January 13, 2019

THE REV. ROBERTO DESANDOLI
1st Sunday after the Epiphany / Baptism of the Lord

Isaiah 43: 1-7
Psalm 29
Acts 8: 14-17
Luke 3: 15-22

Listen to this sermon

He Will Baptize You

15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah,[a] 16 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[b] the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 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.”

18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19 But Herod the ruler,[c] who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added to them all by shutting up John in prison.

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 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;[d] with you I am well pleased.”[e]

 

What we have heard this morning in Luke, Chapter 3, really is the pilot or the hook of Luke’s Gospel.  The story that is told to those who do not know the story in order to invite them to keep watching; to keep reading.  Like a TV pilot, it is a story that invites us into curiosity:

Don’t you want to know more about this mysterious John the Baptist?

Don’t you want to know why people were gathered to hear him?

Don’t you want to hear the whole sordid story, the details of Herod’s evil ways that had landed John in prison?

And most importantly: don’t you want to know more about this Jesus character and why God claimed Him as his Son?

Indeed, it is no coincidence that we read this story during the Season of Epiphany – the season to discover Jesus, the season to build interest and faith in Him, the season to figure out where Jesus is and where we should find him.

Last week, in the first Sunday of Epiphany, we read the story of the three Wise Men and we were thus invited to wonder who this Christ Child is and who is really the King in Herod’s land?

Now, in the second Sunday of Epiphany, we are given another piece of the puzzle; a new piece of information and a new crop of meaningful questions: Who is John?  Who is Herod? Who is this man named Jesus?

It is possible to answer these meaningful questions with easy answers:

-A Preacher,

-A King, and

-A Carpenter

(it sounds like the setup to a joke)

Meaningful questions can have easy answers, but notice how truly unsatisfying and incomplete they are.

Who is John? A Preacher.

        Who is Herod? A King.

Who is Jesus? A carpenter from Nazareth.

Safe answers.  Just the facts please.

And even though the world about us prefers safe answers; safe answers to meaningful questions tend to be less helpful than no answer at all.

Unfortunately, in a world filled with people hoping to find meaning, our culture prefers safe, no calorie answers… answers that stand for nothing with the justification of offending no one.

Who is Jesus Christ?  A man who with good ideas.

What is the meaning of life? Pass. We don’t like that one.

Ok…what should I do with my limited time on earth? We don’t care, just make sure it stimulates the economy.

Is there a God? We’d rather answer the “meaning of life” one.

Safe answers.  Inoffensive answers.

As I’m sure you’ve all noticed, there is a popular slogan in our culture that gets brought up anytime a conversation strays too far into trying to answer the meaningful questions of life:

        You’re free to believe whatever you want just keep it to yourself. (x2)

Don’t proselytize.

Don’t “force your religion on me.”

I think this last one is actually kind of funny because I’ve yet to see someone on the streets be baptized against their will. The way people talk, you would think this happens all the time.

But of course, the reason it doesn’t happen all the time -the reason we don’t actually need to tell someone “not to force their religion on people” is because there’s no such thing as a “forced conversion.”

Christians know that.

Jews know that.

Muslims know that.

People of every religion have known that for hundreds and thousands of years.

It seems to be only the champions of secularism who look out for a big net with a Bible in the middle of it while walking down the street.

I think they give us too much credit. J

We know there’s no such thing as a forced conversion.

And so did John the Baptist:

If John the Baptist believed that spreading the Good News of the Messiah were as easy as hiding near the Jordan River and giving surprise baptisms as people walked by, he wouldn’t be such an interesting and provocative preacher.

But indeed, he was an interesting and provocative preacher. The archetypal preacher by whom all preachers are measured (as I’ve said on previous Sundays). John the Baptist was such a good preacher that—Luke tells us—the people began to wonder whether John Himself might be the Messiah!

As we arrive on the scene, as the pilot of Luke’s Gospel opens, we hear John’s voice crying out!  Proselytizing!  Evangelising!  Treating the Good News as the key to salvation! (imagine that)

“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[b] the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 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.”

There’s nothing safe about John, there’s nothing inoffensive.

To prove this point beyond a shadow of a doubt, Luke brings up the thing that ultimately lands John in prison:

18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19 But Herod the ruler,[c] who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added to them all by shutting up John in prison.

That’s a bit of a tricky sentence so let’s break it down…

Herod the ruler: (the king we talked about last week, the one who tried to deceive the Wise Men and who later killed every child under two years old in Bethlehem), this Herod shut John up in prison because John had criticized him for taking his brother’s wife (now called Herodias) as his own.

John, always a firebrand and a devout man, had caught the attention of Herod by reminding Herod of the Law that a man may not take his brother’s wife.  Because of this, John later found himself in prison and then beheaded for the crime of “speaking truth to power.”

In reconsidering our first two questions: who was John and who was Herod?

We find the answers: “a preacher” and “a king” don’t quite do them justice.  And, like Luke, we’ll get to the carpenter.

A moment ago I mentioned the term “speaking truth to power.”  When I was in seminary and learning to become a preacher; learning how to follow John’s lead of preaching the Good News, this was a term that came up often.

“We have to speak truth to power”

“We have to call out the Herods of the world on their crimes”

“We have to risk it all in the name of Jesus”

And I agree with each of these statements.

We ought to have the courage of John and the Apostles.

We ought to have the audacity to proclaim Christ as God’s only Son.

We ought to stand up and risk something in the name of Christ.

But I think we need to add one other thing:

We also ought to give a clear testimony of our faith, not only to the Herods, the Trudeaus, and the Trumps of the world, but also to the people who we know and meet in our lives.

We need to preach truth to not only power but also to peers. Preaching truth to power only is too safe too easy. It’s easy to criticize a political on a message board, it’s harder to engage your real-life neighbor in a real-life conversation.  Especially one about sin and salvation.

If we’re honest and confess our sins, really and truly, about what we believe about faith, and what we believe about the church, and what we believe about the world, we confess that we each live somewhere in the middle between our culture and our faith:

We want to be faithful, but we don’t want to offend.

We want the church to thrive and be successful in loving the world around it, but we don’t want to appear too extreme.

We want God to save us from the time of trial and deliver us into the Kingdom of Heaven, but we don’t want to appear so bold as to attract too much attention.

Returning to Luke, already we know:

John is no mere preacher,

and Herod is no proper king.

What about the carpenter?

What about Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth with the good ideas? What about the guy who gives us a good example to live by, but doesn’t require us to make sacrifices or get into trouble for giving an accurate testimony of our faith?

This morning, I’ve made an attempt to copy Luke’s homework, to leave Jesus out of the picture until very near the end.

Now that he’s arrived; arrived into the Jordan Valley to be baptized; arrived into this conversation to inquire of us. Who do we find Him to be?

Is He just a carpenter?

Is He just a man with good ideas?

Is He just the son of Mary and Joseph?

Because if He is, then we also have to go back on a few other things.

If Jesus is just a carpenter, then that makes John just a preacher and not the forbearer of the Messiah.

And if Jesus is just a carpenter, then that makes Herod the “true” king in the land of Judea.

And if Herod is the “true king in Judea” then that makes him right for locking up John the Baptist and (later) delivering his head to Herodias on a silver platter. John was guilty of the crime of libel, and sentence was carried out.

Because if this is all there is to it, then there’s really no such thing as “speaking truth to power.”

If this is all there is to it, then there is really no distinction between “truth” and “power” at all.

Without God, without the Truth, the Way, and the Light, “truth” is whatever we want it to be, and we’re already experiencing the danger of living in a “post-truth” world.

We Christian people, we people who have been baptized in Christ’s Baptism and who have eaten at Christ’s table, we are united in a common a hope:

A hope that Jesus is not just a carpenter from Nazareth,

But rather that He is truly the Son of God, the Messiah; the one sent to save us from sin.

By hoping in this together, we practice faith together, we try to live our lives by this truth. We try to treat one another (and to live our lives in the world) as we have been taught by Christ and the Apostles.

As people who live both in the church and in the world, we sometimes find ourselves at odds within ourselves.

Sometimes we fail to give a testimony of our faith when given the opportunity (myself included).

Sometimes we treat the Good News as something “I believe” in our lives but not as the key to salvation that we have been equipped with to share with others.

Other times we fail to speak “truth to power”.

Other times we go along with the Herods of this world because we don’t want to be seen or to be talked about as one of those “religious nuts”, to be talked about as John was surely talked about.

On this Baptism of the Lord Sunday, I’m supposed to tell you to “remember your baptism”

However, instead of “remembering our baptism,” specifically I’d like to invite you to try to remember the baptism of all of those people who were gathered with John at the Jordan River on the day described to us by Luke.

I’d like you to close your eyes for a moment and imagine that there is still a little water in your hair and on your shoulders.

I’d like you to imagine the wet cuffs of your pants or the wet hem of your dress, clinging to your ankles.

I’d like you to imagine the sunshine on your face, slowly drying the water from your skin.

And I’d like you to imagine John, as wild and as animated and as troublesome as ever.

And now there is a man standing before him, being baptized.

And somewhere behind you a voice whispers to an unseen listener “that’s the carpenter’s boy.”

And as you’re taking all of this in, your new baptism, the baptism of all of these likewise bold and foolish people around you, the words you have heard from John, the knowledge of the evil that Herod is doing in your country, and the figure of the young carpenter standing in front of you;

As you’re thinking of yourself, the preacher, the king, and the carpenter,

Suddenly there’s a bird, only it’s not a bird at all,

And suddenly there’s thunder, only it’s not thunder at all, and this voice comes out of the clouds, directed at the carpenter:

“You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

And you think to yourself, maybe that carpenter is no carpenter at all. And how can we keep such glorious news to ourselves? Amen.

 

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