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Sermon for Sunday 12 January 2020

First Reading                                        Isaiah 42:1-9

1Behold 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. 2He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. 5Thus 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 on it and spirit to those who walk in it: 6“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, 7to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. 8I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. 9Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.”

Psalm                                                             Psalm 29

1Ascribe to the Lord, you gods, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. 2Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his Name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. 3The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders; the Lord is upon the mighty waters. 4The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice; the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor. 5The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon; 6He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox. 7The voice of the Lord splits the flames of fire; the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. 8The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe and strips the forests bare. 9And in the temple of the Lord all are crying, “Glory!” 10The Lord sits enthroned above the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as King forevermore. 11The Lord shall give strength to his people; the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.

Second Reading                             Romans 6:1-11

1What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Gospel                                                Matthew 3:13-17

13Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”


Now for all those of you who have been involved, or are currently involved, in planning a wedding, I’m sure you’ve well aware of the many particulars involved in the planning process that stresses out brides and grooms in the months and weeks leading up to the big event.  Details like, invitations, dresses, meals, the cake, the flowers, the location, the guest list, the photographer, the music and so forth.  And all these necessary elements can become over whelming if not managed effectively.  Bride-to-be Cassandra Warren can attest to this. 

Cassandra was so hurried to get things done that she accidentally sent an invitation to her wedding to a wrong address.  The wedding was to have a Star Wars theme and she was excited about it, but this one invitation went astray.  A week later, the invitation came back in return mail.  The mistaken invitee had included a $20 bill in the envelope and had scribbled this message on the outside: “I wish I knew you—this is going to be a blast.  Congratulations—go have dinner on me.  I’ve been married for 40 years—it gets better with age.”  Warren sent back a gracious thank-you note, saying, “I am thankful for people like you still being in the world.”

We all know what it’s like to get a phone call or text from a wrong number.  We usually ignore it, or we text back a quick “wrong number” and we go on with our lives.  But a few years ago, a story about a wrong number and a mistaken invitation went viral and touched many lives.  On November 15, 2016, Wanda Dench sent a group text to her family reminding them what time they would be celebrating Thanksgiving dinner at her house.  She didn’t realize that one of her grandsons had changed his cell number, and so she accidentally sent the text to a teen named Jamal Hinton.  Hinton was surprised and amused when he got the Thanksgiving invitation.  

He texted back and asked who it was from?  Dench texted back that it was from “Your grandma.”  Since Hinton’s grandmother doesn’t text, Jamal knew Dench had the wrong number.  He asked her to text him a picture.  She did.  Then Hinton texted her a picture.  Dench is white.  Hinton is black.  Obviously, she wasn’t his grandmother.  After sharing a good laugh about the mistaken invitation, Dench then texted to say that Hinton was still welcome to join her family for Thanksgiving dinner.  And so, he did.  For the last couple of years, Jamal Hinton has joined the Dench family for Thanksgiving dinner.  A mistaken invitation has turned into a great friendship between the two families.

In our gospel lesson for today, John the Baptist was giving an invitation to the people of Jerusalem and Judea to repent, to confess their sins and to be baptized because the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  He directed his most demanding preaching toward the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious elites.  He’s saying to them, “Don’t think you’re too good for this!  You’d better come out, repent and get baptized and begin living a life that shows you’ve truly repented and turned back to God!”  While this isn’t exactly what John said, it is the gist of his message.

So it’s strange that John suddenly puts the brakes on when Jesus comes to him to get baptized.  Notice how today’s Matthew passage begins: “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.  But John tried to deter him. . .”  John has been inviting everyone who will listen to get baptized, but when Jesus steps forward, John tries to deter Him saying, “I need to be baptized by you . . .”  It’s like John the Baptist suddenly becomes John the Bouncer.  “This invitation for baptism is for everyone but you.”  Was this a case of an invitation gone astray?

There’s an old phrase that’s still quite common today, “Were your ears burning?”  It means, “I was just talking about you.”  It’s based on an old wives tale that if your right ear is burning, someone is saying nice things about you.  But if your left ear is burning, they’re talking about you in a negative way or they’re planning evil towards you.  This old saying goes all the way back to 77 A.D., when a Roman philosopher named Pliny wrote about it in his book, Natural History.  I can picture John the Baptist saying, “Hey, Jesus, were your ears burning; I was just talking about you?  

I was just telling everyone that the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  I was telling people about you.  You are the true baptizer.  I baptize with water, but you’re the who is coming to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.  That’s why I’m so confused.  Why would you be coming to me for baptism?”  However, Jesus’ answer to John is confusing.

Jesus answers, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”  Now we’re not certain what Jesus meant with these words, scholars have been debating this for centuries.  Some postulate that Jesus was telling John that it was time to begin His ministry and He needed a public affirmation to start it off with.  Others suggest that Jesus, because He is a Priest and King after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 7:17), Jesus wanted to fulfill the ritual washing of the priests so that they could not only serve in the Temple, but also enter into the Holy of Holies.

The reason Jesus wanted to be baptized had to be important; Jesus needed to fulfill all righteousness and His answer ended the discussion concerning John’s reluctance to baptize Him.  Jesus’ baptism by John was also important at that moment in Jesus’ life.  Up until that time, Jesus had been, for all practical purposes, anonymous.  Just an average Jew.  One of the guys, a tradesman, a carpenter.  But in order to “fulfill all righteousness,” to show the glory of God and to follow God’s will, He had to leave His old life of anonymity behind and announcing His ministry.  And this public baptism by John was part of His plan.

It’s interesting to see how God uses this misunderstanding between John and Jesus to show us what it means to be baptized as a follower of Jesus Christ.  With that in mind, let’s consider a few things that it means when we are baptized.  Now before I get to the effects of baptism, we need to understand that Baptism isn’t an option.  In John chapter 3 verse 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.”  When Jesus commanded us to Go into all the world and baptize, He was affirming the necessity of baptism for all believers.  Baptism isn’t something we can put off, it’s absolutely necessary to inherit the kingdom of God and this is why we baptize our babies.  And because baptism is so important, it brings with it additional responsibilities.  First, it means we’re to leave our old life behind.  

When we’re baptized, we belong to God.  We’re adopted as God’s child and we become an inheritor of God’s kingdom.  This is what Paul is telling the Christians in Rome when he wrote, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  For one who has died has been set free from sin” (Rom. 6:3-7).

As baptized believers, we’re called to put aside a life focused on our desires and take on a life that’s centered on God.  Let me give you an example of someone who’s pursuing a new life.  His first name quite ironically is Christian.  I say ironically because Christian spent eight years as a violent supporter and recruiter for the white supremacist movement.  But while participating in a violent attack on a black man one day, Christian experienced a moment of empathy for his victim—a moment that eventually led him to repent of his racism and hatred and leave the white supremacist movement.  Now Christian dedicates his time and energy to reaching people within the white supremacist movement and convincing them to give up the hate and prejudice and the violence that they espouse.  He also trains police officers and FBI agents in the methods and beliefs of neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

Scott Pelley from CBS News interviewed Christian on his new life.  He asked him, “Do you fear for your safety?”  Christian replied that he receives death threats on a daily basis.  But the way he looks at it, is that for eight years of his life, he was willing to die for something that was wrong.  Now he’s trying to help pull people out of this hate-filled movement.  Otherwise, he said he didn’t know how he’d be able to live with himself.

Christian gave up a life of hatred in exchange for a life of peace and reconciliation.  And his commitment is tested daily by the death threats he receives.  This tells us that when we commit our life to following Jesus, our commitment will be tested just as Jesus was tested in the wilderness by satan right after His baptism.  Daily we’ll feel the urge to go back to the comfortable, self-centered life we once lived.  But in our baptism, we died to our old life and came alive to the new life that reflects God’s Spirit and God’s will.

Margaret Burks, a former missionary from Tanzania, told of a baptism service she attended in East Africa.  Each person came forward to be baptized by being immersed in a river.  All the baptismal candidates came forward with joy, but one young boy really broke up the service when he came out of the water after his baptism shouting, “I’m alive!  I’m alive!”  The missionary asked the boy what he was doing.  The boy said he thought he was supposed to die in the waters.  

Hadn’t the missionary said that he would be “buried with Christ in the waters of baptism”?  Yes, that was a part of the liturgical reading for the service; the boy had taken it literally.  The attendees at the service began to laugh, until the missionary said, “That child thought that baptism would kill him, and yet he was willing to go through the process.”  Then he asked, “Would you have done the same?”  Now that’s a profound question: Would we have done the same?

Our new life in Christ isn’t an add-on, like an app on our computer or an accessory.  Our new life in Jesus is an exchange.  We’re to give up our old life of slavery to sin in order to get something better.  We die to our old life in order to receive new a life in Christ.  It’s an all or nothing proposition.  There’s no holding on to a small part of it.  There’s no negotiation for a better deal.  That is the deal.  In responding to John’s invitation, Jesus shows us what it means to be baptized—it means beginning a new life in Him.

The second thing our baptism means is, it makes that which has been personal and private, public and social.  After His baptism, Jesus began to preach and teach about the kingdom of heaven, to heal diseases, to set people free from demons.  It would have been safer and more comfortable for Him to remain in the carpenter’s shop, but that wasn’t God’s plan.  Jesus began His ministry by going out in the world.  He went out to the people to tell them what God expected and to share the kingdom of heaven.  And God calls us to be used in the same way.

Some people fear that if they become followers of Jesus, God will ask them to give up their jobs and families and move to some remote part of the world to serve as a missionary in a place with no indoor plumbing.  Not likely.  Of course, anything is possible.  God does call a select few to exactly that kind of ministry.  But for most of us, God calls us to use our strengths, our talents, our energy, our time, our money, our jobs and our relationships to share God’s truth and love right where we are.  God’s calling doesn’t always take us to a new mission field; God’s call reveals to us the mission field that’s all around us right now, every day.

Zach Hunter was twelve years old when he studied about the slave trade in school.  He told his mother that if he’d been alive in the days of slavery, he would have done something about it.  To his surprise, his mother told Zach that slavery was an ongoing international problem today.  So Zach Hunter decided that ending slavery was his calling from God.  After much prayer and research, Zach started a campaign called “Loose Change to Loosen Chains.”  Since then Zach has spoken at conferences, concerts, public events, schools and churches in an effort to raise money and awareness to fight human slavery.  He donates the money he raises to the International Justice Mission to use in their fight against the slave trade.  

He’s also written a book on this subject that has been published by Zondervan.  He’s appeared on Good Morning, America and was interviewed recently by Newsweek.  As Zach says, “I wanted kids my age to get on board to help.  I want us to make history—and I don’t mean to get our names in some history book, but to be known as a generation that did something for God, cared for the poor, and totally stopped slavery.”  God’s calling isn’t limited by age, socioeconomic status, gender or ability.  The only limit on God’s call is our obedience.  

We need to be willing to use every resource we have to share God’s love and truth with others.  Jesus was without sin, completely righteous.  He didn’t need to undergo a baptism of repentance.  He did it to show us the attitude of obedience, faith and willingness that God desires from His children.  God used this misunderstanding between John and Jesus to show us what it means to be a baptized follower of Jesus Christ.

Being baptized means that we first leave our old life behind.  And second it means making that which has been personal and private public and social.  Many of us are introverts.  It’s difficult for us leave behind the comfort of our homes to proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior in the workplace, in our social relationships, in community activities.  But that’s where He’s calling us.  Finally, in accepting John’s invitation, Jesus is showing us that being baptized is not optional and He was identifying with those He came to save.  In His baptism, Jesuswas making peace between us and God and is showing us just how far God’s love would go to save His precious children.

There was an interesting report on the Internet recently about a young man from Brazil who identifies so completely with his favorite soccer club, the Flamingos, that he covered his entire torso with a tattoo of the team’s jersey.  From his neck to his waist, he has tattooed on the stripes of his favorite team.  According to this report, it took 32 sessions with a tattoo artist and over 90 hours to complete the tattoo.  We may doubt this young man’s sanity, but we can’t doubt his commitment to his team.

That Brazilian man was willing to invest his money, his time and even his pain to show the world where his allegiance lies.  What are we willing to do to show our commitment to Jesus Christ?  Does our life look any different than the lives of those who don’t follow Christ?  Would our colleagues look at us and say, “Oh, yeah, that guy is a true disciple of Jesus.  It’s tattooed all over his life”?

We’re called to identify with Christ, and we’re also called to share that love and commitment with those for whom He died.  Jesus came so that He might give His life as a ransom for all.  If that tattooed man from Brazil wandered into our church, how well would he be accepted?  Jesus reached out to those the rest of society ignored or rejected.  Remember says St. Paul, while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).

Jesus submitted to the baptism of repentance, yet He had no reason to repent.  He was without sin (2 Cor. 5:21).  J0ohn’s invitation was for everyone but Jesus.  But the invitation wasn’t misdirected.  Jesus needed to set for us an example of a life that’s completely aligned with God’s will.  He needed to show us what it is to go beyond a life that’s personal and private to one that is public and social in order to make Him known to the world.  Finally, in His baptism, He identified Himself with those He came to save.  Jesus came to show us the love of the Father, and as baptized believers, as ones who have died to our old live and been raised with Him, we’re called to show God’s love to others as well.


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