Today's lessons: Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Children’s message: today I handed out “Hello My Name Is” stick on nametags and next to the space for the name I had drawn a cross. We talked about having worn a name tag like this for class or maybe somewhere we have been. And I sort of joked with the whole congregation about how those name tags don’t always stay where they belong- they end up on shoulders or pants, but then I talked about how in Isaiah, God tells the people “I call you my name, you are mine.” The name tag can remind us as we put our name on it, that God calls us, knows us by name. And is with us. Then we talked about what day it is- Baptism of our Lord. And I asked why I put that cross on the nametag. When else do hear our name and there is a cross. And we came to baptism – where God says, I call you by name and you are mine. When Jesus was baptized God called him “Beloved.” God say- “I love you!” The cross reminds us how God tells us- “ I know you by name, you are mine and I love you.”
The Sermon-“Let’s Not Contain This”
Today I am right here in the midst of you because it seems a little odd to me that I would preach about God in the midst of the people while standing way over there. Our lessons today lift up that God is with us in our lives. The people who heard Isaiah were in exile. They were not at home, not comfortable in their own skin, longing for a different world. And they hear- “ You are mine and I will be with you and rescue you.” And yet, in this strange place, and in a troubling world, it was pretty hard to believe when it seems like God is at a distance. Maybe sometimes we have felt that way, that God is at a distance. And so it seems that to God is was time to make God’s presence more visible and known, and into our midst Jesus is born. Today we hear that Jesus is baptized. And in Luke, we don’t get all the debate between John the Baptist and Jesus about whether John could baptize Jesus or should. For once, Luke is not so wordy. Instead, Jesus just shows up at the river Jordan. Yes, John has been preaching of one who is to come, but there is no special fanfare, Jesus just slips on in with the people being baptized. Right there in the middle of it.
If you’ve ever played in a stream or at the river’s edge, you know what happens when lots of people are splashing around- it stirs up all the mud and the stuff on the bottom we don’t really want to know about. But there Jesus is, right in the middle of our real lives in all the muck and mud. Showing us that God chooses to immerse God’s self where we really are.
And as if that’s not enough, the heavens open and God speaks. It’s one of the moments in Scripture I most wish I had seen as it happened. The heavens opened. And while I don’t know what that really looked like, I know that people hearing that who believed that God was somehow contained in the heavens would see that the final barrier that seems to separate us is gone and we hear God not only say this is God’s Son, but “I am REALLY PLEASED” by what is happening here. And then, as if THAT is not enough, as Jesus is praying, the Spirit descends and I imagine it’s not just a fluttering down, but the Spirit dives- right into Jesus, right in our midst, right in the middle of God’s world.
God’s initiative, and choice is to echo what we hear in Isaiah, that God will go to the four corners of the world and in all things to bring us together. And that is the baptism of Jesus. God immersed, holding nothing back. It’s powerful and it's the gospel for us.
And it’s different than our ways of being immersed. When I think of being immersed I am reminded of this ad from many years ago where a woman has finally gotten the kids out of her hair and away from her work and she closes the bathroom door and there is a bathtub and she sinks in and says,” Calgon, take me away!” In real life I have tried that but by the time I get to that tub, the water is cold, and it never quite worked like TV says it should. That’s one way of being immersed- take me away.
The other is what I see as we look around at our world. And it’s a pretty frightening place. Lots of things to make us afraid, or angry, or bitter. Lots of things we wish someone would save us from. And these days there is a lot of speech and a lot of promises people try to make about how they will save us. And most of them involve containing or restricting. As we are immersed in all of the rhetoric, what we really say to others is “go away.” One way or another we want to restrain what distresses us. Take me away, or go away.
That’s not God’s way.
God shows us that God is all in, holding nothing back in the birth, and the baptism and ultimately the cross of Jesus. Because Jesus knows that there in all our muddy water we will begin the way to the cross. That’s what God’s love will do to save us, to rescue us and to show us God’s love.
And just like that water, it can’t really be completely contained. Have you ever noticed how hard it is to contain water? There’s always drips here and there. God’s work in that water can’t be fully contained. In fact it’s expansive. Much bigger than we imagine. Immersed to save and rescue all of us. Even those who we find it the hardest to imagine.
God in Christ’s baptism shows us what it means to be fully immersed in our real world.
We who listen as Jesus says,” Follow me” and live the life of the baptized share in God’s initiative.
We are called to live a life of being immersed in the world. Not cut off, immersed.
Not caught up looking for other saviors, but confident that it is only our God who saves.
And who gives us the power to stay immersed in the world-
No matter that it may seem like the water is up to our nose, no matter how chaotic, God is immersed with us in it all.
And gives us the power to share what has been shared with us- “You are mine. I Love you. I have saved you.”
We are called to live among the world where all need to hear this word, trusting in faith that God is with us all.
Saying, “You are mine. I Love you. It pleases me that we are together-let’s not contain this.”