to "repent"--change, turn from following the status quo, and instead, change their lives into something new and more meaningful. Forgiveness really means what it says, “I got to let it go because God has let it go with me”. Often times folks do not want to accept forgiveness because it puts the onus of forgiveness back on them. We lose the power to reap revenge, and we must forgive as God has forgiven us. God's justice has nothing to do with revenge, but His love empowers us to live in different relationships with one another.
The work of the church is to create, forge and recreate relationships. Otherwise, all we do will be in vain. Our work is about repentance, reparation and mission. Each time we gather, my duty is to call us all, including myself, to repentance. My duty is to share ways in which we can repair the breach between God and man, and finally, to teach how we must carry forward the mission of love in our community. However, often times I see many of us are missing. Many are hiding. Many are yet to feel they are part of our mission. Many have chosen to hide, and many of us are overshadowing others. St Elizabeth's, I would say, is not a place to hide, and we are all called to seek out those who are missing.
Jesus could not have been baptized, according to St Luke, if there were not others, in spite of John’s absence, who were up to the task of carrying forward the work of God in the face of many challenges.
This year lets us boldly declare I am a disciple of Christ Jesus and the work of God depends upon my courage and willingness to follow my Jesus. John’s preparatory work is the work of all of us. Repentance implies a preparation of one’s heart, mind, and entire attitude that God desires from us in order to be more deeply engaged in the community. Then, the same Spirit will be at work among us, and this time, God will call us by name and declare this is my servant in whom I am well pleased!
Maranatha! Come Spirit Come!