January 12, 2020

Baptism of Jesus, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling

Matthew 3:1-7

When my family moved from Ft. Wayne, Indiana to Cincinnati, Ohio, we made one trip to visit before my parents bought a new house.  We got to fly on a plane.  I was in going into second grade and was thrilled to get a set of wings pinned to my shirt by the pilot.  But even better than that was that we stayed in a hotel with an indoor-outdoor pool, separated by a huge window.  The pool inside was your pretty standard hotel pool.  But, on the other side of the window, at the outdoor pool, were slides and fake palm trees and rocks.  It looked amazing.

However, to get from one pool to the other, you had to swim through a little tunnel from indoors to outdoors.  I was a little afraid to swim through that tunnel, but I wanted to get to the slide.  So I took an impossibly deep breath, dived down a little deeper than seemed safe, darted through the tunnel, and came up into the sunlight—DEEP BREATH—coming out of the water.

When Jesus came up out of the water, did he take a deep breath? He had an experience of coming up into a new reality.  He felt the Spirit descending on him, even closing his eyes, picturing a dove descending on him.  He hears the voice of God naming his life as beloved, precious, anointed.  When he went under the water, he was Jesus from the outback town of Nazareth.  When he came up out of the waters, he experienced a shift, a deeper awareness of his own identity.  Something within him, always true, but now named and understood in a new way. He was one of God’s anointed.

This is probably why Jesus says to John, “I have to do this, to fulfill all righteousness.”  This wasn’t a baptism about washing sin away.  This was a swim from one way of being into another.  For Jesus, entering the water meant entering everlasting streams of righteousness, gushing waters of justice and healing.  Joining God in healing and repairing the world.

For Jesus, knowing his identity meant that he had a mission to join up with God’s dream for the earth.

Have you seen the optical illusion that shows either an older woman or a young woman.  At first, it’s hard to see the other image.  Your brain has already decided what you see.  But as you stare (and know that there’s something else because you’ve been told), something switches in your brain and you see the other image.  Oh, there it is.  And you’ve discovered that you have a switch in your brain that you can actually use to change your vision.  You can decided to see in a different way; see things that others may struggle to see, yet you continue to point to say, “It’s there.  It’s really there.”

Every baptism is an optical illusion.  At first glance, it’s all just so cute and sweet.  It’s babies and parents, or even a few hopeful adults yearning to let go of one life and claim another.  But somewhere in our collective consciousness a switch is flipped and we see in the pouring of water, dripping down the forehead, that the heavens are opening and God is speaking yet again, “You are my beloved. You are precious more than you can ever know, a delight for the whole creation. I like you.  I like you a lot.” And then, this child, this hopeful adult, we see as yet another of the anointed ones, people who carry the same vision as Jesus:  to be the light they hold in their hands; to be the oil that can heal; to be dressed for work in the vineyard.

It’s another optical illusion.  Looks like a human.  And in the switch of baptismal water:  full of God..

We may all want to hold on our breath before we dive into that one:  We bear God, in the same way that Jesus did.

The world held its breath when 12 boys and their soccer coach got trapped in cave in Thailand after an unexpected rain filled with cavern with water.  They were trapped for two weeks as divers tried to figure out how to get them out.  Each one had to be taken out through the narrow, twisting passages by divers who left oxygen tanks along the way.  One diver even died during the rescue.  But one by one, they were saved.  One by one, the were brought from the cave into the waiting arms of hundreds who were ready to love them.  One Thai Navy SEAL said, “We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what.”[1]

I’m not sure if the story tells us something about our own baptisms, or our mission after we’re baptized.  Having come through the waters, even with a savior dying along the way, call us into a mission to go back and save the next:  those who are drowning in the waters of daily life, those who are slowly suffocating in this current political reality, those who are yearning for another chance to live a different life, those who hope for a community of love to surround them–teams of people with a dream to fulfil all righteousness and to do justice and to love kindness, a team of baptismal divers who swim and walk humbly with their God.

Hold your breath.  It’s a New Year, a new decade. It may be time again to dive in.

 

[1] “All 12 Boys And Their Coach Are Rescued From Thai Cave After 2 Weeks” NPR, July 10, 20181:55 AM ET

https://www.npr.org/2018/07/10/627555371/divers-hope-to-rescue-remaining-boys-trapped-in-thai-cave.