A Talk with Jesus

January 12, 2020

Church of the Servant, Wilmington, NC

The Baptism of Our Lord
Matthew 3:13-17

Listen here:


Transcript of Sermon:

Today we celebrate and remember the baptism of Jesus. Jesus comes to John in the wilderness. Jesus didn’t invent baptism. The Greek word ‘Baptisma’ is found in the Old Testament. Well, the Septuagint version of that, and it simply means dipping or washing. In the Hebrew tradition, this dipping and washing was a way to restore one’s ritual purity.

If they had come in contact with something that made them ritually unclean, they would have a ritual of washing for purification, making it possible for them to come back and be part of the worship experience. So it wasn’t about moral purity, but about ritual purity. And yet with John, we see a shift. Through John’s baptism, it was a baptism based in repentance. The Greek word associated with it is ‘metanoia.’ That is to turn, to make a change. Specifically to change one’s heart, which was necessary in order to receive the remission of sins.

And on the second Sunday in advent, back in December, we had the first part of the story which we heard the end of today. John is in the wilderness. In Matthew’s telling, he’s wearing camel hair and a leather belt, and he’s eating wild locusts and honey to conjure the image of the prophet Elijah returned. And also in Matthew’s telling, it’s unique in that crowds are gathered there. Crowds are in the wilderness. They have come to be baptized. And not just everyday people, but also the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and all are there present.

And John says, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” And as if on cue, Jesus comes from Galilee and is ready to be baptized.

Now, it is only Matthew’s version where there’s actually a conversation between Jesus and John. John begins, when approached by Jesus, saying, “Hey, wait a minute. I’m not even worthy to carry your sandals. You’re asking me to baptize you. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Aren’t you the one who should be baptizing me? I am not worthy of doing this work.” It speaks, I think, to our own reluctance, our own insecurities in responding to doing what Jesus asks us to do. And so Jesus and John had a talk. At the end of that talk, John consented.

After Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were open to him and he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. A voice from heaven said, “This is my son, the beloved with whom I am well pleased.” This was an announcement to the crowds that had gathered. The way it appears in Mark and Luke, the statement is directly to Jesus, “You are my son, the beloved.” But in Matthew’s gospel, there are crowds and Pharisees and Sadducees. And the voice says, “This is my son.” It’s a proclamation and an announcement, and it marks the beginning of Jesus’s ministry.

As I hear the baptism story of Jesus, it takes me back to an experience I had at the midpoint of my time in seminary. I had gone away to a retreat center for a silent spiritual retreat. And as you might imagine, one and a half years in to my masters of divinity, and one and a half years yet to go, I was a bit weary and wondering what would be coming next. Perhaps in part I was somewhat unsure about my worthiness, perhaps not unlike John, to do this work that Jesus was calling me to do.

The spiritual director who was there at the retreat center invited me to use Mark’s version of this baptism of Jesus. And as I read it, I was invited to put myself on the riverbank to witness this baptism of Jesus by John, and then to let my imagination take me from there.

Now like I said, Mark’s version, it’s a direct statement to Jesus himself as he comes out of the water. “You are my son, the beloved. With you, I am well-pleased.” That statement holds a level of affirmation that … I don’t know about you, I think we all could use. Wouldn’t that be great for somebody to say, “You are my beloved, and with you I am well-pleased.”? And it occurred to me during my time of reflection that Jesus hadn’t even begun his ministry. He had not done one thing and he was receiving this affirmation that he was enough.

And then as my imagination took me along this journey, after Jesus was baptized, he looks over and catches my eye as I’m sitting on the shoreline. And without a single word, invites me into the river alongside him. And as I walked toward him, he gently takes me and guides me under the water, and holds me there, perhaps a little longer than would normally be comfortable. Yet there is a calmness, because of the calmness that Jesus holds. And then emerging from the water, the bright sky holds in it the shadow of a dove coming toward me, alighting the Holy Spirit on me. Then Jesus and I step out of the river, find a low branch to rest on, and Jesus and I have a talk.

Baptism compels us to have a talk with Jesus. What that talk looked like for John, what that talk looks like for me, and what that talk looks like for each one of you will be different. But we are compelled in our baptism to have a talk with Jesus.

Now just to be clear, baptism doesn’t deliver us from all of those challenges that we will face. We must remember that what comes immediately after the baptism of Jesus is that the Spirit guides Jesus into the wilderness, and he is tempted. But the good news is the Spirit is with Jesus every step of the way. It’s a partnership, this work that we do together. As Jesus said to John when John was hesitant, we must carry out all that God requires. We, not Jesus, not by Jesus on his own, not by John on his own, but in the baptism we form a community. It is the we that must carry out all that God requires.

And so this day, the day that we remember the baptism of our Lord, we will renew our baptismal vows. It’s an ‘I’ declaration that each of us claims for ourselves, and it invites us to begin anew. And I invite you, if you haven’t done it in a while or even if you have, to use it as an invitation to have a talk with Jesus in whatever form that takes.

There’s no time like the present. Amen.

I invite your thoughts and insights.

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