Baptism of the Lord: First Sunday after Epiphany – The Gospel Passage: A Pat on the Head, so to speak

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.
John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.” (Matthew 3:13 – 15)

This is part of the “after Epiphany” part, where Jesus’ ministry is starting but has already been alluded to as being for both Jew and Gentile. Jesus’ ministry would turn many things topsy-turvey, but at least for right now it is being done “properly” where the “evangelist” baptizes all comers. At some point further down the road of ministry Jesus will baptizes his followers with the more powerful baptism that John the Baptist points to in one telling of this story.

“And 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. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Verses 16 -17)

We all want that. Being told that we are the Lord’s beloved and that God is well pleased with us. It has motivated many a Christian. Another one is, “Well done good and faithful servant.” Not the same fanfare as a dove, but not bad. I like to believe that God whispers the same thing to us, again without the dove – although I have nothing against doves. What I mean is that God shows us in many ways we are the Lord’s beloved and that the Lord is well pleased with us. After my yesterday, that’s a good thing to keep in mind as I end my day. Shalom!

Baptism of the Lord: First Sunday after Epiphany – The Old Testament Passage – Moving Forward

I don’t know if I can do this – move on. The day I wrote this I suffered a pretty traumatic loss – loss of property and things. But a loss that has shaken me a great deal. I don’t know if I can move on, take in this loss and move forward.

According to the calendar, the Epiphany of the Lord – when the Wise Men came which is the revelation of God’s son in the human Jesus Christ, and  signals Jesus’ salvation to the Gentiles – happens later this week (January 6th). And the first Sunday after Epiphany (January 8th) the focus is on Jesus’ baptism. So in a sense, we are getting a little met ahead of ourselves. Here I am commenting on scriptures (Jesus’ baptism) that are to be considered after the Epiphany but I am doing so before the Epiphany. It is making me feel more than a little muddled. But what is true for posting things is true for my self of loss – I have to move on. Not sure how though.

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.” (Isaiah 42:1 – 4)

Isaiah is always a good book to go to when one is feeling lost and bereft. The writer of Isaiah seems to know about loss, suffering, but also how to look to God in times of trouble and grieving. So when I saw an Isaiah passage for the Baptism of the Lord, I felt like it was something I would have something to say about. There is also one for the Epiphany of the Lord, but it did not resonate as well. I may come back to it, or I may choose others passages for the Epiphany.

“Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.” (Verses 5 – 9)

Maybe not the comfort that speaks to this situation, exactly. And it does seem to speak more about Jesus Christ and what he accomplished in his ministry than it does then me. But when you feel lost and bereft you take what you can get, and when you can get it. Certainly there would be other passages that speak about what I am feeling inside. But you know, part of moving on is knowing what is the NOW will not be what is the future. Days will pass, and I will start to rebuild and reclaim what was lost.

But don’t ask me how; I don’t have that figured out yet. What I do know is that by the time you read this, beloved reader, I will have moved on somehow. And I know I am not alone. Even now I have gathered friends and family around me to help. I have used the contacts and tools I used last time this happened. (Yes, this has happened before on a smaller scale. It is a consequence of living in a fallen and broken world.)

I think that is all I have to say. It has taken all I have to comment today, and to say this much. I covet your prayers, beloved reader, even if it is after the fact. I pray that when the times comes that you read this, I will be starting to heal from this. May you, beloved reader, heal from that hurts that have carried over into the New Year. Selah!

Epiphany of the Lord, who upon Baptism undertook for all of humanity

[Last year, January 6th 2015, I had written on all of the lectionary scripture passages that the RCL uses for the Epiphany of the Lord, except Psalms 72:1-7, 10-14. Rather than coming up with something new, I decided to refresh and reuse what I had written in light of this lectionary year’s focus. And add some of the other scripture passages cited for the Epiphany of the Lord and the Baptism of the Lord. But first, a refresh on last year.]

This is the day in the church year that, principally but not solely, the visit of the Three Wise Men is commemorated. It is the recognition of the baby Jesus as the human son of God by the Gentile community, as symbolized by the Wise Men; and the recognition of the grown man Jesus the Messiah by the Gentiles he encountered during his ministry on earth. I, personally, do not consider the Christmas season over until after January 6th at least!

As is the pattern, there is an Old Testament passage, a Praise or Psalms passage, a passage from the Epistles and a Gospel passage. I am using parts of the noted passage of the Old Testament, the Epistles passage, and the Gospel passage. Normally each day I post I would only use one passage, but I wanted to make good use of what the Revised Common Lectionary has. The scriptures used on day that the Epiphany of the Lord is celebrated have the same four scripture passages each year. I think that our theme this year of confession, penance and forgiveness may not be as good a fit as last year’s theme of renewal and recommitment. But it was the hope of all the nations, Jewish and Gentile at that time, and our global community now that came. And whatever the season, we need hope. And hope that our Lord will show mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.” (Isaiah 60:1-6)

I am every aware, beloved reader, that these Old Testament passages were written far in advance of the birth of Jesus. While we, and biblical commentators, have the hindsight to see that these verses can refer to the coming of the magi and the recognition of Jesus as Messiah, they were not written with that intent. So if we can bend these verses to being applied to the infant Jesus and the grown Jesus, why indeed should we not heed them as an assurance of forgiveness.

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him . . .” (Matthew 2:1-3)

The fears of King Herod became the fears of “all Jerusalem”? I do not think so. But as goes the King, so goes the kingdom. Which is why it is so important, beloved reader, to be sure the correct king is ruling over you. Let us continue reading.

. . . and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ “ (Matthew 2:4-6)

But it was not just for Israel that Jesus came; but for all people who are called by God. The magi were called through their own study of the stars, skies, and prophecies, just as we are called through various means. But there is more.

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:7-11)

Is it not joy to our hearts when we first found Jesus and acknowledged Jesus and God as rulers of our lives? But consider this beloved reader; the magi, the three wise men already knew what they would find. And still in the finding of it (Jesus) they were overwhelmed, and opened all they had and presented it to Jesus. So when we confess our need for Jesus, and find our Lord God all over again, it is right and proper to present all that we have and are to God and Christ Jesus.

And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” (Matthew 2:7-12)

When we have asked the Lord into our lives, we do not carry on with the same sort of life we had. We change our direction and go a different way, journeying on in the Christian life. That the magi returned to their own country does not mean they were not moved and lived their lives any differently. We too live in the same world that we were in before we put on our faith. And even when we renew that faith, we will still live in this world. And still have need of confession, will still be called to penance (a theme I hope to explore this year) and still need forgiveness at times – many times perhaps.

This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given to me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ.” (Ephesians 3:1-4)

There was, as you may very well know beloved reader, a distinct divide between what was for the Jews and what was for the non-Jews. Even though the Jews may not have followed God very well, the Lord was their God and no one else’s. So it hurt, and it took time for them to share Jesus. But Jesus and our Lord had always intended that the news of God was to be shared.

In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.” (Ephesian 3:5-12)

As the writer of Ephesians said, God’s eternal purpose was carried out in Jesus. But it is an eternal purpose, one that is with out end. What that means for us is this, even if we go astray from God we can return and be forgiven and through Christ Jesus we have the assurance that is possible. In boldness and confidence we can return to God through our faith in Christ whom God sent to us.

[This is the psalm that last year I did not use for the Epiphany of the Lord]

This psalm was said to have been written by David on the occasion of his son Solomon ascending to the throne. As biblical commentators are want to do, it is presumed that it was actually about the Messiah – which is ironic because Jesus was not exactly what the Israelites/Hebrews/Jews were expecting in a Messiah.

Jesus did all of these things, but not in the way that was expected. And not just for the Israelites/Hebrews/Jews. But then . . . what can you expect from a King born in a stable?

Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.

May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.
In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.”

(Psalm 72:1-7)

This prayer sounds like what David wanted for himself, and would have wanted for Solomon. It is said that Solomon was very wise, and was devoted to God. And as one bible commentator said, what father would not want this for his son?

May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.
May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.

For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.” (Verses 10-14)

Do you think, beloved reader, this is what God wanted for the Lord’s son? If the Messiah that was Jesus was not the type of Messiah expected, is it because Jesus was the type of Messiah that God wanted for all of humanity? Interesting to think about.

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor.
The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.

The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”
The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!” (Psalms 29)

This is the same Voice that said, upon Jesus’ baptism “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” This, beloved reader, is the same Voice that bids us into relationship and communion. May we do so! Selah!

First Sunday After Epiphany/Jesus’ Baptism: Gospel Passage – Coming to and be received by God

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:15-17)

The times, they were ready, for someone to come forward, gather up, and redeems God’s people. That is a common feeling, and throughout the history humanity there have been many times like that. John the Baptist, however, was the one charged with announcing and preparing for Christ’s arrival. That does not negate what others have said and done since then calling believers and unbelievers alike back to God and Christ. John’s peers and contemporaries questioned whether John might be the one they are waiting for. He answered their questions with a firm “NO!” And used the opportunity to teach more about Jesus, according to his/the writer of Luke’s understanding.

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Verses 21-22)

The story in the gospel of Luke leaves out the part of Jesus’ actual baptism. And this Sunday which celebrates the baptism of Jesus moves us beyond the story of Jesus’ birth – although tomorrow Jan 6 is the Day of Epiphany. I will say more about that tomorrow. As I have said previously, this year the days of Advent and Christmas crowd around each other. And because I spend the week leading up to each Sunday looking at each scripture text of the lectionary, it sometimes puts commemorative days in awkward juxtaposition and relation. Rest assured that tomorrow I will give fuller treatment to each event in Jesus’ life.

On the day commemorating Jesus’ baptism it is good to consider our own baptism. And in the year when confession, penance, and forgiveness are highlighted, thinking about our own baptism may cause us (and perhaps should cause us) to consider where we have gone astray from the days when we were so closely living and committed to God and Christ. I am not suggesting, beloved reader that you have strayed terribly or strayed at all. But just as last year we looked and renewal and recommitment, this year we are encouraged to come and come back to our Lord confessing our lapses, and being redeemed. It is a time not so much of “beating of chest” and “flaying of body” but of quiet meditation and contemplation of what we hoped and intended to live like, and what the actuality was.

Jesus underwent baptism to show his devotion to his God. We do so also. Jesus meditated, contemplated, and prayed to God. We should do so also. Christology says that Jesus had nothing to confess, do penance for and receive forgiveness for. Us? Not so much. But God welcomes us and cherishes us as much as Christ was welcomed and cherished by the Lord that sent him into the world. On this we can depend, and with this faith and belief we can come to our Lord in assurance that we will be received and loved. May you feel this assurance, or come to know this assurance as the year progresses. Selah!

Baptism of the Lord: The Old Testament Passage

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” (Genesis 1:1-15)

The bible starts out the story of God, humanity and nature at the very beginning – before anything else, there was God. And God always was. Now, if that boggles you mind slightly, you are not alone. But the theme for this week’s scripture passages from the RCL is not creation or nature, but the baptism of Jesus. We have already read the account of Jesus’ baptism and an account of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Why then would we be set down at the story of creation? (By the way, I am not about to enter into a conversation about creation versus evolution; I had briefly considered it, but decided I wanted to avoid that whole larger conversation.)

There are some parallel components in both the creation story and the baptism of Jesus; water (present from even before the beginning, and the river Jordan), the Spirit of God (across the “face of the waters” and in the form of a dove), the coming of light (brought by God and by Jesus), and a division of darkness & light (again, by God and by Jesus Christ’s life example). So there is rationale for this passage.

In addition, the baptism of Jesus denotes the beginning steps of God’s final plan to bring about a reconciliation between the Divine and humanity. And if that is so (which it is beloved reader), then creation of the world where humanity will live might be seen as the very first step. Be aware, beloved reader, my suggestion concerning the connection between the first step of Jesus’ ministry and the first step in creation is just that – my own suggestion.

Even with the idea of the connection between the creating of our world and Jesus’ baptism, there is a puzzlement of continuity of theme. Sometimes the common thread between the passages set for each week can only be seen when all the passages are considered together. It may well be that the last scripture passage for this week might be what ties it all together. And we will take them up tomorrow. Until then, selah!

Baptism of the Lord: The Epistle & the Gospel Passages

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the inland regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ “ (Acts 19:1-2)

We are fasting forwarding into Jesus’ adult life, and his being called into ministry. Of course. Jesus was always destined for ministry, as many other people are. For Jesus was not so much his being ready for ministry, but the time being right for him to announce more fully who he was and what he was called to. So Sunday January 11th is the Sunday which this movement is celebrated. But it is not just Jesus’ baptism (which we will read about further down the page) but our baptism. Baptism can be of several parts and stages. Paul, having been fully baptized in the Lord is inquiring of the people in front of him what sort of baptism they had. Let us rejoin the conversation.

Then he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They answered, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.’ “ (Acts 19:3-4)

They had received what we would call an initial/outward baptism ushering them into believing in God and Christ, but not fully into communion with God in an intimate nature. Because John was baptizing in advance of Christ and with water, theirs was not as intense as baptism might be.

On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied— altogether there were about twelve of them.” (Acts 19:5-7)

Not everyone has this type of baptism, that is baptism that results in prophesy and speaking in tongues. Even those who have an intimate relationship with the Lord might not prophesy or speak in tongues. Coincidentally, I was thinking about this the other day, that when I was a younger Christian I have dared to speak prophesies out loud. But now I am more cautious. But the prophesying these people in Acts did might just be testifying to their new experience of the relationship to God. Sometimes the word “prophesy” means simply speaking about what one is experiencing as opposed to telling or foretelling of future events. But let us turn to Jesus’ baptism.

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” (Mark 1:4-6)

John was unusual to say the lest. But he had devoted his life to being what God called him to be. His birth also came about as a result of divine intervention. So he was touched by God from early on in his life. Other prophets had spoken of repentance and returning to God, how to live a sinless life, and what constituted sin. But John was a little bit different and more, because his ministry was to announce the coming of Christ.

He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’ (Mark 1:7-8)

Here we have an explanation of what the disciples that Paul encountered were missing and why. According to the passage in Acts, it was when Paul invoked the name of Jesus Christ that the blessing of the Holy Spirit came upon them.

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ (Mark 1:9-11)

Note, beloved reader, that the Spirit in the form of a dove did not baptism Jesus with the Spirit, but confirmed who Jesus was.

So let us sum up what we have here. While confessing and professing faith in God is good, and joining with other believers is good, it is not all that there is. There is the bestowing spiritual baptism that only comes the holy blessing of God and the Lord Jesus. Why is that important? Because, if and when we return to God to renew and recommit ourselves to faith, there is the potential of a deepening of our relationship and baptism in God.

May you beloved reader seek to know ever deeper and more intimately our Lord God. Selah!