First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine
Rev. Kate Dalton
January 13, 2019
Scripture: John 3:22-36; Hebrews 1:1-4
In the Traditional lectionary cycles (the cycles that tell us what scripture to read on a given week) this is the week when we remember the baptism of Jesus. The schedule we are using this year doesn’t actually include the story of the baptism of Jesus, but rather tells us of friction that occurs after Jesus has been baptized and is now baptizing people on his own.
The United Church of Christ says this of baptism, “The sacrament of baptism is an outward and visible sign of the grace of God.” It’s one of just two sacraments that we recognize, the other being communion. Visible signs of invisible grace.
This week’s worship planning resource from Spill the Beans included this reflection printed on the front of you bulletin.
Grace is not a pie to be divided, then, no more.
There’s plenty left to go around, and plenty more beside.
Grace is not a shrine to be protected, kept secure.
It’s unconstrained and knows no bounds; it swims against the tide.
Grace is not a prize, that we can buy or bargain for.
It’s freely given love profound; it brings abundant life.
Freely given love profound. We are God’s beloved children – the practice of baptism and communion are here to remind us of that.
Unfortunately, I think the UCC definition of baptism leaves out a key part. When the stories come upon John baptizing people in the New Testament – it seems pretty clear that baptism is not really new. We don’t get a lot of explanation about what he is doing and people don’t seem shocked or confused by the practice. Baptism was ritual cleansing. A washing to clean yourself of sin. John’s baptism though went a step further. John was baptizing with water for repentance.
Repentance changes things. This is not just a passive ritual anymore. Repentance requires a person to take responsibility for their actions. Repentance requires a person to recognize where they have strayed. When baptism is an act of repentance it means we must have awareness. And awareness is what allows us to experience God’s grace in our lives. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think God’s grace is contingent upon our repentance, but I don’t think we can experience God’s grace without repentance.
As we talked about last week, the Gospel of John seems to be addressed to a Jewish audience (remember Jesus was a Jew). John is challenging the Jews, saying ethnic identity is not what saves you. Faith coupled with action is what saves you. This is not a passive endeavor.
There’s another aspect to this morning’s scripture that is also noteworthy. The premise of the passage is that Jesus has already been baptized and is now baptizing people and John is also baptizing people. John’s disciples are not happy about this. They come complaining to John about Jesus actions.
John’s response – this is not a competition. We each have our own role to play. John is inspiringly self-differentiated and self-assured at this point in the passage. Jesus actions don’t seem to bother John one bit.
John is projecting a spirit of abundance. John is not concerned with amassing more disciples than Jesus. John recognizes that they are acting in accordance with one another. They are both doing God’s work as they understand it. (Notice John also does not stop baptizing people just because Jesus has come on the scene.) There is no need to label one’s work as better than the others. They have different roles and God is in control.
For me, acting out of the spirit of abundance is a profound opportunity for us to witness in the world. American culture in particular seems very content to contend that abundance is dangerous. Scarcity prevails. We must protect our own. We must provide for our own. It’s perfectly fine to amass more than we need in the name of hard work and in the interest of security. And when others suffer because we are afraid, we shrug it off and say oh well. That’s their problem.
Except it’s not their problem. It’s our problem. We are failing to live into the abundance Jesus and John are modeling. We are failing to repent, to honestly look at where we fall short and take responsibility for our actions. We are failing to let the knowledge of God’s love shape who we are in the world.
One of my favorite songs is entitled “The Story of the Grandson of Jesus” by a group named Cloud Cult. Here are the lyrics:
Today’s a good day to flex the muscles of the weary
(a miracle is a miracle, even when it’s ordinary)
We will walk on the water even though it seems scary
if someone will show us the way
I shook hands with a man who honestly thinks
he’s the grandson of Jesus with a penchant for pinchies
He served us communion of cola and Twinkies
I guess everyone has their own view.
He stood on his soapbox and told us a parable
of a man with eye-glasses so small they’re unwearable
And the moral of the story is that it all looks terrible
depending on what you look through, what you look through
“Do unto yourself as you do unto your neighbor
it’s not an eye for an eye, it’s a favor for a favor
and it’s okay if this world had a billion saviors
cuz there are so many things to be saved.”
Take my words with a boulder of salt
or blame it on your devil,
always the scape-goat’s fault
we all point fingers when it comes to a halt
Will somebody show us the way?
Show us the way
Aren’t we all the grandchildren of Jesus? May repentance show us the way. Amen.