Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Horizon of Possibility

At some time we’ve all felt it- that moment that feels like we’ve reached the limit, we’ve hit a wall, we’re at the edge. The people in Isaiah knew it- in exile, long suffering, looking for some sign. They  feel like the words we hear- crushed reeds- once strong, now bruised, bent, trampled, at the breaking point. They should be able to stand but they might not. Some people who felt like dim wicks- this is the acolyte story- you light the candle and it might light- they’re trying with all their might to shine and be a light. But they might be Sputtering. They should glow, but they just might not. And The people on the coastlands, there at the edge, are hanging on and waiting for God to give a word. Please.
And the prophet tells them- “Here comes my chosen, my delight, the bearer of my Spirit, the bringer of justice, who will not falter, nor be discouraged. Here is my servant.”
And there in the midst of God’s declaration of freedom, and light and release and the new thing God is now declaring. There right in the middle of this awesome announcement is the reality-The coastlands await his teaching. At the edges people wait.
And here God declares that the edge we see in front of us, is not the end.
It is instead the horizon of possibility.
New things I declare, says the Lord.
The same God who declared creation into existence, who spoke the heavens into being and who breathed life into what looked like just dust. God speaks a radiant and glorious word.  And in the midst of this- the coastlands await his teaching. Those who feel distant are waiting for God’s word to be revealed.

The people in Jesus’ day were at their limits too and willing to trek out through the wilderness to a river in the hope that this man John had the words they longed for that would change things. Then Jesus shows up there at the edge with them and begins to redefine the limits. Showing that what we see as a boundary to be accepted, put up with even, God sees as a barrier to remove-
and it is divine necessity to do so.
Jesus immerses himself here- to bring a new vision where none had been seen possible.
Jesus shows us at the edge of the Jordan River. Having been born into and walked through the same hot, dusty, exhausting way of all who have been coming to see John the Baptizer. Jesus comes to be baptized in the same way as those who are waiting to be taught, those to whom John has called out- Repent! Be changed, be cleansed! And Jesus doesn’t need to do this.
It’s the limit too far, John cries out- NO!
And John is as right as he is righteous-
Jesus in our eyes does not need to be baptized- there is no sin from which he must be cleansed.
But in God’s eyes it is a divine necessity.
Because in order to fully immerse himself in our world as “God with us” there must be no edge, no limit, no person or place too far from God saving us fully.

Jesus shows the way by showing up at the edge with all the dirty, bruised, bent over, trampled, breaking “Crushed reeds” people. With all who ‘struggle to shine or even hold a spark in life” people. In the midst of people like us. And Jesus immerses himself completely in our existence and wears it.
When I was growing up down South we used to head to a swimming hole. On a hot day you need a swimmin’ hole. We’d head down the red clay road, through the weeds in the field, over the fence past the bull we needed to avoid to the cool water.
And when we came home we’d try to convince the adults that we didn’t need a bath that day because “we had already been in the water.”
But of course, as you know, we were covered with all the dust of red clay road we traveled, all the silt stirred up in our splashing and the field we walked through. We wore it all.
At the Jordan river, people had made their dusty trek, and they were dirty and splashing, and animals were trampling and the water was anything but pure. Mud oozing at the edges, silt rising.
Jesus immerses himself here.
In this place full of the dirt of creation’s existence. And I imagine that he rises up out of the water, he is dripping with the drops of the Jordan, clinging to him, full of all that dirt on his skin. He wears our existence.
But he’s also filled with the Holy Spirit on the inside.

And he carries both- as he heads into places of temptation, and the labors of ministry, to the place where he will wash the dirty feet of his followers and to the place where he’ll bear the crushing weight of the cross. And the place where it seems like the end has been reached.
But there too he will open up possibility in the new thing of resurrection declared by God.
We who share in baptism share in all of this.
Walking into the world- in places of temptation, labors of ministry. We carry the drops of the mark of the cross that declares God’s new life and we walk filled with the Holy Spirit
Even when we feel like crushed reeds, or dim wicks, covered with the weight and dirt of struggles, and surrounded by limits. When we are waiting for a word.
Jesus shows up and calls us to be immersed.
Because the people on the edge are waiting and hoping it will be a good word.
And we need to hear that they are at the edges because of other people’s limits.
It’s always a challenge.
People can get caught up in crying out frustrations, or shouting out  complaints about the world. Perhaps like John insisting upon what we are certain cannot be.Or like leaders in the gospel, certain about the step that is too far to take-that person is too distant or to broken to be our concern. The cost is too great; the energy too demanding.

Maybe this is when we should ask if we have considered lately what it takes to crush a reed or dim a wick.

We, this side of the cross see Isaiah’s prophecy as pointing to Christ the Servant, and it does, however,
it is not to be forgotten that the people in the time of Isaiah interpreted this prophecy as speaking to them- the people of Israel as it is defined in the Hebrew Scripture. That the servant is THEM as the community. If we open our horizon of possibility, the servant is both.
Tempting as it may be to think that the edge of whatever is right in front of us is the limit, perhaps a new thing Jesus declares even now is that what we see as the limit is God’s horizon of possibility.

Because we have been fully immersed in God’s vision for the world declared by Christ.
And we are empowered by the Spirit
To live as Martin Luther suggested. Even on his darkest days in the world, he could be sustained by declaring- “I’m baptized!”
It reminded him of grace and salvation,
and that the dirt of life is not permanent.
And it gave him strength to look for God’s work in the world and to declare it no matter what the world’s limits might suggest. It’s powerful!
In baptism God says of us too- you’re my chosen, my delight, the bearer of my Spirit, the bringer of justice. Don’t be discouraged. You are my servant.

May we live this new life-
to declare to all at the edges of existence,
A glorious word-
That in Christ, where others see limits,
And build barriers,
We see the horizon of possibility being revealed
That Christ is the only real power and truth in this world
Who has come for us all.

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