Rev. Tom Sorenson, Pastor
January 15, 2012
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Today we mark the Baptism of Jesus Christ. We actually are dealing with an historical event here because there really is no doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was baptized by John the Baptist. The first three Gospels, Matthew Mark and Luke, all tell a story of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist. The fourth Gospel, and the latest, John, tells a story of an encounter between Jesus and John the Baptist, although in that one Jesus doesnít actually get baptized. Still, we can safely assume that Jesus was indeed baptized by John the Baptist.
And that undisputed fact drives the authors of the Gospels nuts. It shouldnít have been that way, or so these authors thought. The Gospel of Mark, the first of them to have been written, doesnít make such a big deal out of it; but Matthew and Luke try to explain Jesusí baptism away, and John, that last of them to be written, does away with an actual baptism altogether. What these authors thought about the matter is best expressed in Matthewís version, where the author has John the Baptist say ďI need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?Ē Matthew 3:14 If there was going to be a baptism, the Evangelists were sure, Jesus should have baptized John, not the other way around. Given who we confess Jesus to be, it is indeed a legitimate question for us to ask why Jesus submitted to baptism by John. To get at a possible answer to that question, letís start by looking at who this John the Baptist was from whom Jesus accepted baptism.
Mark tells us that John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Scholars give us a bit more detail about what John was most probably doing. John the Baptist was what the scholars call an apocalyptic prophet. That means that he expected God soon to break into the world in power and might to set things right. To him setting things right probably meant smiting the Romans and driving them out of the Jewish homeland. The reason he wanted people to repent wasnít because he was concerned for their personal salvation. It was because he thought mass repentance was a prerequisite for the coming of the Day of the Lord, when God would come, wipe out the bad guys, and establish a kingdom of justice on earth.
Scholars call John the Baptistís movement a ďrenewalĒ movement. Renewal of the earth was what John really wanted, specifically renewal in the direction of getting rid of the Romans and probably of their Jewish friends in high places as well. Baptism, repentance, forgiveness, even the coming of God were not ends in themselves for John. Renewal was the end. Renewal was the goal. Renewal was what all those other things made possible.
The movement of John the Baptist wasnít the only renewal movement of his time, but it was one of the most visible at the time when Jesus came of age; and Jesus joined it. That is how I have come to understand Jesusí baptism by John. Baptism was how you joined Johnís renewal movement. Accepting baptism by John was a public way of saying I want to be part of Johnís movement. I want to be part of the coming renewal of the world. I want to help make that renewal happen, and I want to be ready to be part of it when it does happen. Thatís what Jesus did. He joined John the Baptistís renewal movement.
Not long after that King Herod arrested John the Baptist and executed him. When that happened, Jesus picked up the banner of Johnís renewal movement. According to Mark, Jesusí first public proclamation after the arrest of John was a restatement of Johnís messageórepent and believe that the Day of the Lord, that the Kingdom of God, is coming. But over time Jesus changed Johnís message in significant ways. Most significantly, John sought to prepare people through repentance and baptism for the time when God would break into history and set everything right. Jesus too called people to transformation through repentance, that is, through a change of heart that changed how they lived. But Jesus wasnít doing that so God could come and change the world. He was doing it so that we, the people whom he called to transformation through repentance, would change the world. John wanted the world transformed, and he expected God to do it. Jesus wanted the world transformed, and he expects us to do it. He wanted to do it by changing people one heart at a time. Jesusí movement too was a renewal movement, but it was a different kind of renewal movement. It envisioned transformation of the world through transformation of individual people.
Most, if not quite all, of us here have received Christian baptism. We have been baptized into the Christian community. In a few minutes I will invite you to come forward to get sprinkled with water and to renew your baptismal vows. I will invite those you who have not been baptized to come forward as well to receive the sprinkled water as a blessing. Whether you choose to come forward or not, I invite you today to do something else. I invite you to join the movement, or to reaffirm your commitment to the movement. The Jesus movement. The movement of renewing and transforming the world through the renewal and transformation of your heart.
The Jesus movement was and is a movement to renew and transform the world in the direction of justice and peace. It sought, and seeks, to do that by transforming our hearts, by leading us to know the unconditional, universal grace to God. To know Godís unshakable solidarity with us and with all people in everything that comes our way in life. Then it calls us to respond with lives committed to Godís dream of justice and peace for all people, committed not just to believing in it but to working to make it a reality.
Jesusí first public act was to join a renewal movement, the movement of John the Baptist. He did it by getting baptized. He calls us to join a renewal movement too, his renewal movement. One way to do that is through baptism. Another is to renew our commitment to the movement by renewing our baptismal vows, whether we made them ourselves or others made them for us when we were very young. Another is simply to affirm or reaffirm our commitment to the movement whether we have been baptized or not. This morning thatís what I ask you to do. To join the movement. To join the Jesus movement of peace and justice brought about through the renewing and transformation of our hearts. Itís a wonderful movement. Itís vision of peace and justice is the hope of the world. Letís join in. Amen.