A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown CT on January 9, 2022
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
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.” . . . . 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.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
One of the most challenging things about world-changing events is that they are seldom obvious. Sure, we can look back and see how some event or another changed our lives, but right then? Not so much.
Maybe we’re so involved in the moment that there’s just no time or space to see how it will change things. . . it’s the first week of college. You’ve got to move into your dorm room, there’s a roommate to negotiate with, courses to choose, maybe some homesickness to weather. . . but it’s only later, when you think about that elective you chose because you heard it was easy, and how it changed what you intended to study, and led you to be a chemist instead of a social worker. . . that you realize that first week of college changed your world.
So, here we are, at the day we remember the Baptism of Jesus, the day we look at choices… how they work, what difference they make.
Christmas is over. Most of us have taken our trees down, vacuumed up the needles, packed away the decorations, recycled the trash, and begun to put everything back where it belongs.
If Christmas is all about feasting and decorating, about giving and receiving presents, then yes, it’s over. But if there’s more to it than that – and we think there is – then really, it’s only just begun. Because Christmas is when we are first presented with the idea that God has come to be with us. And this day, the Baptism of Jesus, is when we remember our own choice to follow that baby. No matter which day we were baptized, this is the anniversary of that baptism.
Jesus came to bring to all the world a whole new way of being. The scholars say that’s why John starts his Gospel with the same words that begin the Bible – “in the beginning” and why he ends the story with Resurrection in a Garden, evoking the Garden of Eden. Jesus took the Jewish understanding of the ethical life, and belief that each of us bears the image of God, and re-presents them in ways which speak powerfully to the pagan world beyond Palestine.
In the world beyond the lands of the Jews, the Jewish ethic of the value of every life had not penetrated. Unwanted babies were thrown away, left to die or to be raised as slaves. There were no organized ways to reach out to the poor, to prevent starvation; the poor, the refugee didn’t matter, and their powerless status served as a sign that the gods did not smile on them. The idea that God loved everyone, that everyone mattered, was revolutionary.
“In Jesus we receive a love letter written in human (form) from the God who created the vast cosmos in the beginning, continues to sustain the universe even now, and values each and every one of us more than we can possibly imagine.” (David Lose)
When we choose to be baptized, or choose to live in response to our baptism, we choose to work to bring this expansive and inclusive vision of God to all the world.
Because God’s son came to be a human being, being human must be, at its foundation, good. And if human being are, at their inmost core, good, then they each and all are valuable in our world.
The last time I stopped in the Apple Store at Providence Place Mall, and in the course of making my purchase, I had a long conversation with the Apple guy…. Right now, he sells iPods and watches, computers and gizmos. But, he told me, he started out working for a big computer company up near Framingham; in fact, the company paid him to get a degree from Providence College and to take computer science courses at University of Rhode Island – then, just before he graduated, they downsized, and his job was gone. In an instant, he went from being a highly-regarded IT guy with a future, to a sales clerk at Radio Shack. Now Radio Shack’s gone, and he’s selling computers for Apple.
I don’t think this is what he thought he’d be doing, or who he’d be, at this point in his life. It’s just hard to guarantee a future.
Jesus came as a human, born to a poor and insignificant family in the poorest part of the Roman Empire to help us see that it’s not power, or position that matters. What gives us value, is that God loves each one of us as we are. God’s love for us doesn’t if that big, flashy job with the great salary goes away. God loves us no matter who we are or how we earn a living.
When we choose to live into our baptism, when we choose to live according to God’s way, we make it possible for our world to see and experienced that accepting love of God. We change the equation. One light, by itself, no matter if it is wielded by Jesus Christ, is not going – by itself – to brighten things up much. But together, we are a light that burns brightly.
Don’t think you can make a difference? Don’t short-change yourself. Each of you changes the world every time you choose to live out God’s love.
Years ago, I saw a short movie that went like this: a train’s about to leave the station. At the last possible moment, three college students jump aboard. As they pile into the train car, they see a Muslim woman, wearing a hijab, sitting alone, and they start to taunt her…. Whatcha wearing there? Where’dja get those tea towels on your head? Ya know, here we use towels like that to wash the dishes! As the taunts continue, the other folks in the car squirm in discomfort, but they do nothing. And the Muslim woman gets up and leaves the car, with taunts trailing her out the door.
And then the scene changed… the same scenario – the same students, the same Muslim woman, dressed the same way, the same taunts begin . . but this time, the other folks in the car start complaining. Hey, that’s not funny. . . we don’t do that here. . .and this time, the students stop, try to bluster an explanation, but everyone says, no, we don’t like that, and this time the students get up and leave, shamed by their peers.
That’s choice in action. Together, willing and choosing to follow Christ by saying stop when we see something wrong.
Choosing to live into our baptism, to follow Jesus, doesn’t mean there will be no darkness, no sadness, no failure, no death. But it does mean we will make a difference. It does mean we will never be alone on the journey.
Every day we have choices, but this is the most important one – to choose, once again, to live as Jesus calls us to live, to spend our energy building up our community, to turn away from casual meanness, to do the right even when it is hard.
Every day, we can choose:
Will you, today, follow Jesus?
Will you turn away from anger? Will you avoid gossip? take only your fair share?
Will you turn toward good? Will you hold the door open for the next person?
Will you stand up to our world’s bullies?
Will you come back again next week, to praise God, and renew your faith?
Today, and every day, Choose Christ and live.
© 2022, Virginia H. Child
all necessary licensing & permissions are on file in the church office, First Church Middletown CT