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Sovereign Slaves, Baptism of our Lord, Shepherd by the Sea, January 12, 2014

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Baptism of Our Lord January 12th 2014

Isaiah 42:1-9 Psalm 29 Acts 10:34-43 Matthew 3:13-17

Sovereign Slaves

This title (an oxymoron) comes from Luther’s “Freedom of a Christian” at the beginning of which Luther claims that a Christian person is a free sovereign above all things subject to no one (by faith) and at one and the same time a dutiful servant in all things, subject to everyone (because of love).

It is so good to be able to share the Word of God with you again this morning. I served a congregation from Reformation Sunday until Christmas Eve in Vallejo and now an interim pastor has taken over so I can be up here with you.

The lessons are wonderful today because the more times you read them the more you learn from them. I always read an online commentary called CrossMarks, by Brian Stoffregen, who is a wonderful help for preparing sermons. The basic point that I would like to make is that Jesus humbles himself, empties himself, takes the way of the cross, rather than filling himself by assuming the power and the glory that are rightfully his. And doing that makes him, as well as us, pleasing to God.

Going back into the Old Testament, just think what a peculiar King David was! He was God’s darling, God’s sweetheart. It is hard to even call him a king. He was a poet, composed and sang Psalms on the harp. He danced naked in front of the arc of the covenant as it was carried up into Jerusalem. His wife, a daughter of the king, saw him from her window and rejected him for it.

David’s Son, who is also his Lord, sang hymns with his disciples ascending the Mount of Olives, was the Christ, which means the anointed one, because a woman comes in, washes his feet with her tears and dries them with her hair, and then anoints him the Messiah, the Christ. Stop and think. That must have been rather sensuous. And Jesus accepts all this love and forgives her saying, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” He lets her touch him that way, which was completely taboo for a rabbi to do. Then he gets a reed stuck in his hand as a scepter and has a crown of thorns placed on his head, before getting himself crucified. That is what happens when we humble ourselves, empty ourselves out. But we have the strength to endure all these things because we know, like Jesus Christ, our brother, that we too are made children of the Most High, by our baptisms into Jesus Christ our Lord, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Now Jesus started the way of the cross even at his baptism. John does not just say it one time: “Jesus, I should be baptized by you and not you by me.” Jesus already initiates the marvelous exchange. A superior baptizes an inferior and not the other way around, the way Jesus was asking of John. John keeps saying, “I won’t do it. I won’t do it. I won’t do it.” And Jesus keeps saying, “This is how I can do what God requires, how I can fulfill the righteousness of God.” But John knows that Jesus baptizes people with the Holy Spirit and fire and he does so only with water. He wants Jesus to assume his power and show his glory. But Jesus must have known something about Luther’s theology of the cross, while John was hoping to avoid all that suffering, “God,” he must have felt, “it is enough already,” and he wanted to embark with Jesus on a theology of glory:

“Establish Kingdom of God. Drive those cruel and oppressive Romans out and conquer an empire for the One God, the one true God!” That is what Mohammed would do six hundred years later. But Jesus is the one who sent Peter to the Roman Cornelius, so that the Romans too could be saved. Jesus is the one who taught his disciples to love their enemies. It was not enough that the God of love and compassion, who requires us to walk uprightly and humbly before the Lord, loving justice and mercy, – to be only a light for the twelve tribes of Israel, but Christ was raised to be a light for all the nations, and not their scourge the way empires tend to be. In the words of the Prophet Isaiah,

On that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of Hosts has blessed saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people and Assyria, the work of my hands and Israel my heritage.[1]

God wanted salvation to reach the ends of the earth.[2]

A dimly burning wick and a bruised reed Jesus will not break, but bring forth justice and not domination with bloody battles that suppress one nation under another to trample its people under foot and exploit them so that we can have cheap wares.

So Jesus had to get down to basics. We ask, “What must I do to be saved?” And we answer, “Nothing.” Why? Because the question should be, “What must I be to be saved?” Baptism, like justification brings about our change of being, making us new selves, out of whom a new doing flows that fulfills what God’s righteousness requires by the strength that comes to us from above, by the almighty love that comes to us by the grace of God. There is also a peculiar kingdom taking shape. It has become the church, but the church points to it and proclaims it.

So Jesus was disappointing John, because he was not assuming his rightful power, and striking the world with the rod of his mouth. He was inviting people into a new order made not only accessible, but made real by our believing God and by proclaiming it to exist. Thus this new kingdom is not self-fulfilling prophesy, but based on the promises of God, who fulfills the divine prophesies. Thus saith the Lord, “Behold new things I now declare, before they spring forth, I tell you of them.”[3] Because God’s saying it makes it so.

The Gospel is composed of the promises of God and the law is made of the commandments of God. Believing the Gospel, believing the promises of God, makes the Kingdom of heaven come near, makes it start to envelope us, makes it start turning the sorry, dreadful, and violent order of this world up-side down. But it does so because of a love story. Not out of any ulterior motives filled with any ill or any evil will. Just the goofy and absent way someone begins acting because he or she has suddenly fallen in love, is how the children of God start acting in the divine blindness that see all people with the eyes of the heart.

So Jesus does not start with baptizing John with fire and the Holy Spirit, but wants to place his “healing hands on a broken world and make it all right.”[4] The dimly burning wick, although still weakly flickering, is cupped in Jesus hands, who blows the Holy Spirit on it, and recovering new strength, a flame rises up, and the fiery love of God’s Holy Spirit spreads over the earth. (Imagine in how many languages and in how many corners of the world, today, Christians are worshiping and considering what the baptism of Jesus means!) Jesus asks, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see, a reed shaken in the wind?” A person holding his finger up in the wind and going which-ever way it blows? In a sense the bruised reed is a metaphor for John the Baptist, as strong as he seemed to be (and today the bruised reed could also stand for Egypt still broken after the Arab Spring) and the dimly burning wick is Jesus Christ, who is the brightest of flames, not assuming his power, but emptying himself so that nothing human was foreign to him, even death, to bring us healing and life.

So the threat of death does not deter Jesus. He goes into the water to show how we have to drown our old selves and as new selves come out of the water into a new creation. That’s our change of being. I used to be a winter-bather in Coney Island with the Icebergs. The old fellows would go into the freezing water and say, “Ho, ho, mind over matter. If you don’t mind it don’t matter.”

Dr. David Munroe Cory was the oldest active Presbyterian pastor in Brooklyn and he got me into the water. His ancestor came over on the Mayflower. That was quite an honor, but then he was hanged as a thief. Dr. Cory studied and received a doctorate in Edinburgh, Scotland. When the Indians were building the skyscrapers of New York, recruited because they had absolutely no fear of heights and they could walk on steel girders 100 stories above the streets, a whole number of them attended his church. He translated the New Testament in to Iroquois for them. He was quite a new self in Christ.

Now you go into that cold water for the buzz you get out of it. You dive into the life of Christ, however, that has overcome death and the fear of death and you get more than a buzz, you start walking in the Spirit of God, carried like a leaf blowing in the wind. Now you might think, no way, I’m not letting go of my control. That wind could blow me into a building or a tree and I’d get hurt. But the wind is merely a metaphor for the Holy Spirit, who is far more intelligent than we are, more concerned for us than we are for ourselves, a divine moving emotion filled with the almighty love and compassion of God. So won’t we let go and let God? You and I, won’t we trust the One Jesus called his Father?

If we do, in the words of Isaiah, we will hear the Lord who has called us in righteousness, who takes our hand and keeps us, who has given us to be a light to the people here in Gualala and Sea Ranch and wherever we live. Who opens the eyes of the blind, brings all the poor people out of our jails in this incarcerated nation; frees the prisoners who sit in darkness and deep depression, think of those sensitive men and women who did two or three tours of duty, deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan and now commit suicide. But we can trust in the Lord and call on the name of the One who gives glory to no other and detaches us from all idols, like money, power, sex, military domination, anything in our hearts that we place over God. See, the former things in Jesus healing campaigns have now come to pass: Jesus did not go and fight bloody battles to conquer his Kingdom, but sent his disciples and sent the seventy out on healing campaigns – like those of Jimmy Carter against the Guinea Worm. Imagine, George W. Bush allotted 14 billion dollars to fight HIV and Aids in Africa! Those are healing campaigns! Now our eyes, ears, and hearts are opened, and today, here and now, God is declaring new things, before they spring forth, God tells us of them, because when we believe them we have them and if we won’t believe, we won’t. If I can quote Luther and make it sound more like his catchword: Believe and receive, don’t and you won’t.

Jesus invites us to make our baptisms real, so that we have a change of being and move in a whole new direction for the healing of the world and making it humane, filled with the healing powers of love and compassion and forgiveness, as our hearts are lifted way up into heaven to be the children of the Most High and we stoop was down to help the very least of these. So at one and the same time we are sovereign slaves like Christ. We can wade in the water with him. In faith we can look up and become filled with the spirit of the Heavenly Dove, so that we can look down with love and join the humanity of this world, which Jesus was making safe for children and all living things. Amen.


[1] Isaiah 19:24.

[2] Isaiah 49:6.

[3] Isaiah 42:9.

[4] Brian Stoffregen, CrossMarks, Epiphany: the Baptism of our Lord

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Written by peterkrey

January 12, 2014 at 10:22 pm

Posted in Selected Sermons

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