Monday, January 09, 2017

Baptism of Jesus A

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."
1. Today we begin the liturgical season of Epiphany, a short segment of the green and growing Ordinary (ordered, structured) Time. Every year during the time after the Great 50 Days of Easter we have a long segment of Ordinary Time when we count Sundays after the Day of Pentecost (that's the 50th day of Easter. The Epiphany season begins and ends with a trinitarian theophany—a showing-forth, manifestation, of the triune God. Today we celebrate the first theophany with the Baptism of Jesus; three days before Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, we'll experience Jesus' Transfiguration.

2. We're now in Matthew's Revised Common Lectionary year A. Matthew's community replicates and parallels the history of God's people Israel in its narrative about Jesus Christ. Matthew very much views Jesus as the new Moses, as the new King David.

3. Matthew's gospel, the bible in general, and especially the Hebrew scriptures emphasize the concept of righteousness or justice. This is what we'd refer to as distributive, compensatory, or restorative justice that seeks to give everyone enough to live on, a place in the social order. It is far from the retributive justice of the criminal "justice" system. God's righteousness or justice is part of the "upside-down kingdom."

4. Jesus so far in Matthew's gospel: from Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth in Galilee to the River Jordan.

Although in many ways Matthew's gospel is more "spiritual" thank the gospel of Luke (who constantly brings us the presence and activity of the HS), Matthew brings us the very first instance of Jesus subverting empire, when the holy family Joseph, Mary, and Jesus travel to Egypt to escape the decree of the imperial ruler Herod to kill all baby boys under the age of 2. Pastor Peg has a wonderful kids' book about the Holy Family in Egypt that tells us they needed to rely on "the kindness of strangers." How about us? Are we kind strangers? Especially USA, UK, and Germany are receiving many many political and religious refugees seeking basic shelter and the kindness of strangers.

5. Doing history:

historicism = reading the past through the present—how can that be? To some extent that's what we do when we read and interpret scripture, engage in theology.

presentism = reading the present through the past as cause and effect, actions and events leading to more or less reasonable responses, "cause and effect."

6. We find John baptizing Jesus in all four gospels! For his cousin Jesus, John the Baptist is very much Elijah the forerunner of the Messiah, end of the time of promise, start of the time of fulfillment. Next week in St. John's gospel we'll hear John the Baptist identifying Jesus as "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world."

Lots of "spilled ink" asking why Jesus, the perfectly sinless Son of God would need baptism. First of all, John's baptism was more of a new beginning for the nation, for the whole people of Israel than it was for individuals. Israel stepped into the Jordan River that formed a border and boundary between slavery in Egypt, exodus desert wanderings and their new promise landed life of obedience, repentance, and grace in covenanted community. Remember, they'd received the commandments on Mount Sinai during the course of their wilderness trek.

7. Secondly, when Matthew's community assembled this gospel account, questions of Jesus' full divinity hadn't yet started circulating; those concerns belong to a century or two later, so Matthew's community would not have asked why the sinless Son of Heaven needed to be baptized. The Definition of Chalcedon that describes Jesus Christ as fully human, completely divine, dates from 451.

Furthermore, our trinitarian baptism is into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

8. Jesus stepped into the Jordan River that was border and boundary between his earlier, more private life and his public life of obedience, grace and keeping righteous covenant. God the Father names, claims, and calls Jesus in this event.

This passage from Matthew brings us a Trinitarian Theophany as the heavens open! Father, Son, Holy Spirit are the three Persons of the trinity; theophany is showing forth, manifesting, displaying divinity.

9. In our baptism, God the Father names, claims, and calls us. The heavens open at our baptism and fill us with the HS, equipping us to serve others, sometimes to subvert empire. As part of the baptismal promises we or our sponsors renounce sin, death and the devil. Luke reports Jesus announcing, "I saw Satan falling like lightning from heaven." Living baptized means no longer giving credence or credibility or acknowledgment to the empty, shallow, fruitless, sometimes spectacular displays of the devil.

10. In his small catechism, Martin Luther asks, "How can water do such great things?" It is not only water, but water combined with the Word of God...

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