A Story to Tell in 2023

January 8, 2023

Matthew 3:13-17

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 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. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw God’s Spirit descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from the heavens said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Happy New Year! I hope that the start of the new year has been good for all of you. I had a strange sensation Monday morning. I was sitting in the office trying to get a few things done. I am looking out the window at how cold it is, thinking I was enjoying 70 degrees just a few days ago, and I looked at my calendar and it read December 2022. So, I got up and flipped the page to January 2023. As I sat down, I realized that we are just 2 years away from the 21st Century being ¼ over. Let me say that again… think about that. Remember Y2K? Was that not just last year?

The passage of time seems to be accelerated and the older I get the more pressure there is on the gas pedal. Yikes! I don’t know about you but when this century began, I had some pretty good ideas about where I thought I would be at this juncture in my life. For better or for worse I can tell you I am not living the life I imagined. Each of the years in this century up to this point have a story to tell personally, professionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. I can’t always remember for sure which year they were—another sign of age, but definitely change.

The word change is interesting for me. If it benefits me, I like change; if it is burdensome, then it becomes a four-letter-word. John C. Maxwell wrote in the book 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership that “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” I would like to think that I am growing, but I am sure there are others, maybe my children who believe I have never grown because I always act like a child. Growing as a person is essential, I think in our lives. Growing spiritually is very important in our Christian faith. If we have not grown in our understanding and relationship with God, then now is a good time to start. And if you have grown, I hope that we can help further that progress as a church.

Today we celebrate Baptism of the Lord. Friday was the traditional day of Epiphany. If you want to know what Epiphany means, you have to read my newsletter article. But I will give you a clue, it is something about manifestations and God’s presence with us. From now until we begin Lent, we are in the season of Epiphany and we are to be following the signs, like the magi followed the star to see the Christ child, or better yet Christ among us. How does God through Christ come into our presence?

Psalm 29 that we read together reminds us of who God is. God is a voice that thunders and breaks the cedars of Lebanon and makes calves skip, God’s voice flashes flame and shakes the wilderness, God’s voice causes the oaks to whirl and strips the forest. But God’s voice also proclaims that Jesus is his son and he finds favor with him or is well pleased, depending on the translation. Who is this God who can send the Spirit like a dove to land on Jesus?

Our faith can only begin to grow when we ask the questions we don’t know. If we believe we have all the answers then we are in for a jolt and a rude awakening. A question that I always struggle with is why did Jesus really get baptized? We are told that Jesus was with out sin. Then why did he come seeking a repentance from sins that were not committed. In my studies this week I found an answer, I think. It is in verse 15. John did not want to baptize Jesus and he said you should be baptizing me. 15 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’s gospel was written for a Jewish audience and copied from Mark where Luke is more from a gentile audience and copied from Mark. When Jesus said, “it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness” he is referring to the prophecies that were told about him from the Jewish prophets of history. Elijah was the greatest of the prophets and Elijah will return on the mount of transfiguration. John the Baptist is Jesus’ contemporary of Elijah.

We may think of righteousness in terms of moral conduct, but in Matthew’s gospel righteousness is focused on restoration and relationships made whole. It is God’s intention to redeem and reconcile the whole creation. This is the ordination of Jesus ministry. It is not an ending but a beginning of God’s plan for salvation. Today we too will ordain and install people to service as officers in the church. Jesus’ baptism signifies a new exodus and a new beginning for God’s people. Our service in the church is also a moment to be led from where we were to a new way of serving God together.

New ideas and ways of being the church are essential if we are going to grow not always in numbers but in our relationship with God and serving through the example of Christ’s command to love one another. The Spirit that looked like a dove that came upon Jesus is a cosmic shift in the heavens being torn apart and God’s voice and Spirit dwelling within God’s son. We are ordained or called to share the good news of God dwelling among us. These are the epiphanies of God’s presence among us.

These epiphanies are what we are seeking in our lives, not just this time of year but every day. In the story from Acts when Peter went to Cornelius’ house, he said Jesus was anointed to do good and heal. We are called or ordained to reveal the same characteristics within us. Then he gives a mini creed to live by. Like our Apostle’s Creed or Nicene Creed, these are the things we live by and stand for. When we ordain and install our officers here in a little bit, think about the words that you are saying.

Each of us through our own baptism has been given the same message of being loved by God and of having the Holy Spirit within us. Our baptism is an outward sign of an invisible grace. Through our baptism we are called children of God and we are given a mission to live as Christ-like as humanely possible. We all need to grow in order for that to happen. The good news is we are all in different places in our faith journey and God is ok with that. Wherever we are in that walk we have a story we can share in 2023. Amen.

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