This Changes Everything
This week's text isn't short, but it's soooo good. Read it HERE first:
When was the last time you were inspired?
What was so inspiring about that moment?
Maybe it was a podcast or tedtalk you heard,
Maybe that old song that came on the radio you hadn’t heard in forever, but this time it hit you like it was brand new.
Maybe you witnessed someone stick their neck out for somebody else.
As I look back on just this past week, I’m humbled and invigorated by the wealth of inspiration around me. I’ve shared queso with a friend who works 60 hours a week, but still used his entire day off to help me fix our stupid wi-fi extenders and thermostats. I’ve sat with people who struggle with physical and mental health on a daily basis, but still somehow made it out of bed that day. Several of us went down to city hall to stand against proposed discriminatory bathroom bills, and I was inspired by those who made themselves vulnerable by sharing their personal stories. Transwomen like Reagan who talked about what it’s like to risk rejection on a regular basis. Moms like Kim spoke to the public shame her 5 year old Transgender daughter had to endure at school.
I’ve experienced similar feelings of awe and wonder after time away in travel and the time my daughter learned to pour her own cereal.
When you think about those inspirational and life-changing moments…perhaps you notice that you’re filled with adrenaline, with hope, with renewed energy, courage, curiosity. It often leaves us with this momentum and so we want to do something as a result. When something beautiful happens, we want to keep building on it and when catastrophe happens, we want to do something to help. I find it fascinating that there is some common humanity that has not changed for 2000 years.
After hearing John’s call for justice, the people want to know what they should do.
What should we do? They ask three times.
The crowd asks, what should we do….John replies, be generous. Share your coats and your food with those that need them.
The tax collectors ask, what should we do?.....uh….try not extorting people? You’d think it would go without saying but apparently there are a lot of things like that we just can’t take for granted.
The soldiers ask, what should we do…again a fairly simple answer…pretty much don’t be a jerk. Which is basically my preferred method of evangelism. Be a public Christian and then don’t be a jerk. At least that’s often where we have to start.
And even though I’ve read this text before, many times over, this time I was struck with renewed energy, passion, and curiosity. I’ve always understood baptism as part of our Christian tradition, a holy sacrament in the Lutheran church, so I wondered….how was it a part of John’s ancient Jewish ministry?
I learned that the baptism John was offering wasn’t necessarily a universal Jewish tradition, but it WAS a ritual practiced by many Jewish leaders. Their understanding of baptism was one of ritual cleansing, purifying a person and marking their commitment to a new way of living. It was a baptism of repentance by water. Repentance doesn’t only mean asking forgiveness, it literally means a change of mind, a new way of thinking. This is the baptism that brings together nameless crowds of the faithful, traitorous tax collectors, and soldiers of the foreign empire….AND….the son of God. This is the baptism that Jesus also experiences. But something is different, something WILL BE different. John points to a new kind of baptism, a baptism that changes the question. Instead of asking what should we DO, the question becomes…who will we BE?
Jesus’ baptism is unique among the baptismpalooza John was having that day, but reveals what we might remember or look forward to in our own baptism.
Jesus experiences the cleansing baptism of repentance. Repentance is that change, that shift, that turning toward God’s will and thus God’s saving work for all the world. Jesus’s baptism sets his face toward God above all else. Jesus is enveloped by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit remains with Jesus in the next chapter of his journey as it brings him to trials and wilderness. The Spirit persists in its presence through every single moment – lending fiery courage, wholeness, healing, and hope. Jesus hears the voice of God announcing, before all those assembled, that he is God’s beloved child. An intimate and powerful proclamation of identity and relationship.
In his baptism, Jesus receives a public blessing and an unbreakable tie. In our baptism, we are named and claimed as part of this sacred family. God says you are mine and you are blessed. You carry the light of the creator, the light of the encourager, the light of Christ....which goes out into every corner of this place, into all places, to all people.
In baptism, we have moved from what we should DO to who we will be. This is who we are. These promises run through to the depths of our being. This is who we will be. This is the bedrock of our life together. And we need a firm foundation…because baptism is not a gentle thing. Our identity is grounded in this covenant, but John reminds us that this new baptism is not just about our ability to claim our place as children of Abraham. Baptism doesn’t stop there.
Baptism isn’t only the peaceful trickle of water over our heads. It’s not gentle, it is a drowning. All that separates us from God…our old selves, our brokenness, the world’s brokenness…is drowned away.
The waters of baptism are moving living waters and moving water has the power to cut through solid stone. The stone of our darkened hearts, the stone of apathy and indifference, the stone of oppression and injustice. Baptism refreshes but it also stirs up and agitates, troubles, mobilizes. It makes John bold enough to speak up and call out even the most powerful politicians.
John speaks of the new baptism as one that will come by fire, a refiner’s fire which scorches and burns away the chaff, the dry part of the grain which protects but is actually dried up, dead, and devoid of nutrition. I have enough scars from baking to know that coming through the fire will not be comfortable.
I know that I will try to resist that fire, even if I know it to be life-giving. I will aim for calmer smoother waters, waters that cool and quench.
And they will be there waiting for me, refreshing me…until the current comes back by, saving me from stagnation, inviting me back into the rush of the river which changes the landscape it’s a part of. This is who we are, who we will be. A part of the living water. A part of the raging fire. A part of Christ. A part of hope. A part of the movement that changes the world. Amen.