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First Sunday After Epiphany - The Baptism of Our Lord - January 9, 2022

Updated: Jan 18, 2022




Luke presents Jesus to us in a unique and beautiful manner...In the story of Jesus, Luke portrays Jesus' life and ministry as a continuation of Israel's ancestral hopes and traditions.


For Luke, Jesus is the fulfillment of the people's hopes.


Luke also underscores in his telling of the Gospel story God's compassion for women, the marginal members of society, the less than pious, tax collectors, the sick, the poor and the oppressed...


For me, Luke is a breath of fresh air...calling out to us to consider those who in the society of the first century and perhaps in some degree in all societies those who are considered to be the “anawim" or the little people...


For the first century Jew, forgiveness and reconciliation were restricted to a system or process by which hindrances to reconciliation are removed.


In other words, there were specific rituals and actions required that removed the obstacles to God's forgiveness and reconciliation.


And in addition, the anawim often did not have access to that forgiveness...poverty, illness, occupation, gender ...all might be hindrances or more likely a road block to reconciliation with God and the privilege of worshipping in the Temple with others.


These rules and social prejudices evolved over many years and solidified in the Pharisaical movement which began in exile in Babylon.


Perhaps because of their apostasy throughout the years that resulted in being deported to Babylon, the religious began to strongly believe that sacrifice was required for the forgiveness of sins.


Elaborate liturgies were developed throughout the years and by the first century, forgiveness of sins required priestly liturgies and sacrificial animals to be offered...


I believe that these religious customs led to suspicion of others, judgment of one another, and a real feeling and response of scarcity.. Was there enough to go around? Was God's love intended for all of God's creatures or just those who were fortunate enough to be healthy, rich, educated, and male?


Into this system comes a non Hebrew who we call Luke... He writes beautifully and tells us the story that gives all hearers and readers a different perspective.


He paints a very different picture of God than was known in the first century...If we read his beautiful Greek, we would even pick up that he shifts his use of language to describe various events; signaling to the reader or the listener that this is a universal story.


A story not just for the Jews but a story for all people and for all times He wants it to be clear that the Spirit of God that is active in the Torah, the Psalms, the history of Israel is the very same God that is active in the infancy narrative and in the entire story of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.


In the Infancy Narratives, even the inclusion of Elizabeth, Zechariah, and the birth of John alternates with the story of Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus so that the listener and the reader understand that both the figures - the prophet and the Son of God have a role in God's plan of salvation for all humanity...


Our reading starts this morning with the people's reaction to John The Baptist's preaching...

John is not gentle with them...He has witnessed how far they have come from the spirit of the Law and the Love of God...


And he warns them in harsh words and condemning phrases...


Quoting from the scriptures that they know so well and responding to their excuses when they offered are that they are sons of Abraham, John tells them that God can raise up from stones the children of Abraham.


He makes it clear that they have strayed so far...so very far...


And in desperation, they plead with him to tell them what they can do and he responds with what they already knew...Be the people of God: cheat no one; share what you have; be baptized for forgiveness of sins and look for coming of the Messiah.


Can you imagine? the freedom that John offers them...


No longer is the prophet speaking of sacrifice upon sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins... Requirements for forgiveness is simply this: a declaration of belief; a celebration of the Holy; the opportunity to wade into the Jordan with John and be washed clean...


I cannot imagine the freedom and the confusion that John offers to the people... I cannot imagine as they stand on the bank of the River Jordan with their bare feet and mud and water seeping through their toes trying to digest what John is offering...


Trying to understand that the God of Creation is a God of intense and powerful love that desires not sacrifice but the love of one's heart and the kindness that God has shown... to be given freely to others by all the people.


In a world where there was no change...A boy or girl grew up doing what their parents did...if you were born into a family of slaves, then you were a slave.


If your father was a fisherman...you were a fisherman... If you were born into wealth you were wealthy and the same if born in poverty, then you lived in poverty.


If you were ill, you were excluded from the Temple and from society... And here stood a prophet, a Nazarite...telling you that prophecy is not silent and that oneness with God is possible...

Come into the river and be set free... Come into the river and receive God's blessing and forgiveness...

And they came and they heard and they rejoiced...And among them was a carpenter from the north in Israel and He too was baptized...


And the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove and God proclaimed God's delight in this man, Jesus.


This story should make us dance with joy... it should offer to us the freedom and delight that was and is intended in baptism and in our worship.


But somehow, we get bogged down in our own broken nature and forget what God has given us.

Our faith and worship is to be a delight; our relationship with God is to healing, loving, freeing...the greatest of all gifts.


But we run into life...with its disappointments, its sorrows, its losses and we forget or misplace our knowledge of the freedom that we have to love and to know God...


We can easily sink into a fog that appears to be a complete whiteout with no glimmer of hope or delight...


That fog however, does not negate the power of God; the love of God; the hope of God; and the absolute freedom and delight that God offered Luke; offered the first century Jew and Gentile and what God offers to us...


We have the privilege of worship; the privilege of Baptism for the forgiveness of our sin and entrance into the fellowship of Christ Body... We are the most blessed...


Last Wednesday night, I was especially aware of the liturgy that we use in the chapel ...

I was able to hear it ...to really hear it...and delight in it...I had been studying Luke all afternoon and there it was...that gift of hope and delight:


The words just prior to the Sanctus:


Wondrous are you, Holy One of Blessing, All YOU create is a sign of hope for our journey; And so as the morning stars sing your praises we join the heavenly being and all creation as we shout with joy: Holy, Holy Holy Lord.


The writer of Luke knew hope; He knew the possibility of change; He knew expectation; He knew the love of God; He knew the opportunity of the freedom of worship...

We are the most blessed.


Amen



References:

The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, NRSV, Oxford University Press

The Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible, Abington Press

The Jewish Annotated New Testament, Second Edition, NRSV, Editors: Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Oxford University Press, 2017

The Hebrew Bible, Volume 2, Prophets, Robert Alter, W.W. Norton and Co., 2019.




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