New Life with the Beloved       

Meditation on Matthew 3:13-17

Jan. 12, 2020

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

Baptism of Our Lord Sunday

 

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 the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved. with whom I am well pleased.”

 

jesus-baptism-mural.jpeg

Yesterday, a package arrived from our friend, Carol, in Florida. It was addressed to Jim and Karen Crawford and the cat! Christmas continues in my household not just with decorations, but with gifts. Melvyn’s present—the only one he got for Christmas this year—was a soft toy fish stuffed with pillow fluff and catnip! I woke him up to play with it. He kicked, licked and bit it for about 10 minutes, then put his head down and started to snore.

The other gifts were red, white and blue caps knitted by a group of women at my last church. They get together twice a month to make things to give away. They call themselves “HH,” which stands for Heavenly Handmade or Holy Hookers, depending on the audience. I can say Holy Hookers here, right? Carol said, in her note, that they had made the hats from remnant yarn. “Figured you could use them more than anyone here,” she said. The funny thing was that they were having cool, blustery weather yesterday, and here it was 70 degrees! It really is true what they say about Ohio. If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute! It’ll change.

The hats are special to me, not just because they are homemade and given by friends. They remind me of Betty Myers, a sweet woman who taught me how to make a knitted cap. To get me started, she bought me a round loom, a hook, and some yarn. Then she sat beside me, showing me how to do it stitch by stitch, row by row. How to put it on the loom and how and when to take it off. Nana, as we called her because she was my friend, Pam’s grandmother, kept saying, “You can do it! It’s easy!”

Nana was right—but it was easier because she was beside me, doing it with me. We laughed while I learned. I felt safe. She didn’t scold if I made a mistake. There was love and help when I needed it, and plenty of humor, patience, and grace. And there was room and trust to grow in myself and in our ministry. For we were adding the knitted caps to HH’s creations to bless others and reveal God’s love.

This is how it is when the Church is at its best. The soil of our ministry together must be rich and fertile for growth and bearing fruit. We should never stop learning! There has to be a strong foundation of faith, but also an environment of love, acceptance, patience, humor, and grace. This is our calling as we seek to live out the new life and identity of God’s Beloved, given to us in our baptism. For who we are in Christ is still being revealed.

***

When I read the story of Christ’s baptism, I marvel that John, a great prophet and example of faith, argues with the Lord, saying “I need to be baptized by you and do you come to me?” This gives me hope that even those who are good can sometimes get it wrong. But then I remember that everything in Scripture is there for a reason—and for our benefit. This argument is a way to make sure that we understand that this is no ordinary man in need of baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins, which John has offered up to now. Jesus never sinned!

The Lord persuades John “that this must be done to fulfill all righteousness.” This word translated “fulfill” appears 16 times in Matthew’s gospel, mostly to connect with Old Testament prophecy. We should see this as a signal, then, that, once again, prophecies are about to be fulfilled, as in Matthew 3:17, when the heavenly voice announces that Jesus is “my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” This is an echo of Psalm 2:7, “I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you,” and Isaiah 42:1, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.”

Christ’s baptism in the Jordan connects with Israel’s story—the end of their captivity and wilderness wanderings—and their entrance, led by Joshua, crossing the Jordan into the land of the promise.

jordan river

 

His baptism takes us all the way back to Creation in Genesis 1:2, when the Spirit hovers over the waters and God speaks the world into existence. His baptism demonstrates his full identification with human beings, his humility, and his submission to God’s call.

Christ’s baptism marks the beginning of his ministry. For us, baptism marks the beginning of our new life in Him. And no matter what your calling, baptism is a preparation for ministry. The gifts you receive at your baptism are sufficient for your calling. And the Spirit that claims you for Christ in baptism never lets you go.

The Spirit keeps working in us and using us to nurture one another until we are enabled to live into our new identity as God’s Beloved.

For who we are in Christ is still being revealed.

 

***

I have learned a great deal about myself through ministry. The learning and growing never stops, as long as you seek to follow in the footsteps of the Beloved Son. One thing I know for certain is that when you say yes to following Jesus, you have no idea what that will mean. You will often feel unprepared and unworthy for the work that God equips and leads you to do.  But you will have to do what God wants you to do, or else, you will not be able to sleep at night. Your heart and mind will be changed—not just once, but continually—so that you can live out your baptism—and live, more and more, into the identity given to you—God’s Beloved Child.

Before I left Florida, it was hard to say goodbye to many people, including Nana. I was grateful for all she taught me—so much more than how to make knitted caps. She taught me about faith and friendship and modeled generosity, joy, peace, and love. She encouraged me in my ministry. She had just moved to Merritt Island to be closer to her family, after living independently for years, still driving and active in her church in Clearwater, FL. She was one of the last people to join my congregation—just before I answered the call to Coshocton. I hugged her tightly when we said goodbye. I told her that I loved her and that I would miss her and her family.

Those would be my last words to her. For my dear friend Betty suffered a stroke on Easter, and went home to be with her Beloved Lord on April 24. She was 98.

Today, at the baptismal font, we will ordain and install a new ruling elder to serve on Session. During the ordination and installation, we will remember the style of leadership Jesus modeled for us. He came to humbly serve and not be served, and give his life for all.

Janice, you may feel unprepared and unworthy. But nothing is impossible with God. Thank you for trusting in Him and serving with us.

We acknowledge that our lives are no longer ours—and that we belong to Him. And we will give thanks that just as the Spirit came on Christ in His baptism, we, too, are filled with the Spirit in our baptisms, so that the Lord may use us for His loving work.

I want to assure you today that even if you are not an elder, deacon, or pastor, you are still called to ministry. It may take you a lifetime to discern the shape of it. And it may change with different seasons in your life. But all of you have been called to live as the Beloved, in Christ.

So make every day count. Do what brings you joy. Be passionate about the things of God! Don’t waste time and energy on things that don’t matter for eternity. Don’t waste time worrying! Forgive one another. Love your Church. We aren’t perfect. But we love you and want to nurture your gifts and help you discern your calling. For who we are in Christ is still being revealed.

Live as if this is the first day of your new life with the Beloved.

 

Let us pray.

 

Holy One, thank you for your gift of faith, for opening our hearts and minds to the truth of your Word. Thank you for the gift of the Spirit in our baptism, and for your Spirit’s continuing work in us—refreshing and renewing us when we celebrate Communion, hear or read your Word, and seek you in prayer. Thank you for calling us your Beloved. Lord, some of your children are struggling to discern their call to ministry. They may not know the gifts you have given them. Or they may be afraid to answer your call to them. Help us all to trust in you—that whatever you are calling us to do for you and your people, we can do with you. Nurture our faith and help us to love and serve with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. In the name of your Beloved Son we pray. Amen.

 

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