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First Sunday after the Epiphany, January 12, 2014

I have two friends whose mothers do not approve of them. They have spent their lives trying to do something – anything – to please their moms, but nothing they do is good enough. They were constantly criticized as children, and that negativity has continued into their adulthoods. Now their mothers are older, and they both have dementia. One of my friends has her mother living with her. She still is trying to do everything she can to help her mom and win her approval. Sometimes things are OK, but often her mother rants at her, shouting that my friend is taking her money or not meeting her needs. My friend is in so much pain. She has a huge hole in her soul that is longing to be filled. My other friend’s mother is in an assisted living facility. My friend used to drive an hour plus each week to see her, wash her clothes, clean out her refrigerator and do other chores, but she does not do it anymore. She still wants her mother’s approval, but she has come to understand that she will never get it and is getting on with the business of mourning that and seeing what else she has going for her, seeing who else loves her. My first friend’s glass is empty where her mother is concerned. My second friend is slowly filling her glass with other loves.

Jesus’ glass is filled to overflowing as he is declared beloved of God. It is not that God did not love him before, but his baptism is God’s public declaration that Jesus is God’s Son, God’s representative on earth. Jesus has a purpose to fulfill that is God’s purpose, a ministry that begins with his baptism. The entire baptismal event – the baptism, the anointing with the Holy Spirit and God’s declaration – carries a world of meaning within it. All this meaning is brought into the water with Jesus as John baptizes him.

First there is the meaning of the water itself. Water is an image of transformation in the Bible. The Holy Spirit brooded over the waters in Creation, the Word of God spoke and God created the world through the Word and Spirit. God took chaos and transformed it into creation. The Israelites experienced water as transforming too. Their crossing of the Red Sea turned them from a rag-tag bunch of slaves into God’s people. When they had finished their time in the desert, the waters of the Jordan parted for them and they crossed into the Promised Land. They had been transformed from a wandering people to a community that would settle in a land flowing with milk and honey to live out their lives observing their laws and being a blessing to the nations. When Jesus comes to the water, he is a carpenter from Nazareth. When he comes out, he is a man on a mission from God, sent to carry God’s word to the people.

In the water with Jesus is his role as sovereign. God’s declaration references Psalm 2, verse 7, which says, “He said to me, you are my son, today I have begotten you.” Jesus will be a king that will follow God’s will for him. God says that God will make the nations this king’s heritage and the ends of the earth his possession. Through Jesus and his apostles of every age, God has become known and worshipped throughout the world.

In the water with Jesus is also his role as servant, coming to bring justice to the nations. God’s declaration of belovedness references Isaiah 42, which says here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights. This servant is to faithfully bring forth justice, a state where all people have what they need and are treated fairly, a time in which all people act in righteousness, having a right relationship with God and their neighbors. The servant will not use force or coercion to bring justice – that would not work anyway – but will bring it about gradually, taking care not to damage bruised reeds and dim wicks. In other words, he will make sure not to harm the poor, the weak, the marginalized and all those who need special help. In the Beatitudes, we see this ministry in action as Jesus blesses not the rich and powerful, but the poor in spirit, those who mourn and those who are meek. The servant will liberate prisoners and captives. He will teach about justice everywhere and be a light to the nations. As a servant leader, Jesus will be crushed – or crucified – but not until he has spread his message far enough that those who come after him will carry it to the whole world.

In the water with Jesus is his mission as prophet. The Holy Spirit’s descent is reminiscent of God giving the Holy Spirit to the prophets to warn the people that what they are doing is not in line with God’s will and that they have to repent. Soon after John the Baptist is arrested, we hear about Jesus proclaiming the same thing as John did – repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Revealing who God is will also be part of Jesus’ job. When God calls Jesus God’s Son, God is saying that Jesus will have the characteristics of his Father (Rebecca Abts Wright)and will show them to the world. Jesus’ life is to be that of God incarnate in the world. As the Trinity gathers together after the baptism – God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit – we are reminded that Jesus is divine as well as human, God revealed to us in a human being, sent to share our lives and to reconcile us to God through his life, death and resurrection.

Because Jesus is beloved, and his glass is full to overflowing, he can share that with the world. Because God loves him so much, he can in turn love others. He loves the sinners and the tax collectors, even though they are outsiders in society. He loves his disciples, even though they are sometimes slow to understand him, and he loves the scribes and the Pharisees, even though they are his enemies.

Jesus’ mission is revealed in his baptism. He is to be a transforming figure who will be king, servant, prophet and lover. He will bring justice to the earth and demonstrate God’s love for all people. We are all baptized in that transformative water too. We renounce our inevitable tendency to sin and turn to Jesus and accept him as our Lord and Savior. We are all made beloved children of God by being buried with Christ in his death, sharing in his resurrection and being reborn by the Holy Spirit. As God’s beloved, our glasses are full to overflowing and we too are called to seek justice and to offer God’s love to God’s people.

Since most of us were baptized as infants, our particular missions will unfold over a long period of time. During this time of learning and growth, our parents, godparents and the community of faith pledge to support us. Then we venture forth on our own at confirmation, taking on the vows our parents and godparents took for us.

How will we bring justice? For some of us it will be hands on work with the poor and needy. For others it will be writing our Congressional representatives or giving money or goods to worthy causes. Some of us will travel afar, as Paul did, and others will stay close to home as the church in Jerusalem did. However we do it, we are called to bring justice in this unjust and broken world.

How will we bring love to others? There are as many ways to do that as there are people. We may provide a listening ear to those who need it. We may share our baked goods, our garden produce, our crafts, our music, our organizing ability with others. Anything God has given us that we love to do can be offered in love to others. All of us are called to love our neighbors as ourselves – to respect their dignity as human beings.

Some of us may be called to servant leadership in our companies or other organizations. Others of us may be called to be prophetic – to speak and write about justice and peace and forgiveness and love which are the stuff of the kingdom of God.

In Jesus’ baptismal event, God revealed who he was and what God wanted him to do. He was transformed in the water, given his mission and empowered by the Holy Spirit to carry out his purpose faithfully. So are we. Our glasses are full to overflowing with God’s love for us. Let us work for justice and love our neighbors as Jesus did, so we can fulfill God’s purpose for us.

AMEN.

     - The Rev. Ann Barker

Works cited:
Rebecca Abts Wright, Tuesday Morning, vol. 16, no. 1, p. 10