Baptism of Jesus, 1.12.20

As a parent, did you ever have the experience where your small children imitated you because they loved you and wanted to BE like you?  I’m sure you have. When my daughters were young we went to McDonald’s, and I knew they probably wanted a Happy Meal, but because they saw me ordering a salad, THEY ordered a salad, too.

They wanted to be like Mommy.

Now, imagine if I had reversed things, and decided to put aside my craving for something green, and instead ordered a Happy Meal for myself. If I had, I would have been more true to today’s gospel story where Jesus in his baptism, aligns himself with the humans, with the little people. It is his decision to get into the waters with suffering humanity and align himself with them and with US for all time. There is no way the humans in the story can imitate Jesus; he knows that. Instead, with his baptism, he puts himself on their level. WHY would he do that?

What does love look like?

In all four gospels, Jesus practically bends himself into pretzel shapes to show us the myriad ways that God loves us. In fact, he doesn’t so much bend himself into pretzel shapes as he shapes himself into a cross. To show how much he loves us. Today, he shows us that love looks like baptism, because he gets down and into the muddy waters of the River Jordan, with a lot of sinful, questionable people. Why would he do that – there is nothing sinful about him.

John the Baptist offers a baptism of repentance, and Jesus has nothing to repent. There is no sin in him. There is nothing that blocks God’s love in him. He WANTS and DESIRES to do God’s will, to do the Father’s Will with every fiber of his being (unlike us), and that desire propels him into the water. The desire to do the Father’s WILL catapults him into the River Jordan. Jesus and the Father are of the same mind: get into the water with the people.

Have you ever been of the same mind with someone? The same heart, causes you to do the same thing as your friend or your spouse or partner. It’s a funny feeling to be in step together. You may show up and both you and your friend are not only wearing the same color sweater, but you both want to watch the same movie together. That is the kind of synchronicity on a much smaller scale that Jesus and the Father experience.

They BOTH really want to be in lockstep together. Out of LOVE for suffering humanity, Jesus SUBMITS himself to the WATER AND later we know he submits to the CROSS. Luther had a lot to say about how our wills are in BONDAGE until Christ sets us free. Often, we want what is harmful and pass over what is good for us. Our wills can and do take us down paths that have nothing to do with the kingdom of God or building up the kingdom, or even building US up. We need God’s grace to steer us in the right direction.

A couple of years ago, I was at a teacher training, and the trainer alluded to the fact that we were in the Information Age, and she inferred that as long as people had enough information before them, we would choose the good. No! That’s not the case. We DON’T always know what is the GOOD, and we don’t always CHOOSE the good, especially if it’s a difficult path. Or if the GOOD involves sacrifice. We all have selfishness and inertia which put blinders on us – blinders of self-interest. We need God’s grace to open our eyes, and we see Jesus in the WATER, taking the more difficult path along WITH suffering humanity.

So no wonder, the Father BELLOWS his delight, “THIS is my beloved Son,” because his Son’s head is WET like the rest of Judea who are in the water with him.

The early Christians had a hard time understanding why Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, went down into the muddy water of the River Jordan, along with all of sweating humanity. Why, wondered the ancient Christians, this humility on the part of Jesus? Why, this blending and merging with us, fragile, contrary, humans? Many of the early Christians were gentiles, and may have been raised on the lives of the gods, Greek gods. Gods do not practice humility.

Gods are arrogant, and the kings of the realm would imitate the gods in their arrogance.

            Now here is Jesus, breaking the mold. Breaking stereotypes. For Jews, God was transcendent, always high and above – hard to reach. Here is Jesus, in the muddy waters of the Jordan. Jesus gets down into the waters as a way to be ONE with us. He ALIGNS himself with us, because we NEED him to do that.

Jesus enters our human condition to show us what’s possible with the Holy Spirit. WITH grace. With Jesus on our level, there is always SOMETHING Jesus wants to communicate or give us. His LOVE. His COMPASSION. His MERCY. His Judgment perhaps. A CHALLENGE we’d perhaps rather ignore.

The good news is always good, but it may also challenge us down to our core. But that’s OK – because we are so GRATEFUL for his LIFE and LOVE that he has given us which has renewed us and RESTORED us.

What about us?

In Psalm 29 today we hear the emphasis on God’s VOICE. God’s VOICE thunders, it’s powerful, it breaks trees – the cedars of Lebanon. The voice of the Lord flashes forth”. More often with us, though, Gods VOICE is quieter. We have to ask ourselves today, what is God saying to us, perhaps very quietly with nudges, with special silences. We hear God calling our name in the gifts of baptism.

I know I heard God calling me when I first started going to St. Peter’s in Manhattan, and in their sermons, the pastors would toss in “remember your baptism!” And I’d go away, thinking yeah, what ABOUT my baptism. No one had ever proclaimed baptism from the pulpit in just that way. It was very provocative. I was being prodded by the Holy Spirit, to really reflect on what my baptism meant to me. In the silence of my heart, God was speaking to me in a new way. A new road was unfurling before my blinking eyes. The journey of baptism hadn’t stopped – it was ongoing. Jesus was leading the way down a new path, and it was cutting through the Lutheran Church.

“It is not about what WE do, but it’s about what Jesus has done FOR us.”[1] – Joy J. Moore

The Hebrew word צדקת Se-dek-it means righteousness. It’s used to describe Jesus who when John balks at baptizing him, says, ”It is proper for us to fulfill all righteousness.” If you remember, righteousness is the word used to describe his father, Joseph, who could have put Mary aside, and still be considered a good person. That old kind of righteousness has to do with a minimum of virtue. Yet, Joseph paid attention to the angel and the dream and kept Mary as his wife. He redefined what it means to be righteous.

One of the pastors at my lectionary group told a story about visiting Israel, and while he was there, his car had engine trouble, and needed to call a mechanic. Well, the Israeli mechanic came and worked on the engine, and when he was finished he said of the engine it is צדקת Se-dek-it. The engine was fixed and working and so it was doing what it was supposed to be doing. It was צדקת Se-dek-it.

With grace, we have the capacity and ability to be righteous. We are צדקת Se-dek-it when we are doing what we are supposed to be doing. Which would appear to be simple, but we know living a righteous life is harder than it looks. We need God’s grace to be doing what we should be doing, whatever that is. Wherever it is that our baptism leads us.

In our baptism, “Baptism is a means of bearing witness to Christ, to his incarnation, to his ministry, to his death, to his resurrection, his ascension, to his identity.”[2]  Our baptism points to him as is our good shepherd. He is our leader, the one who breaks our bonds.  Our baptism is an opportunity and a means to bear witness to Christ.

I thank you, Lord, for getting into the water with us.

You show that your LOVE for us has no boundaries.

Help us to follow you everywhere that our baptism leads us.

We pray this in Jesus’ name.


[1] Joy J. Moore.

[2] Matt Skinner.