Friday, January 8, 2010

Baptism of our Lord

Luke 3:15-22
15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20added to them all by shutting up John in prison.

21Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Link here for Oremus:

Link here for Textweek resources:

Link here for Textweek resources on all the lessons:

Link here for Christ Haslam's reading of the text:

We begin our lesson with the Advent theme of expectation. The people were filled with expectation. This expectation and hope for the Messiah is pricked with the emergence of the prophet and Baptist John.

In Luke's Gospel John clearly points forward to the coming of Jesus and the baptism of fire promised and fulfilled in Luke's second book Acts. We cannot get away from the Gospels in this moment defining Jesus' ministry from John's. We may guess that both had followers and that the question may very well have remained alive well after John's death and Jesus' resurrection. We might also remember here that Luke's Gospel tells us that John the Baptist will send two of his disciples to inquire of Jesus, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" (Luke 7. This of course correlates with Paul's later proclamation that indeed he is the promised one in the Book of Acts in the synagogue in Antioch. Acts 13:25) It is quite the switch from Mark's Gospel where John the Baptist makes the proclamation and from John's Gospel where- in the people ask the question of John the Baptist.

The themes of power and might are apocalyptic themes and again highlight the transformative power of Jesus and the transformative power of baptism in the Holy Spirit. This is a transforming fire. Fire of course is prominent throughout the Old Testament proclaiming the presence of God and returns again in the fire of Pentecost.

Leaning on Isaiah 21:10, 41:16, and Jeremiah 4:11, 15:7, 51:2 John the Baptist reminds those gathered around him that God is sending this great and powerful prophet with a winnowing fork to clear the threshing floor and to gather the wheat, burning the chaff in an unquenchable fire. This always reminds me of how John the Baptist's message is a corporate one. He is not the one deciding who is wheat and who is chaff. Rather, he is reminding the nation and all the people that this is God's work and each will be judged and that the whole nation shall be judged. There a mutuality in this judgment and a reminder of whose judgment it is that is often lost in our modern day discussions on matters of the church.

Now something interesting happens here in the text. Herod imprisons John. Some scholars argue that Luke's text does not say that Jesus was baptized by John. I find this a difficult proposition. It is true that this particular Gospel says Jesus was baptized sequentially after John's imprisonment. But is certainly not clear and in the different texts that I have looked at I am more apt to read that simply Luke has removed John from the baptismal event to highlight the actions between the Father an the Son, rather than to imply that John did not baptize Jesus. It is an interesting thought and may simply have been a literary way of ensuring that Jesus' baptism is a Spirit baptism depending upon no one else. I categorize this as things in the bible that make you go, "Hmmmmm?"

What is important though, and highlighted by Luke, is that the baptism has happened. It is over. And, Jesus is praying. This seems integral to an understanding of Lukan spirituality. It is only when Jesus is praying that the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the bodily form of a Dove, and God's voice speaks. Heavens are opened in prayer, and you can hear God's voice in prayer.

The image of the opening of the heavens is an image of new time. This is a new moment in Luke's Gospel, a new moment in the life of the people Israel, a new moment in judgment, a new moment in the unraveling and gathering of "all the people" including the gentiles (as we will see in Acts). So this is a new moment, enabled by baptism, but triggered by prayer and the descending of the Holy Spirit.

You can read more about the imagery and details of the words used by Luke here:

The last thing that stands out for me in the Gospel reading this week is the "Beloved" proclamation in verse 22. Beloved is an act and not a feeling, it is a charge if you will to Jesus as Son and servant to take the power given to him and to begin to use it to restore creation and transform the people of God.

So I have been thinking and praying about this text and I am wondering from myself and for us. As we, you and I, look forward into the year, as we look forward into our lives we must be ready to do the work God has given us to do? We are baptized. Are we praying and are we receiving the Holy Spirit given to us in the grace of that prayer conversation with Jesus and with God? We have been expecting, now we are ready, will we take up our charge as Jesus did, to restore creation and transform the world even as we are transformed? And, most of all are we ready to do this in partnership with all of our brothers and sisters and most of all with Jesus?

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  • "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
  • "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
  • "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
  • "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
  • "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
  • "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
  • "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball