LECTIONARY NOTES | BAPTISM OF OUR LORD   01-09-2022

FIRST READING:   Isaiah 43:1-7

We’ve just completed a year that was full of much challenge and uncertainty. We wonder that we have made it this far – through COVID and much political unrest and gun violence and climate-related disasters and America’s original sin of systemic racism – and we also wonder about this new year, its challenges and its possibilities. Perhaps, like many human beings throughout the ages, we are particularly focused only on our own time and situation, as if the rest of time and creation doesn’t really matter. Sometimes we are in need of historical perspective, a time of remembering the past to help reflect on the present.

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.” These words of the prophet Isaiah are addressed to a people who have gone through the terrible ordeal of being conquered and deported, dragged off to Babylon to continue their lives in exile. The Babylonian exile would last 70 years, which means that many would have died in that strange land and others would have been born only knowing that land and that life situation.

But the prophet speaks of a return to Israel, a “going home” to the land of the ancestors, a return from exile to the land and the life that long ago had been promised by the God who has given them life and has created them as a people and is redeeming them and “calls (them) by name”!

Is this a welcome invitation or a frightening challenge? Sam Keen, a Christian writer, once asked the question, “Why are known hells preferred to strange heavens?” Are we always so eager to step forward into a new year, into a fresh opportunity, into possibility and, perhaps, promise?

Note that the prophet Isaiah speaks of “passing through waters… passing through rivers… walking through fire.”  Though it might be uncertain and frightening, the people need not fear, because God will accompany the journey. 

In your life and my life and every life, God does not promise a life’s journey that is without rivers to cross and flames to pass though. But God does promise God’s abiding presence and protective love. As in Isaiah’s time, the saving God who has “created” and “formed” you has also “redeemed” you and “will be with you” – WHY? – “because you are precious in my sight and honored, and I love you.”  

Redeemed through Jesus Christ when you were baptized, you are on a life’s journey that will include its share of challenges and uncertainties. You cannot always know what might lie ahead, but you can trust that the God who knows you by name will be with you.

Do not fear.

PSALM READING:   Psalm 29

Actual weather storms continue to appear here, there, and everywhere – powerful, destructive, and frightening. It is a new thing for those of us who live in the metropolitan Philadelphia area to encounter tornadoes.

The psalmist of long ago looks at the amazing strength and power on display in the storms and calls upon the people of God to see such storms as a display of God’s voice at work, of God’s strength and power  in action, of God’s sovereign rule and great majesty. The psalmist wants the people of God to be humbled and in awe, reverent and full of worship, moved to cry out “Glory!” to God.

Something else. If God is this strong and mighty, may God give strength to God’s people! May God’s people be blessed with peace!

Do we have a sense of fearful respect for God’s power? And can we sense God’s presence and care for us in the midst of life’s turbulent storms and threatening struggles?

Glory to the God who has created us, redeemed us, comforted and enabled us in our life’s journey!

 

SECOND READING:   Acts 8:14-17

Even though Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” [Acts 1:8], it surely must have been a shock and a controversy to those Jews who had become followers of the way of Jesus to hear that despised Samaritans would also seek to walk the way of Jesus. How can this be happening and should we even allow it? Peter and John went to investigate… apparently confirmed the genuineness of this odd expansion of God’s people beyond normal boundaries… touched them and prayed for them… and sensed that the Holy Spirit – the same Holy Spirit that had come upon them – was gifted to these believers.

In the early days of the Church, this inclusion of others beyond established cultural and ethnic prejudices did not come without struggle and debate. Christianity might have ended up being just a variation of the Jewish faith if the Holy Spirit had not whispered, blown, burnt, and exploded her way into the hearts and the minds and the tongues and the hands of early believers.

Might there be future followers of Jesus among those that you or I might forget about or even eagerly seek to exclude? How is the gospel of Jesus Christ – how he lived and what he died for and what he has commanded us to do as his representatives – breaking through your and my prejudices and unfaithfulness as his disciples?

GOSPEL READING:  Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Luke’s account of the baptism of Jesus is different from Matthew and Mark (and John seems to make reference to it; see John 1:29-34). In Luke it is not Jesus alone, but “all the people” who are baptized. John the Baptist’s role is not mentioned; in fact, he was imprisoned before the baptism (see the omitted verses, 3:19-20). So the baptism of Jesus seems to be part of a larger movement of renewal whose leadership Jesus assumed after John was in prison.

His baptism in the Gospels marks the beginning of Jesus’ leadership. In Luke, Matthew, and Mark his baptism is followed by temptation in the wilderness and then the beginning of his public ministry. 

Immediately after his baptism, while Jesus is praying, the heavens open and the Spirit of God gently descends, resting like a dove on Jesus. God affirms Jesus to be “my Son”, both here and at the transfiguration [Luke 9:35].

This morning we are remembering the BAPTISM OF JESUS. This morning we are reflecting on his identity, his mission, and the power of God at work in him. In the weeks of the Epiphany Season that follow (This year it’s eight Sundays!), we will continue to see more and more of Christ’s glory… we will watch and listen and wonder as his identity is further revealed, as his mission continues to unfold, as his power manifests itself in the lives of others around him. Don’t miss the signs. Don’t turn away from the Light.  Lay bare your heart to God’s own Word… open your life to God’s wonderful Son… see again the mystery and the miracle of God’s living among us as one of us.

This morning we are also reflecting on how CHRIST’S identity has shaped OUR identity… on how CHRIST’S mission is very much OUR mission… and how CHRIST’S power empowers US to live faithfully and to love fervently. These themes will be lifted up when we renew our baptism promises during Sunday worship.

I was born on October 13 (not recently, however)… and baptized a few months later, on December 31. I like that image of A NEW YEAR and A NEW ME. For almost all of my life, then, I have been – officially – a Christian. But that doesn’t mean that I’ve been faithful in my living or fervent in my loving each day, every week, all those years. I haven’t. And so I thank God for God’s grace that embraces, forgives, gives second chances, and empowers. I thank God for this day to remember my baptism, to help remember your baptism, with gratitude… and to return to the waters of new life.

How are you living in response to your baptism?

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