Jan. 8, 2022 – Baptism of Jesus

Prayer of the Day

O God our Father, at the baptism of Jesus you proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit. Make all who are baptized into Christ faithful to their calling to be your daughters and sons, and empower us all with your Spirit, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen.

Isaiah 42:1-9

1Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
  my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
 I have put my spirit upon him;
  he will bring forth justice to the nations.
2He will not cry or lift up his voice,
  or make it heard in the street;
3a bruised reed he will not break,
  and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
  he will faithfully bring forth justice.
4He will not grow faint or be crushed
  until he has established justice in the earth;
  and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

5Thus says God, the Lord,
  who created the heavens and stretched them out,
  who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
 who gives breath to the people upon it
  and spirit to those who walk in it:
6I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
  I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
 I have given you as a covenant to the people,
  a light to the nations,
  7to open the eyes that are blind,
 to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
  from the prison those who sit in darkness.
8I am the Lord, that is my name;
  my glory I give to no other,
  nor my praise to idols.
9See, the former things have come to pass,
  and new things I now declare;
 before they spring forth,
  I tell you of them.

Psalm 29

1Ascribe to the | Lord, you gods,
  ascribe to the Lord glo- | ry and strength.
2Ascribe to the Lord the glory | due God’s name;
  worship the Lord in the beau- | ty of holiness.
3The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of | glory thunders;
  the Lord is upon the | mighty waters.
4The voice of the Lord is a pow- | erful voice;
  the voice of the Lord is a | voice of splendor. 
5The voice of the Lord breaks the | cedar trees;
  the Lord breaks the ce- | dars of Lebanon;
6the Lord makes Lebanon skip | like a calf,
  and Mount Hermon like a | young wild ox.
7The voice | of the Lord
  bursts forth in | lightning flashes.
8The voice of the Lord| shakes the wilderness;
  the Lord shakes the wilder- | ness of Kadesh. 
9The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe and strips the | forests bare.
  And in the temple of the Lord all are | crying, “Glory!”
10The Lord sits enthroned a- | bove the flood;
  the Lord sits enthroned as king for- | evermore.
11O Lord, give strength | to your people;
  give them, O Lord, the bless- | ings of peace.

Acts 10:34-43

34Peter began to speak to [Cornelius and his household]: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

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.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

The story of Jesus’ baptism is gorgeous, but it does raise some questions. We might wonder, as John the Baptist did, why does Jesus come to baptized in the first place? And what does Jesus’ response to John’s hesitation mean? It might help if we remember where we are in the larger story.

Everything up to this point in the gospel of Matthew has established Jesus’ identity as God’s agent, whose life and actions will enact both God’s will and God’s reign. We had the very long lineage, or the begats, tracing Jesus’ adoptive father Joseph’s ancestry through so much of God’s activity with Israel. 

Jesus was born of Mary. He was threatened by murderous King Herod. The magi came and paid him homage. Joseph protected Jesus and Mary by fleeing to Egypt, and eventually returning. We are reminded of the Israelites time in Egypt under Pharaoh’s rule and their exodus, led by Moses. Jesus is the new Moses, but he is also more. By today’s scene at the Jordan River, Jesus is an adult, ready to truly be God’s agent and usher in God’s will and reign.

Compare Jesus to the rest of the crowd at the river. The people who came to baptized by John confessed and repented of their sins. They did this in order to prepare themselves to receive God’s forgiveness and salvation. But Jesus did not need to repent, so what is going on here?

Jesus himself answers John, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Righteousness is about moral uprightness, but it is also about relationship, specifically our relationship with God. Human righteousness entails being put in right relationship with God. Jesus does not need to be put in right relationship with God. But we do.

Jesus comes to the waters of baptism not for his own sins, but in solidarity with the sinners whom God has sent him to save. Jesus humbled himself alongside his people to wait on God’s mercy. If the time after Epiphany is a time for more manifestations, then this is one worthy of celebration. The inaugural event, very much an anointing of Jesus, is not in some majestic castle where the top one percent of society are invited. Nor is the baptism only in the company of those on earth who are so good we later call them saints. Jesus is anointed, named child of God, as you and were at the font.

Perhaps the greater epiphany is what comes next. By that I mean, what will Jesus’ life and ministry look like? For an answer to that question, we do well to turn to our reading from Isaiah.

Isaiah is speaking to a people in exile, not Egypt, but exile, nonetheless. Jerusalem has been sacked by Nebuchadnezzar, who has sent God’s people to Babylon. The exile signaled the loss of status as an independent nation for Israel (and here I am talking about the Israelites). The temple in Jerusalem was burned. There was an end to the dynasty of King David. 

As awful as wilderness and exile are, sometimes they are the spaces for amazing transformation. And helping the people to transform as a community of exile was Isaiah. Our scripture passage today is the first of four texts often called “Servant Songs,” songs that describe God’s servant and the work for which the servant is commissioned. We are not exactly sure who the servant is. It could be the whole people of Israel. It could be the prophet himself. It could be Cyrus, King of Persia, who later let the Israelites leave Babylon and go home. For us, gathered at Midland and Lone Star in 2023, what matters most is that after he was baptized and went into the wilderness, Jesus himself was called to walk like this servant. Growing up in a Jewish home, he knew these servant songs well. 

When we speak of justice most often, we maybe think about people, people other than us, getting what they deserve. It becomes a code word for revenge. This is not what Isaiah is referring to. In fact, there is no one word in the Bible which easily translates into “justice” in English. There are three, in particular, that appear in multiple biblical texts associated with justice: sedaqahmishpat and shalom.

Sedaqah can also be translated as “righteousness.” This is not “judgmentalism,” this is not about determining who is right and who is wrong. That is God’s work and God’s alone. Instead, sedeqah it is about orienting ourselves towards the whole community. Just one illustration, in the Middle Ages, Maimonodes, the Jewish philosopher, conceived of an eight-level hierarchy of tzedakah, where the highest form is to give a gift, loan, or partnership that will result in the recipient becoming self-sufficient instead of living upon others. The second highest form is to give donations anonymously to unknown recipients. 

Next shalom, which is the peace that comes with justice. Justice in this deep and holistic sense is about restoring community, putting things right, repairing and healing our relationships with each other. 

Mishpat is a word which lays claim to the fundamental wholeness of the world, and to what God does when that wholeness is ripped apart, torn by neglect or violence or any violation of right relationship. We might speak of “restorative” justice, with its emphases on rehabilitation and reconciliation. In the case of Isaiah, the Israelites, Jesus, and our own lives, God intervenes to restore right relationship.

So, sedaqah sees the whole community in deep right relationality. Mishpat expresses the wholeness God promises to bring to anything hurting that wholeness. And shalom reminds us that the fruit of being in right relationship is deep peace. This is biblical justice. In fact, sometimes Jesus’ response to John is translated as “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all justice.”

The servant described in Isaiah 42 offers a profound example of power in the midst of vulnerability. The power that is held up in the servant is a different kind of power though. It is a power that does not scream or shout (verse 2). This offers a sharp contrast with the brutal force executed by the empires of his day and our own. We may not experience forces of modern empire shouting on the street corner or from a palace. But you can surely here shouts on radio, television, or social media. 

The remarkable thing we see in this text is how the people who have been traumatized by exile are called not to do the typical human thing, what has been called “circling the wagons.” Edward Said warns that nationalism quite often tends to be a natural consequence of collective trauma. It would be so easy to find in these texts what Said calls “an exaggerated sense of group solidarity, passionate hostility to outsiders, even those who may in fact be in the same predicament as you” (“Reflections of Exile,” 178). The Prophet Isaiah offers a vision of the world in which an individual or a group of people in the midst of brokenness, in spite of brokenness, and maybe even because of the brokenness, will be a light to the nations.

For us too, during difficult times when we feel helpless and out of control, either as individuals or as whole communities, we learn from the example of the servant. We should seek to cultivate the power that we do have amid our current state of vulnerability. Even during the direst of circumstances, we still have the power to enact justice in the lives of the people around us. 

As we have seen in the case of the servant, this power is a remarkable power. It is not like the power of the worldly institutions but a power that grows out of compassion, out of being concerned with the needs of the other. Even if we find ourselves in a completely hopeless situation, we can nurture compassion’s power. 

We can do this because we have a savior who does it first, last and always. Jesus the Christ, whose baptismal inauguration we celebrate today, was servant to all, including each of you. Even today, he meets us in the meal of bread and wine, given for you, for forgiveness and new life today. As one author put it, “God’s justice is beyond what we can fathom, we can only lean into the depth and breadth of God’s love and allow it to draw us into a full-bodied recognition of God’s love for God’s people, for the wholeness of Creation and thus for our intimate relationship one with each other.” (Hess, Enter the Bible)

Prayers of Intercession

The prayers are prepared locally for each occasion. The following examples may be adapted or used as appropriate.

Called together to follow Jesus, we pray for the church, the world, and all in need.

A brief silence.

Calling God, you speak with power to your church. Open our hearts and minds to the new things you are declaring. Strengthen bishops, pastors, deacons, lay leaders, and teachers of the faith. Equip the baptized for your reconciling and redeeming work. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Renewing God, you provide the waters of the earth and in Jesus’ baptism you reveal the waters of life. Cleanse and protect oceans, rivers, and watersheds (local water sources may be named). Bring relief to parched lands and to communities without access to safe water. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Righteous God, you never weary of establishing justice. Increase cooperation and constructive dialogue between nations. Guide local, national, and international authorities to govern with equity, vision, and integrity. We pray for those in military service, for peacemakers, and for our enemies. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Abiding God, your mercy is steadfast. Give sanctuary to people who flee from oppression, war, poverty, and famine. Sustain health care workers, caregivers, first responders, counselors, and all who help and heal. Comfort those who are grieving or experiencing crisis (especially). Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Blessing God, in Christ you gather the beloved community. Kindle the gifts of your Spirit in your people. Accompany the newly baptized, those recently ordained, and any beginning a new ministry. Inspire synodical leaders and congregational councils to serve with imagination and wisdom. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Promising God, your faithfulness endures throughout all generations. We give thanks for those who have died in Christ, trusting that we will be united with them and all the saints in Christ’s resurrection life. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

We bring to you our needs and hopes, O God, trusting your wisdom and power revealed in Christ crucified.

Amen.

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