Sermon for 1/12/2014 from Pr. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA.
Gospel: Matthew 3:13–17
13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, 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 it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."
Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
The past couple of days, I attended an event with a few other people from Christ the King, called the Forward Leadership Community. You’ll hear much more about all of this in the weeks and months to come, but one specific thing we did there created a great connection for me with our Gospel text for today, and our celebration of the Baptism of our Lord.
What we did, was pretty simple really. Working in pairs, or in my case a threesome, we answered the question “what is something that has given you fear?” and then went on to talk about how we dealt with it.
So, what has given me fear? With more elaboration than I spoke yesterday, I’m fearful, of being the John the Baptist of this community.
What I mean is, is that part of my call as a pastor, and specifically a pastor to this community is that I’m regularly the one to preside at the baptisms that take place here…The Baptisms aren’t what give me fear. In fact, I love this role, because I don’t know how I couldn’t. A baptism is an event filled with joy, hope and love beyond our imagination. And it’s something that is just given to all of us, so that we as humans can continue to share and grow and live in peace and love with each other and with God. So, it isn’t the actual act of presiding at a baptism that makes me fearful.
Rather, it’s the role, or title of being the Baptizer. In my case, this more broadly is Pastor, but regardless. The general perception, in society, in congregations, or with people I might meet on the golf course, is that Pastor, the person who does the Baptizing, is a little different than everyone else, or at least expected to be. And by different, I mean better. The Pastor, is perceived or expected to be a little more holy, a little more faithful, a little closer to God and a little further from the devil than those in the church who don’t put on strange clothes every Sunday morning. The general impression, across religious groups, is that the Pastor is the one doing the Baptizing, because they are the highest on the religious pecking order.
What gives me fear in being a Pastor, is this perceived weight of being a super Christian that seems to be what the title of Pastor implies. It gives me fear, because I have no idea how to be that person, no idea how to become that person, and to be honest, not a real clear clue of how to relate to people that think I’m that person.
This is a fear, or anxiety, that not only has to do with the title of being “Pastor”, but also is shared with the title we have as Christians. The perception of being a Christian, or person of faith, is that it somehow makes us really, really good people, or something like that. Being part of a faith community, “going to church”, to many people’s perceptions; equals being good.
My own fear, as Pastor, is a fear, that, when it comes down to it, I share with John the Baptist. Now, I don’t have any idea what John’s comfort levels were throughout the bulk of his ministry of preaching, baptizing people, and calling them things like “a brood of vipers”. But when Jesus shows up at the Jordan river to be baptized by John, John’s not on board. John doesn’t feel he’s high enough on the religious pecking order to baptize Jesus. In fact, John tries to give up his own position as the local Grand Poobah of Baptizing to Jesus. When Jesus shows up, all of a sudden, John’s not feeling worthy to be “the Baptist.”
But this man Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah, doesn’t let John off the hook. Jesus says, “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Or in simpler terms, Jesus tells John, “get on with it and baptize me, because it has nothing to do with your own worthiness.”
Yesterday, as we shared something that gave us fear, we also shared how we dealt with this fear, or acknowledged it. For me, in dealing with my own uncertainty about what it means to be a Pastor, what the future holds, and all those things, Jesus’ response to John, is what gives me strength, and confidence, and joy. This response doesn’t tell John how great, or skilled he is, it’s a response that says this is what’s going to happen, this is God’s work going on, and you have been called to do it.
And then, when John does baptize Jesus, we hear a voice from heaven, but it doesn’t say, “Great job John, excellent baptism, you’re really something.” Instead, the voice comes, and says, “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
So, something that gives me fear is being a Pastor, and in a broader sense, being a Christian, or person of faith. But only when being a Pastor or Christian, is about being super righteous, or in the top 1% of all good people, or holier than anyone at all. But the Good News is, is that this isn’t what being a Pastor is all about at all.
Instead, being a Pastor is a great privilege, and a great joy, because I get to baptize people, and in these moments I get to hear God say, “this is my child, the beloved, with whom I’m well pleased.”. Furthermore, this is Good News because I don’t have to make judgments about who’s got the right stuff to be baptized, I don’t have to pick and choose who’s worthy enough to be called to do the work of God in the world. God does that, and God has chosen that this gift of love is for everyone, and that everyone can join in sharing it.
This morning, as we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, may we simply give thanks. May we give thanks that God has called each of us, weather we are the one pouring the water or witnesses to it, to be servants, to be workers, indeed to be disciples of Jesus in the waters of Baptism.. May we give thanks that we have all been called to proclaim for all people, the very love we have been given, God’s love, through our very lives, our baptized lives. For these lives are not our own, but are the lives of the One who is worthy, these lives are the eternal life of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,