Musical Prelude and Service

Matthew 3: 13-17
So, what is happening with the baptism of Jesus?
Why is Jesus baptised? What is our understanding of baptism?
Is it a ritual act of cleansing? Is it a symbol of God’s forgiveness of our sins?
Or is there something more at work here when Jesus; the son of God or the revelation
of God’s love; the physical embodiment of God among us, is baptized by John?
Some reading I did this past week may shed some light upon this. We do not read
these words this morning, but in the verses preceding today’s passage, we read that
John has set up office, so to speak, at the Jordan river. He is calling on the people to
repent and to demonstrate that repentance, in preparation of the coming of the
Messiah, by being baptized.
The word repentance is an interesting one. We generally view repentance as
acknowledging our harmful behaviour. It is a step towards seeking forgiveness and of
repairing relationships that we have damaged. It generally goes beyond admitting
wrongdoing, but also includes actions to demonstrate our desire to make amends.
All of this is very valid. Repentance is a very important part of repairing broken
relationships or establishing just and loving relationships where they have not
previously existed.
But there is an argument that that is not what John is talking about when he calls the
people of Judea to be baptised. And certainly not Jesus.
Keep in mind here that the Gospel of Matthew, like all the gospels and the epistles is
translated from Greek writings. In the case of this scripture, the word in question is
metanoia. Historically in scripture, metanoia is translated into repentance. That first
happened around the second century when scripture was translated from Greek to
Latin. It’s a long story, but a good many scholars now see this as a terrible
mistranslation.
Of course, finding a new succinct word is a very real translation. Metanoia more
accurately refers to a change of mind or vision. As one writing I looked at this week
says, it more accurately translates to going beyond the mind or to go into the larger
mind.
John essentially says Look, God is inviting you into a new way of seeing.
The act of submersing yourself in the waters of the Jordan and emerging, is to emerge
into a new way of seeing and perceiving the world around you and in doing so also
relating to and interacting with God’s world.
When we take a step back and consider this idea of baptism, what is happening with
Jesus takes on a very different look.
Jesus is about to begin his work of ministry. He is about to take on a group of disciples
and begin teaching and offering to the people he meets in his journey to Jerusalem a
new way of being in the world. He is preparing to announce himself to the world as
the son of God. And in doing so he first comes to John to be baptized.
It is not an act of transformation, but it is a way of declaring to the world he is taking
on a new role; a new way of being in the world. His identity is something different
than how people would have perceived him prior to approaching John at the Jordan.
But we are also basically told that Jesus has a vision of his own. Perhaps shared by
those who are present. Jesus comes up out of the water and, ‘he saw the Spirit of God
descending like a dove and alighting on him.”
And he hears a voice saying, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well
pleased.’
Repentance is a change of one’s mind or thinking. A change in how one perceives the
world and your place within it. We are told this is what happens with Jesus in this
moment.
And, I would argue, that is what Jesus, in his travels and his teaching and his actions
and work, invites us to also do. We are invited to see the world in new ways. To see
our place in the world in new ways and to consider how we relate to God and to the
world.
To see that we are not required or meant to travel through this world on our own.
We are called to be in relationship; to support and minister to one another and to
receive the support and guidance and care and ministry of friends and family who
gather around us.
I have discussed many times in the past; at least it feels like I have, that the world in
which we live often sends us messages declaring we are pretty much on our own.
Or we get messages celebrating those who seem to reach heights of wealth and power
and popularity through their independent and creative nature.
We live in a society that sees such independence as a virtue. It is a sign of strength
and resourcefulness. I don’t want to demonize those qualities.
But our society can also engage in some binary thinking. In other words, if
independence means strength and resourcefulness. If those are good qualities, then
working in community, accepting and being grateful for the presence and support and
ministry of your community; of working and living in and as part of a community is by
extension a sign of weakness. It is shows you are dependent upon others. That binary
view of the world can and does very easily creep into our collective thinking.
I have no doubt a great many of you are in your heads right now saying no, that’s not
how I see things. I am grateful to be part of a supportive community. I am happy and
willing to contribute to this community. And you are right.
But how often do we resist letting those around us know of our struggles? How often
do we hide our difficulties; perhaps not wishing to burden others with our challenges
or perhaps out of a fear of seeming vulnerable? I know I struggle to figure out where
the line should be drawn on what I share.
How often are we tempted to deny the support and care our friends and neighbours
may offer, concerned we may find ourselves in a form of debt to those around us?
God, through John, invites us into a new vision of the world. A new way of thinking
about our communities and our place within them. One where we do not travel alone;
putting ourselves first out of necessity and avoiding reliance upon our fellow travellers.
God invites us to a baptism that changes our way of seeing and thinking and relating
to the world.
And when we, in the process of this transformation, wipe the water from our eyes so to-
speak, can we see the world with fresh eyes. Can we see heaven open up and
recognize the presence of God’s spirit alighting upon us? And can we hear words that
declare us beloved and know that God looks upon us and is well pleased?
Rev. Warner Bloomfield

 

Music provided with permission through licensing with CCLI License number
2701258 and One License # A-731789