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Archive for January, 2013

Welcome Home?

“And [Jesus] said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.'” Luke 4:24

Next week I’ll be flying out to the Midwest to visit my family. My parents are elderly and having a few issues so my sister and two brothers and I will meet with them to talk about where to go from here. I’m not sure actually that it will go anywhere, but we’ll see.

The interesting thing about being a full-grown adult (not all that far from retirement at this point) and having parents who are still your parents, after all, is that they will often continue to see you as the little child they raised. I remember my grandmother (who lived to be 105 years old) telling everyone that her seventy-something son was her “baby” (that’s my dad).

When parents age, they often fight loss, and that is one of the things we will be talking about this coming week. It’s hard. All their friends are dying, their capacity and stamina has greatly diminished, and often memory and physical problems keep them from doing what they would really like to do. So, this passage really struck me. You really can’t go home again – not as the person you are now because you are different. You have changed. My little hometown hasn’t changed much except to lose businesses and population.

We’ll see how this next week goes. I suspect God has some wonderful things in store for us, and that may be the best way to approach the anxiety of not being heard or having to wrestle with the issues we face. More when I return!

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Whose Baptism is This Anyway?

When everyone was being baptized, Jesus also was baptized.  While he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit came down on him in bodily form like a dove.  And there was a voice from heaven:  ‘You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.‘”  Luke 3:21-22 (Common English Bible – CEB)

Seemingly, I have read this passage in one of the gospels much of my life – a long time.  Until this year, I never noticed that John the Baptist wasn’t involved in Jesus’ baptism in the Luke account.  If we read back a little, we find that John is actually in prison, being held by King Herod.  So the indication would be that followers of John were doing the baptizing, according to the Luke passage.

Another interesting thing that struck me as I was reading commentaries in preparation for my sermon is that we often move right from Jesus’ baptism to our own.  I know that has been my tendency because I feel the need to help people understand baptism and what a gift it is as well as a responsibility for living our lives following Christ.  But several writers reminded me that I need to remember that this is about Jesus.  Hmmm.  Today is Friday, and I’m still mulling the shift and meditating on God’s message for me to share with the congregations this Sunday.

Whose baptism is this anyway?  Well, obviously Jesus was the one who was baptized along with a bunch of other people.  Why?  Big question.  Why did Jesus feel that he needed to be baptized?  We believe that he was God in the flesh, so what was the purpose in his baptism?  There are several thoughts on the answers to this question.

In many ways, it was a symbol of his new life – his inauguration into fulfilling his mission and ministry.  As a faithful Jewish man, Jesus may have felt the need for the purification of the washing as he moved forward into the rest of his life.  But John’s baptism was the baptism of repentance and forgiveness, so why would Jesus feel the need to repent?  That may be an answer that eludes us for now, although I’m sure there are plenty of pastors and teachers out there who have written about it.

Somehow, I think that another idea is that it is Jesus’ way of connecting with us as humans.  He was, after all fully human and fully divine.  Being human means that he was vulnerable just as we are, that he felt love, joy, peace, happiness as well as anger, disappointment, pain, sadness.  He identified with us on every level of our humanity, and baptism was one more way of saying, “I connect.  I understand.  I’m with you.”

Part of that identifying with us was claiming his own identity.  Note that in every gospel, a voice comes from heaven along with the Holy Spirit, naming Jesus as God’s own Son and beloved by God.  The CEB translate the voice as saying:  “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”  Peterson’s The Message reads:  “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.”  I like that.  “Pride of my life.”  Most loving and caring parents would say that about their children – You are the pride of my life.

God said it to Jesus.  I belive God says it to us every day – we are the pride of God’s life.  God loves us with an incomprehensible love.  Jesus’ baptism IS about our baptism and about our identity as Christians.  We are baptized into Christ and given the name “Christian.”  Some people have rejected the name, but that doesn’t stop God from loving them anyway.  They have been claimed and named.

So, yes this is truly about Jesus, AND is it also about what we as his followers do in order to faithfully follow him.  How are we doing?

And so we begin – again….

And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they [the Magi] left for their own country by another road.”  Matthew 2:12

The Magi – three scholars and often called “The Wise Men” – were Gentiles from a foreign land.  Yet they were intrigued by an unusual star in the sky and felt prompted to follow the star.  In some ways, we do the same thing when we look into the sky to see if we can find constellations or an unusual sighting of one of the planets that has somehow moved close enough for us to see it in a brighter light.

Since the Magi were Gentiles, though, one would think that Mary and Joseph would have been a bit anxious about having these three apparently wealthy and wise people show up at their doorstep.  Yet, we don’t hear that in the story.  Nor do we hear anything about the odd assortment of gifts they present to the Holy Family:  gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Of course, since the Holy Family ended up fleeing to Egypt, the sale of these items would have brought them enough money to live on while they were refugees.

But there is more to this story than what is on the surface.  The symbolism is hard to miss if we really study it more closely.  Gold is often associated with kings who were wealthy and had plenty of gold to spend.  Frankincense would have a spiritual connotation, and myrrh was used on the body of a dead person before they were put into the grave.  The idea of the Magi being Gentiles indicates that this Messiah – this King – was for ALL people, not just the Jewish nation.

Herod’s paranoia (something he apparently lived with all his life and especially as “king”) reminds us that power and authority are not to be taken lightly or abused.  Jesus was a king of love and compassion where Herod was one of destruction, fear, and anxiety.  Jesus was a king of the people, and Herod was king by appointment from the occupying Roman government.

The journey for the Magi was one of hope and trust that they would find the star and the king who was reported to be born when it appeared.  What is our journey like as we enter a new year?  2012 held some highs and lows.  There was devastation, horrible loss, anxiety, worry, distrust, and a lot of negative energy going on in the United States as well as the world.  None of that has changed – much like the environment into which Jesus was born.

So what is our journey to be like this year?  During times like these, we often blame God when bad things happen, after all, we seem to have to blame SOMEONE!  But when we do that, we also turn the blame on ourselves.  Yes, us.  We are responsible for sharing the love of God in the world.  God did not choose to go to an elementary school and shoot people, including children to death.  A human being made that choice.  God did not send a hurricane to destroy property and lives or to punish part of our nation for some reason or another.

What God did was to work through those who responded, to provide support and love, caring and blessing to the ones who suffer.  When we look at the outpouring of love to the Newtown, CT people, it’s almost overwhelming, and it came from all over the world.  Everyone wanted to do something to help, and they responded in the best way they could.  We see a similar response to Hurricane Sandy victims and the help they received.  These are only two examples.

We are part of the solution.  We make choices every day about what to say to others, including our children.  We make choices every day about how to act toward someone else.  Jesus came into the world to share God’s love and to make the world a better place – and as his followers, that is also our calling.

May our journey through 2013 be one of following the teachings of Jesus and working to make the world a better place for because we have shared Christ.  Happy New Year!

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