Glimpses of the Kin-Dom – Week 1
*Note: Sermon audio may not match manuscript (…sometimes I riff it haha)
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw God’s Spirit descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from the heavens said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” — Matthew 3:13-17
How many of you have ever had a parent utter these words:
“If all your friends jumped off a cliff would you join them?”
I cannot lie that in my more smart aleck mindset, my response often swayed towards; “if it looked fun…yea.”
Sometimes we look at embodiments of community and we wonder what drives at the heart of them. In 2019, I was trying to get back into running consistently. Now I had been running for years before that, but I never really took it seriously. I ran when it was convenient, signed up for races, and got angry when I didn’t hit my goals. My resolution for 2019 was to be consistent in my running again, and one of the greatest things I received in that resolution was an invitation to join a run club in Chesterfield, where we were living at the time.
It is often the invitation that draws us into community and it is our reception and feeling of welcome within it that leads us to, yes, want to jump off a cliff with and for our friends. These invitations are what welcome us in and they are the offering of what can be to come…though sometimes we must be careful as we see and experience community.
Now how many of you have heard this in your life:
“Come on in…the water’s fine!”
An invitation we hear at the beach, the pool, the river, or the creek. Any body of water we are able to swim in offers an invitation for us to come on in and enjoy the water. However, our passage today can be encouraging for us to view the waters of baptism in the same way.
In the tradition of the church, baptism is often treated as a rite of initiation. It is often express that we do it, coming and confessing that we are sinful people in need of God’s grace. However, what if baptism is merely the presence of acknowledging something that is already there? What if baptism, instead of being an act we do, it is an act of God that we participate in?
What if the call of the baptismal waters is one towards a community that instead of having rigid requirements for those who approach, is a call towards a community that creates wholeness in relational living with God and creation?
I think this is the differentiation that we see when it comes to how we see the baptism of Jesus. It is not that John was doing anything wrong, in fact John was calling folks to the same thing we are called toward in baptism today. John was calling folks towards an understanding of repentance, and into a nature of righteousness with God. However, when he see on the face of Jesus the desire to be baptized he sees a man that does not need to be submerged in the waters of the Jordan.
The baptism of Jesus is present in each of the Gospel’s, because it lays a foundation for Jesus’ ministry. Jesus does not preach, teach, or heal until he has been baptized. For some of the gospels we might get a story or two from Jesus’ infancy, but this moment marks the starting point of a journey. One in which we too are joining in through the liturgical calendar as we move through the year.
John thinks he is offering a baptism for the repentance of sins, a transactional sort of event. When Jesus approaches he responds to his presence saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14b NRSVUE)
John perceived unworthiness only matched by what he saw as Jesus’ inherent righteousness. John, being Jesus’ cousin, knows exactly who he is, and knows this man has nothing that needs to be forgiven. Yet, here Jesus stands before him, to be submerged in the waters of the Jordan, not as a manner of being made right, but to fulfill the nature of righteousness with God something he names in verse 15.
This does though bring up the concept of repentance and its relationship to righteousness that we feel obliged to address. However, in our fundamentalist understanding of repentance we observe it as turning away, rather than turning toward. What if our repentance, much in our confession we use on a weekly basis is better reframed as turning toward. Yes, we acknowledge where we have fallen short, but we do so in a relational context that turns us towards the image of God that has filled us with life.
If our attention turns towards that of heaven we do not turn a blind eye away from the evils of the world, but we see with the vision of God a way to be present and heal the wounds experienced by others. We become inviters calling individuals and proclaiming, “the water’s fine.”
In this time after epiphany as our calendar draws us towards Lent we are going to explore the nature in which we are drawn into. This nature of the Kin-dom (or Kingdom as we often refer to it and see it translated in scripture). However, before you come after for what you may view as translation or theological malpractice, I want to say I have used Kin-dom intentionally and in full context of it’s original context. God does not seek to Lord over us, yes we claim God as Lord and look to God for direction and guidance. However the onset of Kin-dom language offers a fuller understanding of the relationally, not just with God, but also amongst each and every one of us.
The UMC Commentary I am using as the basis for this series expresses this concept about righteousness in relation to this text;
“Righteousness refers to being faithful to relationships. You cannot be righteous all by yourself. You are righteous with God and righteous with one another. Righteousness implies a relationship. The necessary requirement for baptism in The United Methodist Church is the community. Baptism is a corporate act; it is almost always done as a part of worship. And when in extreme cases it is not a part of a regular worship service, then the community must be represented. Baptism is an entrance into the fellowship of believers; it is a joining up with the body. Once you have been baptized, you are never alone. There is always a family around you. You have joined something larger than yourself, which is sometimes startling, but always worthwhile.”
Baptism, for Christ, as it is for us, is a claiming of kinship. It is a claiming of community. The fact of the matter is that we read over and over in scripture that God has loved us since the beginning of time. We are created out love, and God continued to love the people of creation even when they forsook him. It is humanity that has distorted the image of God that we were created in, and thereby we have created a God who is wholly unknown in their true presence here on earth. We have become less of a Kin-dom, and transformed the more into an authoritative Kingdom, that causes harm in the name of God.
The repentance we are called toward is a turning, not away from sin, but towards God. Towards a gracious God that offers a gift that allows us to see the hurts and pains of the world, and respond with grace. That sees a world in need and responds with assistance. That sees an emptiness and responds with righteousness, a righteousness of relationship together.
Jesus proclaims all of this as he urges John to baptize him. As he reemerges from the water the holy proclamation of Kin-dom living is proclaimed, as Jesus is pronounced, not as Lord or King, but as Son, Beloved. It is the Spirit of God descending upon the presence of Jesus that offers to us an image of the trinitarian unity and promise. We are brought together through this action of God.
The Spirit within the water’s of baptism embodying the same Spirit present in creation. The same Spirit that gives us life. The same Spirit that falls upon the church at Pentecost. Are we prepared to recognize how the work of God transforms us?
Are we willing to be in relationship with God and one another?
When we approach the water’s of baptism, whether for the first time or to be reminded of our covenant we do so in the mindset of recognizing the relationship we have in the Kin-dom. The relationship with God and with one another. We think of baptism as a one-time sacrament, though we think of ourselves needing it multiple times and try to be re-baptized. Baptism is not about any action on our part. It is about the actions of God in our lives, like Communion it is both a recognition and an experience. In the moment our spirits are reminded and made aware of who God is and what God does for us. We are not re-baptized because that would admit God made a mistake, and God does not make mistakes, we merely stray away from God.
The reminder of baptism that we practice in the United Methodist Church calls us to remember the covenant of relationship we made in our original baptism. Any time a baptism, or reminder of baptism is practiced we have this experience. As a pastor I love to have the Wesley Covenant prayer as part of the worship service, because I feel it serves that role as well. Without the visualization of water, it reminds us of what got us to this point in our faith, and that with our attention focused on God we dwell in a Kin-dom that unites us together and transforms us by God’s perfect love.
We are invited to these waters, with the invitation from God, “the water’s fine.” Are we willing to see God for who we are created to be? To be immersed in the waters and emerge with the eyes of God focused on the relationships that make up the Kin-dom? How are we embodying this call?
Remember your baptism, and be thankful.