Monday, January 31, 2011
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:13-17 NIV)
So, it's this thing of ours. We apply water in one form or another. Some folks pour it. Some folks sprinkle it. Other folks put you in it. That's what the Greek word behind "baptism" implies: dunking. As in a river or a lake or fountain.
They quit doing the dunking thing in Europe around Luther's time because too many infants caught their death of cold when they got dunked 3X in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
It's this thing of ours, this thing we do. Just like Holy Communion. Another thing we do.
The bread and fruit of the vine. We do them because of that other thing we do: Baptism. That's where it starts. With this thing of ours as followers of Christ.
If I were talking Italian, I'd say it was "la cosa nostra", this thing of ours.
Kinda got started in a new way with Jesus there in the Jordan River. John is calling people to open up their hearts and minds to the nearness of God's new thing: the kingdom of God. "As a way of showing you are ready, wash up and make a clean start!"
Then Jesus shows up and says, "I'm in. OK, let's get wet."
John won't have it. He knows that when God's Messiah arrives, he, John, will be the one who needs to clean up his act. But Jesus persists. "We have to do this to fulfill all righteousness," Jesus says.
Righteousness is kinda off-putting. We hear the word and think: goody two-shoes... holier-than-thou... me better than you.
Not exactly its Biblical sense according to Paul in his letter to the Romans. Per Paul, God is righteous because he justifies. In other words, God is righteous because God makes things right. Not simply that God is righteous because God is sinless perfection (who God is) but also because of what God does: makes things right, makes us right. God is righteous because God "righteousnesses" us. That's what justification means.
"John," Jesus says, "we have to do this to begin the work of setting things right--my work. We have to begin at the beginning. In order for me to take what's wrong and have it nailed to the cross with me, I have to begin where you and every person is: in need of new birth, a resurrection."
John concedes. Jesus gets wet. Heavens open...
A dove-like form of the Spirit descends on Jesus and alights. The same voice to be heard on the mountain of Transfiguration declares the same thing here: My Son. I am deeply passionate about what my Son is doing."
It's a Theophany, a God appearance there at the Jordan. We go with Jesus to the Jordan in this season of Epiphany because now, after the birth at Christmas, we contemplate what on earth it means for God to appear, to show up upon, to shine upon, to appear here, on earth.
So we also begin where Jesus begins. 'Cause Jesus takes that beginning and makes way more out of it. Once he begins, it kicks off his ministry of proclaiming, teaching and healing. Yeah, the same work he's actually turned over to us. And when we do those things, we're supposed to do this thing of ours, this washing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
It's more than just an attitude adjustment. It's a God appearance. God shows up in that Baptism to stake a claim on us. Ain't no solvent can dissolve that glue. Ain't no rite of the church called "unBaptism".
When you been washed, you done been washed. As in, forever. You belong to God. And the sign says:
Devils Keep Out!
So it's this thing of ours 'cause Jesus gave it to us and he said to do it. That alone, his words, would be enough reason for us to do it. But there's something more. He promises to show up there. He not only forgives our sins there, he takes 'em away to the cross. He stays in their place.
Which is also why we do this other thing of ours, Holy Communion. Yeah, he's promised to show up there, too. Bread and wine = body and blood. By promise, by faith. By Spirit, not by chemical analysis.
"Given and shed for you for the remission of sins" was the translation of Luther's words I learned.
This thing of ours, la cosa nostra...
Epiphany. Theophany. Jesus said. I believe. Amen.
Thanks be to God!
PS: Just between you and me, I'd rather get dunked in Wallowa Lake than that public drinking fountain in Northwest Portland with the built-in doggie dish at the bottom. Not to mention what mighta been floating in the ol' Jordan... That's just me. But the water doesn't matter. It's the getting wet in the name of the ThreeOne that counts.
Monday, January 3, 2011
Some years ago at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, I played with an exhibit made of sprockets and chains enclosed inside a large case of clear plexiglass. There was an exposed crank that viewers could turn. The crank turned a shaft with a very small sprocket connected by bicycle chain to a very large sprocket on a second shaft. Adjacent to that large sprocket was another small sprocket which was in turn linked to large sprocket on a third shaft. And so on.
Each ratio was 1:10. That is, the first small sprocket had 10 teeth. The first large one had 100 teeth. If you turned the crank 10 turns, the second shaft would turn once. It would turn the third shaft 1/10 of a turn. Which would turn the fourth 1/100th of a turn. Which would turn the fifth shaft 1/1000th of a turn. And so on up through 10 stages.
Of course, most people tired mentally long before they had turned the crank 25 turns. Their efforts seemed to disappear into nothing. You could have stood there cranking for a half hour without seeing any perceptible movement of the tenth shaft. Ten-year-old boys would be the exception. They'd stand there cranking, determined to will the laws of physics into a new order until their families tore them away to get lunch.
Jesus had to cleanse ten lepers to get thanks out of one. Atcually, this is another way of saying, "Only one out of every ten people is going to accept my witness--and that's on my very best day when an extraordinary act of healing has taken place in front of God and everybody. And they will very likely be the people y'all don't like."
One out of ten.
Not a ratio to write home about. But still something...
The young woman prostrating herself before the gravestone above?
She is Mary McHugh, the fiance' of Army Sgt. James John Regan who was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Google his name and read about his story in his hometown newspaper (Manhasset/Mineola, New York) or any of the many online stories about him.
Here in America today we are running a 1:49 ratio. Only one out of every 49 families has someone like James John Regan serving in our armed forces or a grieving young woman like Mary who never got to spend her life waking up next to the fine young man she loved with all her heart.
She never even got to wear the title "widow". Her grief is officially unrecognizable to the government and almost the entire nation.
Not a ratio to write home about.
Except that it will never improve unless we all write home about it.
Pray for new things in this new year. Peace would do. So would life.