Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
2016 is the year we have set aside to rededicate ourselves as a church and as individuals toward a focus on mission. Our theme, with the help of Jake and Elwood Blues, is a Passion for Mission. Through all their twisted antics, these two were completely focused on their mission, which was to raise $5,000 to pay the mortgage on the orphanage where they grew up. Absolutely nothing was going to stop these two from accomplishing their goal because they were on a Mission from God. What is our mission? How can we develop an unbridled passion for that mission? What does the Bible have to say about this? What guidelines do we have to follow?
I hope to answer these questions and help to instill us with a Passion for Mission in 2016 and beyond. The best example we have is the life of Jesus Christ, particularly during his 3-year ministry. As we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, my hope is we will reinvigorate our enthusiasm to put our faith into action. If you recall that image of the Jerusalem Cross (see below,) you will note the importance of not only developing and deepening our faith in Jesus, but of also putting that faith into action through acts of mercy and justice. Today we are focusing on Jesus’ baptism which is noted as the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
Up until this point we have very little information about Jesus. We know that as a 12-year old boy he was found conversing with the church elders in the Temple, already astounding them with his wisdom. As far as we know, Jesus was serving as the son of a carpenter, learning the family trade and supporting his family in every way possible.
We also know very little about his relationship with his cousin John, born just 6 months before Jesus. Chances are these two grew up together so to speak. Most likely they got together at least once per year when both families would come to Jerusalem for the holy days. Perhaps they played together as boys. Maybe they spent time together as young men, perhaps getting an idea of each one’s calling – John to be the messenger and Jesus to be the Messiah. Perhaps John saw in his cousin what his people had been hoping for and were promised through the prophets.
At some point in his life, John left his home and joined a group known as the Essenes. It is believed John’s parents had died and John joined this group as a young man. Each week during this sermon series, we will be introduced to different areas of the Holy Land by this series’ author Adam Hamilton. This video shows the ruins of the Essene community, the Jordan River where John was baptizing all who would heed his call, and we will see a bit of the wilderness where Jesus experienced his time of fasting, prayer, and temptation. [play video]
It is interesting to see the places we read about in scripture and try to put ourselves along the path that Jesus walked. Can you imagine John’s surprise when he looked up and saw his cousin coming toward him? Can you almost hear the conversation between these two as Jesus insists on being baptized by John?
Baptism has many meanings for us. One indication is a washing away of sin. We are all born into sin as a result of the brokenness of our world. Since the time of Adam and Eve’s sin against God we have inherited a barrier from God – a distance that carries the weight of a finite life and eternal darkness. But as we shared through Advent, Jesus came to the earth as the light of hope. Through Jesus we are able to be free from our sin and one meaning of baptism represents this.
With that said, many question why Jesus insisted on being baptized. John was calling people away from corruption to repent and turn from the wickedness that is ever-present in our world. Yet Jesus is the perfect lamb – the sinless one born of God by the Holy Spirit. How is it he would need repentance? Jesus chose to relate to humankind by taking on the sins of the world. In this way, Jesus chose to partner with humans, walking in our shoes in order to share the good news of eternal life and freedom from sin.
Adam Hamilton shares a story of an addiction support group that meets in his church. One attendee asked his good friend to join him at his meetings. While his friend did not suffer from the addiction in question, the friend agreed to attend the meetings as a supporter. He chose to side with his friend in spite of the potential stigma of being known or viewed as an addict. Jesus perhaps was acting in a similar manner. He did not need to be baptized and therefore forgiven of sin but chose to relate to humans on our level, siding with us during our times of need.
At the moment of Jesus’ baptism, he was declaring himself as the Son of Man. Yet God also made a very profound declaration: “You are my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.” The Holy Spirit descended as a dove and Jesus was filled with a power along with the special blessing baptism entails. While Jesus most certainly knew he was the Son of God, it was only after being filled with the Holy Spirit that he began his public ministry. Our good friends Jake and Elwood Blues found there inspiration as well in of all places a church. They ‘saw the light’ and knew how to fulfill their mission! There was a powerful moment when everything became clear! Perhaps it was for Jesus as well!
What about us? Are we feeling the power of our mission? We are called to put our faith into action, both as individuals and as a collective body of Christ. Our Passion for Mission can be launched in many ways and I encourage you to share your ideas with all of us. I invite you to jot those ideas down on prayer cards or send an email to the church office. If you feel so led, I invite you to join us for our Church Council meeting after worship on 1/17. I have some ideas to pursue but the floor is open – now is the time to make your voice heard! But make no mistake, we are putting the band back together in order to make a difference in the lives of those in our community and beyond. We needed time to develop and strengthen our faith through the last 2 years as we focused on balancing our spiritual, mental, and physical health while getting rid of barriers that were separating us from God. That’s the left side of the Jerusalem Cross. While we have not ignored the right side, we will be seeing a much greater focus on these areas because we are on a mission from God!! Amen.