Baptism of Jesus C, 2010
Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
A Liturgy is also available
A ‘CALLING’ THAT LIBERATES FOR LIFE
Let me tell you a story as told some years back, after 911,
by an overseas colleague in ministry.
Recently two of us were traveling to a conference in another city,
and we were going through the security search at our local airport.
We took off our shoes.
We emptied our pockets of loose change and mobile phones.
We had our carry-on luggage searched.
We put our laptop computers on the x-ray belt
and walked through the arched metal detector.
While we were doing this, all of a sudden,
one of the security inspectors at another checkpoint
shouted ‘Stop!’ in a loud voice.
What had happened was that a man at the checkpoint
had simply forgotten to take the loose change out of his pockets
and had set off one of the metal detectors.
Unaware he had done this, he kept on walking toward the gate lounge.
It was nothing really. No big deal.
But when the security officer shouted "Stop!"
everybody in the whole area froze,
and the airport grew deathly silent.
You could almost touch the fear in the air.
Later, as we were boarding our plane, my friend said,
"You know, I think the old world where we thought we were safe and secure is gone forever. What happened back there tells me that we don't know what's going to happen next in the world, and it makes us anxious and afraid" (Story by Thomas G Long. Adapted).
The fact of the matter is, since 911 and the Bali bombings, we are afraid.
More afraid than we used to be.
Every day, it seems, the headlines are filled with stories
of terrorist bombs in hotels or market places.
Even in our Australian suburban schools, security fences have been erected
and there are some calls for guards to be posted at high school entrances.
While some politicians, such as Wilson ‘Iron-bar’ Tuckey,
play on these emotions, for nothing other, it seems,
than attempting some political gain.
So when a security officer in a crowded airport shouts, "Stop!"
people freeze with fear.
John the Baptiser’s message was different from Jesus’.
Interestingly, for the most part, his message was one of fear!
According to the storyteller we call Luke,
Jesus was about 30 when he went to hear
John the Baptiser (or Dipper), his cousin, preach.
(Although that need not be taken as biographical information).
And on one of those occasions,
- and it seems to be more implied than actually said - Jesus was baptised.
But Luke doesn't say where Jesus was baptised.
Neither does Luke say who baptised Jesus.
The tradition that Jesus was baptised in the River Jordan
and that the agent of that baptism was John,
comes from a blending of stories from the other gospels.
Not from Luke. Period.
So allowing for what really was probably an embarrassment
for the early Jesus/Christian movements...
I invite you to ponder these two questions:
• What might there have been in John's message
that prompted Jesus to ask for baptism?
• And what might have he experienced during his baptism
and days spent in the wilderness that reportedly followed?
According to John Beverley Butcher in the introduction
to his book, An uncommon lectionary, the evidence is clear
that something profound happened within Jesus
which provided direction and energy for a ministry
of teaching and healing.
“Without Jesus' baptism, there might have been no ministry, no getting into trouble with the authorities, no crucifixion, no resurrection experiences, no church, no Christian religion, and no church history! The course of human civilisation would have gone quite differently” (Butcher 2002).
For Butcher this event was of “pivotal significance... in the life of Jesus”.
For storyteller Luke it too was a significant moment.
But one that has got him and others in the early Jesus-cum-Christian movement,
into a fair amount of trouble, it seems.
Some years back I made a presentation (one of many!) to the membership of
The Centre for Progressive Religious Thought, Canberra.
That presentation sought to offer some comments and opinions (Miller 2003, Ludemann 1998)
around the general question: Was Jesus divine?
Or put another way: when did Jesus become God’s son?
Now that latter question may sound strange to orthodox supporters
of the traditional doctrine called the Trinity.
From that theological perspective, the idea
of Jesus ‘becoming’ God’s son makes little to no sense.
Yet the storyteller Luke, preparing his story long before
the doctrine of the Trinity was formulated, declares in his story:
And a voice came from heaven,
'You are my Son, the Beloved;
my favour rests on you’.
This way of stating Jesus’ sonship is known as ‘adoptionism’.
God adopts Jesus as son and messiah.
Bestowing on him a special status he did not have the day before.
Scholars now tell us this christological position
was widespread among early Jesus followers
and indeed, remained a viable option for nearly three centuries.
But due to matters more political than theological,
it was marginalised and then suppressed
by both the Catholic Church and the Roman Empire.
Butcher seems quite definite about things.
He argues the evidence is clear:
that something profound happened within Jesus at his baptism.
Another commentator, Bruce Epperly, (Epperly 2007) tells this story:
“The North African Desert Mothers and Fathers tell the story of a monk who came to his spiritual guide with a question about the next steps in his spiritual journey. The monk described his monastic solitude and daily rituals, and then asked what more he could to in order to experience God in his life. His spiritual guide simply responded with the words, ‘Become fire!’”
And then he goes on to offer this comment:
“Today’s scriptures invite progressive and mainstream Christians to ‘become fire.’ This is the heart of John the Baptist’s response… While the meaning of John’s affirmation is unclear, it surely points to the energetic nature of God’s presence in our spiritual lives. Our faith journey is meant to embody the energy of the ‘big bang’ or ‘big birth’ of the cosmos. God’s energy flows through our lives in each moment. We are the children of cosmic stardust and cosmic energy, who are meant… not only to live, but to live well and live better” (Epperly P&F web site, 2007).
In the opening scene of Jesus’ public ministry,
when he appears before his home synagogue gathering,
the storyteller Luke has Jesus using the words of Isaiah
to describe the significance of this baptism event.
Surprisingly, it is not a word or call of mission, sending him into the future.
It is about the delight of God in this beloved,
this person called by name.
Not a calling to ‘do’.
But a calling to ‘be’... that liberates for life.
I reckon Julie McGuinness’ Celtic poem ‘Reflections on life’s road’
also captures the spirit of this ‘calling to be’:
Some people travel in straight lines:
S(i)t in metal boxes, eyes ahead,
Always midful of their target,
Moving in obedience to coloured lights
and white lines,
Mission accomplished at journey’s end.
Some people travel round in circles:
Trudging in drudgery, eyes looking down,
Knowing only too well their daily,
Moving in response to clock and to habit,
Journey never finished yet never begun.
I want to travel in patterns of God’s making:
Walking in wonder, gazing all around,
Knowing my destiny, though not my destination,
Moving to the rhythm of the surging of his spirit,
A journey which when life ends,
in Christ has just begun. (Quoted in Bradley 2000: 243-44)
Bradley, I. 2000. Colonies of Heaven. Celtic models for today’s church. London: D L & T.
Butcher, J. B. 2002. An Uncommon Lectionary. A companion to Common Lectionaries. Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press.
Ludemann, G. 1998. Virgin Birth? The real story of Mary and her son Jesus. Translated: John Bowden. Harrisburg: Trinity Press International
Miller, R. J. 2003. Born Divine. The births of Jesus and other sons of god. Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press.