I went through an adrenaline junkie phase when I was in college. That might be a little bit hard to believe as you look at me… but I did. When I found something that scared me, I just had to go after it. It was like that in my ministry work, where I was volunteering and the people that I surrounded myself with… but I also went after some scary things in the “fun” that I found myself in (and I put quotes around that for a reason). I strapped a parachute to my back and jumped out of a plane – a couple times. I climbed into rafts and kayaks and took on the rapids on Appalachian rivers, it wasn’t pretty (I fell out a lot… but I did it). I enjoyed a good rush of adrenaline and the thrill of doing something a bit reckless. And knowing myself… knowing that I have zero athletic ability… finding something reckless to do wasn’t all that hard.
But my favorite thing to do, and it really still is… is to find the tallest and fasted rollercoaster around and stand in line for an hour just to ride it! That hour wait is important – it builds up your since of terror! Anyway, there is an amusement park in Ohio that I would go to every once in a while called Cedar Point. It has this rollercoaster there called Top Thrill Dragster, which launches you 400 feet in the air at 120 mph. It’s just one big hill. Up! And down, down, down… Every so often if you watch it, the cart that you would sit in, doesn’t make it up over that hill 400 feet in the air so you slide back down backwards and they have to re-launch you. As if once wasn’t enough!
I’ll admit that there is something counter intuitive about willingly strapping yourself into a machine that is going to catapult you skyward… It takes a great deal of trust in engineers, in the laws of physics… to climb into that cart. It’s terrifying – and it’s wonderful! I love it!
Might I suggest, that responding to the call of Our Lord is a little like climbing into that cart? But rather than putting your trust in the mechanics that tend to the equipment… and more like putting your absolute trust and faith into the direction of God. …(pause)…
Our Scripture reading today is about Christ’s baptism. The moment when Christ launches his ministry. That moment when He climbs into the cart. And endures that click, click, click… all the way to the top of the first hill.
Let’s read about this grand beginning in the Gospel of Matthew
Read Matthew 3:13-17
Last week we talked about the Nativity Scene, Matthew’s version of the Nativity scene to be specific. We talked about the Magi, the terrible Herod, stars that led the way… And today we are going to look at the Baptism of Christ when he was about 30 years old. So, in the past seven days… our Scripture has jumped three decades. Hmm…
The Magi are gone, Herod has long since died, the star in the sky has faded, and the rosy-cheeked infant who’s manger we knelt at has grown into a man. The story of Christ has jumped over 30 years. We really don’t have a clue what happened in the mean time. We only have a brief glimpse of him, at what we would call “tween “ age, teaching in the Temple in the Gospel of Luke… but other than that: nothing. Scripture is silent. We don’t know if Jesus had awkward years or if he was every a mischievous youngest…
But, what we do know – or have to assume – is that somewhere along the line… there must have been a moment when Jesus of Nazareth puts away his hammer, takes off his tool belt, closes up the carpentry shop, kisses his mother good bye and says… “Ok God, I’m ready. What’s next?” … (pause)
As an answer, or perhaps the seeking of an answer, Jesus travels South, down to the Jordan River, and there finds his cousin John standing out in the currents of the muddy Jordan in his camel-hair outfit, with locust and honey breath… baptizing people (pause)… So what does Jesus do when he see this? He gets in line! He gets in line to wait his turn to step into, that now notorious body of water, the river Jordan to be baptized by this “wild man” John.
And when his turn comes he wades out into the murky water to stand with sinners just like you and me… and asks to be baptized. And there while standing there John has the audacity to say: “No.” … (pause)
In that day and age, to be baptized by someone, was to become a follower of that person. Now, as a side not, the act of baptism was an ancient art form, an old form of ritual… nowadays, Christians mostly have the market cornered of Baptism, we’ve taken ownership of the ritual. But back in Jesus’ day to be baptized meant that you became a follower of that person. So if John was to baptize you… you would now be a John’s follower. If I were to Baptize you, you would be labeled a Pastor Sarah follower… thankfully the times and tradition have changed.
Anyway, when Jesus asks to be baptized, John says “no, that just won’t do!”
In the Greek, this statement is made in the Imperfect tense, which tells us that this was, likely, an ongoing argument. A continued or ongoing statement, as it were.
Jesus says, “I want to be baptized.” John says, “no.”
Jesus says, “But, I really want to be baptized!” and John says, “Nope! Not gunna do it!” … (pause)
But Jesus won that argument by stating that it was proper to do this in order to fulfill the way of Righteousness.
Now, I can see a couple of you out there who’s wheel are now spinning asking – what does that mean?
And I have to say I was really grappling with what that means, what is truly means… “to fulfill the way of righteousness…”? hmmm… So, in moments of deep confusion… I bust out my Message rendition of the Bible to see if it offers a different point of view on what Jesus was trying to say… it says: “’Do it. God’s work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism.” So John did it.” (Matthew 3:15) That makes sense.
“To fulfill the way of righteousness.” This is a starting line for the big race. The launch of the great rollercoaster that is the ministry of Christ. Jesus is saying, “this is where it begins, don’t you see!? Now baptize me already!” Centuries of God paving the way, has lead to this point. To this moment where the work of Christ begins.
And you may remember… that John the Baptist had one sermon. And it went a little something like this: “Repent! Repent! For the Kingdom of God is near!” and that was about it.
So, Jesus being Baptized by John is a statement that says, “Yes! This guy gets it! Repeat! The kingdom is closer than any of you may think! It is here! It is starting right now, right here on the banks of this muddy river!”
This is Christ’s Ordination into ministry. The beginning of His Kingdom work.
So, John places his hand on Jesus head, and he barriers him in water.
And as John brings the Messiah, the Savior of the world back out of the water, dripping and sputtering, to breath in new air… the skies open. … (pause)… Picture that in your mind. The Gospel writer tells us that the “Heaven’s opened.” Close your eyes. What does that look like to you? I don’t want to paint that mental picture for you… because this is a really cool idea, and I think everyone of us in this room might be picturing something slightly different! Each picture grander than the next! This is a beautiful and miraculous thing. The sky opens. Hold that picture in your mind.
Then the Spirit of the Lord, in dove form, comes down from the sky. And then that tear in the Heavens speaks. The voice of God calls out… “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Talk about an affirming statement! Wow.
Now these words, spoken by God, are an echo from the Prophet Isaiah. These words come from a poem in Isaiah known as the Servant Songs. And it says this: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight.” Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
Now, there are two ways in which we can read this passage, first and foremost… Christians, for centuries, have interpreted this section as one that speaks of Christ. More specifically it speaks to the “Sonship” and the ministry of Christ. And it is easy to see why. Lets read a little more of Isaiah and see if you can hear it too.
This is Isaiah 42:1-7
When Christ was baptized, that very act was a declaration that his work has begun! That the Kingdom of God is upon us, being ushered in by the very Son of God! This Servant’s Song, the section that we just read, tells us of Christ’s work: to bring justice to the nations, to build a covenant for the people, to free the captives, to release those that sit in darkness… this is Christ’s work.
Now, keep that in your mind for a moment, because there is a second school of thought on how we can read the Servant’s Song. The Prophet Isaiah’s words, written thousands of years before Christ… speak to a community as well as the individual. God’s covenant community. The church. And these two interpretations are something that we should really hold in tension with one another. Because this is a message for both. It teaches us about Christ’s work and that of the church’s.
Isaiah is telling us that this work: to bring justice, to build a covenant for the people, to free the captives, to make salvation known to the world is not only Christ’s work … but ours as well… Isaiah is compelling us to look to our left and our right. That we have a job to do.
The church is filled with those that are claimed by God, the beloved of God. And with the Spirit to guide us… God’s Kingdom work is doable. There is no task that we cannot achieve. There is no injustice to grievous that we cannot speak peace into it, no darkness to black that it cannot be conquered by those that step up to the ministry of God and put their complete trust in the Spirit. Over the next few weeks we are going to be looking at some of Christ’s teachings in the sermon on the mount. Talking about the nurturing, tending and spreading of the Kingdom of God.
But today, is about the launch. It is about having done the slow climb to the top of the big hill on the rollercoaster, and bracing yourself for the fall. Today is about baptism! Now here is the thing about baptism… we may not be the ones getting dunked under water… but even being near a baptism… or commemorating someone else’s baptism… even seeing that baptismal font that we walk by every week… is a call to remember the commitment that was made in our own baptism! Baptism is a community event!
Now, this Baptismal font that you see in front of you today, every now and again, gets filled with water and we invite a family to gather around it as we baptize one of their loved ones. A pastor gets to reach down in there and scoop up water, pour it on the head of the newest member of the body of Christ… And this is a beautiful moment. It is a huge moment! There is nothing small about Baptism. We often trivialize it… and think of it as a nice ritual. Or we pick it to pieces arguing about the process. But the significance of baptism is beyond any of that.
When we are baptized, we open ourselves up (or our parents open us up) to be called into service for God. We don’t know when or where God will call on us… but that is our commitment: To serve God, to serve others… to care for the broken and broken-hearted. We are claimed as the beloved of God to do God’s work.
Every time you walk past this baptismal font… I want you to think about that. That you are claimed in your baptism
As Isaiah said “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles.”
Ready or not, God is in control.
The late Mike Yaconelli says that roller coasters are a highly accurate model for the Christian life.
“You say yes to Jesus, and suddenly you are strapped in, and you think, I am going to die! Then you begin the long climb of growth—Sunday School, baptism, church membership—and you think, Hey, no problem. I can follow Jesus anywhere, and then—ZOOOOOOOOM—you crash into the twists and turns of life, jerking left then right, up then down…Passion is the roller coaster ride that can happen when you follow Jesus Christ. It is the breathtaking, thrill-filled, bone-rattling ride of a lifetime where every moment matters, and all you can do is hang on for life dear.”
The call of Christ is a wonderful thing. But it can often be terrifying. To be strapped into that rollercoaster is to let God lead you into the messiness/ the twists and turns of life. To open yourself up hearing from frightened friends in the middle of the night that need prayer. Opening yourself up to noticing and carrying for that single mother that waits your table at your favorite restaurant. Opens you up to loving people through addiction, illness and brokenness. Opens you up to realize that God redeeming work needs you. And even when times are hard you are strapped in for the ride.
But the nice thing about rollercoaster is that you never ride them alone. There is someone to your left and to your right, someone ahead of you and someone following behind. We are in it together! And God is in control. Thanks be to God for that. Amen.