The Rev. Frank Logue
Bethlehem Star Baptized for Sin?
Its been almost 2,000 years since Jesus lived, died and was resurrected. Yet, Jesus can still manage to make the cover of the tabloids with some regularity. [Show the Weekly World News and the Sun with Jesus on the cover.] Jesus has that cult hero status that keeps his face in the news. What would it have been like if Jesus was followed by reporters looking for a scandal in his own day? What headlines would we have seen?
The notoriously sinful woman who came and broke open an expensive alabaster jar of even more expensive perfumed oil to anoint Jesus feet would have kept the reporters and editors up at night working on the headline. After all, she kissed his feet and dried them with her hair. And the whole thing happened right at a religious leaders dinner table! Lets see, the headlines could have read:
Messy Messiah: Wicked Woman Washes His Worries Away
Or there was that side trip Jesus took to the Gerasenes. When he cast the demons out of a man named Legion, they entered a herd of pigs that promptly ran off a steep bank and drowned themselves in the Sea of Galilee. The headline writers would have been busy with that one. Something like:
Rabbi Wages War on Pork:
But of all the scandals the tabloids could have covered, there is no bigger scoop a first-century Palestinian newspaper could have uncovered than todays Gospel reading. This is the story that the disciples should have kept hidden. This story could have ended Jesus public ministry for good. The headlines would scream in big type:
Sinful Son of God Enters Rehab on Jordans Banks
Bethlehem Star Baptized for Sin?
The story of Jesus baptism must be the story of a cover up that went down wrong. Why didnt the disciples somehow keep this story from leaking out? It should have been the end of Jesus ministry, not the beginning. Jesus baptism is a problem so big that even Homer Simpson, my favorite cartoon theologian couldnt help but notice it. Homer Simpson is the lovably stupid father from the TV cartoon, The Simpsons. On one episode he was reading the Bible when he stopped to sum it up for us:
The Bible, what kind of book is this anyway, he says while flipping through the pages, everyone in it is a sinner. Oh, except for that guy.
Homer Simpson is right. Everyone in the Bible is sinful, except for that guy, Jesus. So, what in the world is Jesus, the sinless guy, doing down at the riverside? Luke already told us earlier in this same chapter that John, the son of Zechariah, who we know today as John the Baptist, was going around proclaiming a baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
Lets stop to think this through. John is baptizing people for forgiveness of sins. Jesus is supposed to be the only sin-free guy around. So, who is the last person we should catch taking a dunk in the river? Jesus. If you notice how Luke writes the story, you can tell that he is embarrassed by it. Luke almost mutters the baptism under his breath as he tells the tale. The baptism itself doesnt even get one whole sentence. The whole sentence goes like this:
Luke is so nervous about the whole thing that he doesnt pause to tell us where this event took place or who did the baptizing. After all, mentioning John might be awkward and come back to haunt them. The man who baptized Jesus at the start of his ministry might be seen as greater than Jesus, the one he baptized. Luke even tells his story almost as an afterthought when he tells how Herod imprisoned John. Then Luke just mutters and when Jesus had been baptized, under his breath. But he couldnt not tell the story. No matter how embarrassing it was, the story of Jesus baptism had to be told. In all four Gospels, we find Jesus, bigger than life, dipping down into the muddy waters of the Jordan and coming up so squeaky clean that the Holy Spirit cant help but make a grand entrance in the form of a dove.
In fact, it was that amazing voice over track of God saying You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased, that could have convinced Luke to tell the story. After all, if Jesus baptism is OK with God the Father, then who is Luke to decide not to mention the event.
Why was God pleased? What was Jesus doing in that water anyway? Jesus went to the river for the forgiveness of Sin. Just as a newborn infant, who has surely not sinned, is baptized for forgiveness of Sin, so too was Jesus baptized. Not because of sins, the many little sinful actions of our lives in which we turn ourselves away from God, but because of Sin. Sin is the main root cause of all the other sins. Jesus, being fully human as well as fully God, was just as much a part of our worlds disconnectedness from God as anyone else. We live in a world whose fundamental orientation is away from God. The world of Jesus day contained no less violence and no less oppression than our own. Evil was lodged so firmly in the human systems of the day that slavery was a norm, women were viewed much like property, the poor and outcast were greatly oppressed, and death could come swiftly to anyone who talked of change. Jesus knew that the Evil, the guilt of the system, was his guilt too.
Being born into this world turned from God, meant that Jesus should one day make a decisive break from that Sin. The moment for this came at the start of his earthly ministry. Jesus entered the water and was baptized as an outward sign of the inward action of God lovingly washing away the effects of Sin, the sinful state of a world turned from God. Even the Sinless One knew that he must wash away the Sin of a world turned away from God in order to more fully receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Then with the full anointing of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was ready to begin his ministry.
We too live in a world turned from God. People are created good, in the image of God, made for a life lived connected with God and with each other. Yet we live in a world which is fundamentally disconnected. People are disconnected from God, from each other, and from nature. Human life is no longer what it was created to be. But its never too late. Each of us can make a fundamental turn away from a world lived apart from God toward a world lived in connection to God and through that we connect more fully with each other. This is what John the Baptist was out in the wilderness proclaiming, we need to turn around and go the other way. We need to turn away from the Sin of a world alienated from God and turn back toward our creator.
Baptism is the point that we too can do this. For infants and young children, the parents make the promises to teach their children to live a life connected to God. The parents break the cycle of alienation, of feeling and being cut off, for the child. Before a baby even sins, the parents can ask God to break them free from the vicious cycle of Sin. For teens and adults who have never been baptized, it is never too late to make a new start. We can turn toward being the people God created us to be at any time.
Through baptism, we make the story of Jesus our own story. We do as Jesus did. In obedience to God we pray for the stain of a world turned from God to be washed away. The Holy Spirit comes to give us the grace and strength to live out this new life. Problems will come up. They always do. We can make wrong choices. We can fall into bad patterns and commit sins, but God doesnt take back baptism. God is always willing to call us back to those baptismal waters and remind us of how the Sin of the world no longer has to be our Sin. Gods grace, Gods free gift of love is more powerful than the Sin and alienation. We can live a life turned toward God and toward each other, which is the way God created us to live.
Then as Christians who have been initiated through baptism, we have to continually renew in our own lives that sense of connectedness to God. One main way we do that here at King of Peace is through the communion service. In the words of the communion, we remember the story of our salvation. We remember how God made us for himself and when we had become subject to Evil and death, God in his mercy sent his only son. Each time we gather for the communion, we can renew the power of that story to change our lives. We dont just hear the story, but we actually enter into it, by coming forward and receiving the bread and the wine. We make the story of Gods reconciling all creation our own story.
God did not just stand on the banks of history and watch the problems of a world turned toward Sin unfold. Instead, through the person of Jesus, God entered into history and changed it. By sinking into the muddy baptism waters, Jesus showed once more how far he was willing to go to break the cycle of Sin. Luke was a little embarrassed to tell us the story and the tabloids would have gotten the facts all wrong if they had covered the event. But God saw a great new opportunity to reconnect to humans. And God was well pleased.
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