Baptized and Beloved
Scripture: Isaiah 42:1-9; Matthew 3:15-17
Rev. Charles Svendsen, Jan 15, 2017
Both the Isaiah 42 and Matthew Scriptures are those assigned for last Sunday, "Baptism of the Lord" Sunday, but we had to celebrate Epiphany. Thank-you for preaching on the Magi and star and travels around the Mideast and also Westlake Village last Sunday, Rev. Dr. Miller. Today we are celebrating "Baptism of the Lord" Sunday even though it isn't. I hope the lectionary sheriffs don't find out what's going on here. So we first of all look look at Isaiah 42:1-9. Isaiah 42:1-4 is the first of four, possibly five, "Servant Songs." As late as 1892 a scholar identified these Servant Songs in his commentary on Isaiah. Isaiah 42:1-4, Isaiah 49:1-6, Isaiah 50:4-9, probably the most famous Servant Song in Isaiah 52:13-53:12: "But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquity. Upon him was the punishment that made us whole and by his bruises we are healed," exquisitely put to music by George Fredrick Handel in 1741, and maybe Isaiah 61:1-3 as a fifth Servant Song: "The spirit of the Lord is upon me." Isaiah in these poems writes of God calling out a servant who would lead the nations. One who will bring justice to the earth. In this first song, Isaiah 42 describes this servant as One chosen of the Lord in "whom the Lord's soul delights."
Unlike the rulers of the surrounding powers, this servant establishes justice, not by proclamation or force. This servant does not ecstatically announce salvation in the market place as prophets were bound to do; instead this servant moves quietly and confidently to bring about peace and fairness. Listen again to those words, "He will not cry or lift his voice or make it heard in the street." So tranquil is his manner that a "bruised reed he will not break" and "a dimly burning wick he will not quench." Rather he will quietly and faithfully bring forth justice. So the servant has respect for persons who are weak, fragile and in jeopardy. God's justice by this servant is brought about gently, carefully, caringly.
So who was and who would be this suffering servant of God? In Isaiah's day it could have been one of Judah's faithful kings or a quiet prophet, or maybe Isaiah himself, or one in Isaiah's prophetic line.
One day, along a road that led south from Jerusalem down to the desert community of Gaza, an Ethiopian official, a man of great responsibility, in charge of his queen's entire treasury, was reading in his chariot of of these Servant Songs. The most poignant of them, Isaiah 53, "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb before its shearer is dumb, so he does not open his mouth." And the Ethiopian turned to the Apostle Philip, the same Philip who asked Jesus to be shown the way, and asked, "About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this? About himself or about someone else?" And Luke, in telling this story in Acts 9, writes, "Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this Scripture he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus." So we, in this Epiphany season, this time of dawning, manifestation we say with Philip, that servant of Isaiah 42, whom the Lord upholds, chosen by God in whom the Lord's soul delights, that One who will quietly bring justice to the nations, the One who does not proceed with force or high handed authority, that One was fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth.
What a marvelous example of quiet confidence, of gentle but purposeful humility is this servant of the Lord to us at Westminster as we begin this new 2017 year. As the session leads us, as the Deacons serve us, as the ministers teach and equip us, as our church staff administrate us, as each member and friend discovers faithful, meaningful and fruitful ministry and mission, we go forth this season in the life of this great church like the servant of God in Isaiah 42 of old and Jesus upheld by the Lord, chosen of the Lord, in whom the Lord's soul delights. We do our ministry in the year with the Spirit upon us to bring fourth justice to the nations. And we will conduct ourselves in 2017 without crying out or lifting up our voices just so we may be heard as far or near as Lakeview Canyon Road. So gentle will we be to a bruised reed, we will not break, or a dimly burning wick we will not quench. And in our ministry together in 2017, we will not grow faint or be crushed. We will rather serve joyfully until the Lord establishes justice and the coastlands wait for the teachings of the Lord. I asked our church staff, the other day, what "new thing" is God doing in your heart and what "new thing" God is doing in their ministry? Our Hebrew lesson in Isaiah 42 concludes, "See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare."
So, what "new thing" is God doing in your heart, and what "new thing" is God doing in your ministry? So I ask myself the same. I do a lot of my praying on the 101 - for many reasons. And after prayerful discernment, I said to our beloved staff that I endeavor, by God's grace, to be more kind in 2017. To be a friend to others. I think of my friends and they are like Jake and Rhonda, professors at a small college; they are my friends not because they are smart, they are but that's not why they're my friends, not because they are fun to be with, they are fun to be with, but that's not why they're friends. They're my friends because they are kind to me. So my prayer is that in 2017 I will go and do likewise.
Our Gospel lesson on this "Baptism of the Lord" Sunday is the account of Jesus' baptism given to us in Matthew 3:13-17. Jesus baptismal story is told in all four gospels, but Matthew's rendition is different from the more familiar Mark and Luke. In reading through the entire third chapter of Matthew, we are struck by the contrasting way John receives the Pharisees and Sadducees in vs 7-10 and, on the other hand, the way John receives Jesus in vs 13-14. In the religious leadership, John rejects their claim of "self righteousness" because they were descendants of Abraham, ignoring the responsibility of such a heritage. John demands that they bear fruit worthy of repentance. In other words, don't rest on your historical, cultural or even religious laurels. As Vin Scully would say were he John the Baptist, "What have you done for me lately?" With Jesus, John at first refuses to baptize him. John is reluctant because he, John, believes he needs to be baptized by Jesus! John wouldn't baptize the Pharisees and Sadducees for they had no remorse; they had no sense of their sinfulness. Yet now Jesus comes to John for baptism? Jesus had no need for baptism, thought John. "It should be the other way around!"
And Jesus responds curiously, "Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness. Matthew will use that word "righteousness" seven times in his Gospel - all with slightly different meanings. Here "all righteousness" seems to describe a divine requirement to be accomplished.
Jesus was in his baptism and by his baptism to be the obedient Son of God. All that little adjective "all" in "all requirements" means is that this obedience is not just a special requirement for the Son of God, but it is an obedience that joins him with fellow Christians in carrying out what the New English Bible calls "all that God requires."
So, as Jesus inaugurates his ministry in baptism; he does so as the obedient child, fulfilling "all requirements" for himself and for all who seek to believe and follow him. Note that Isaiah 42 uses the word "righteousness' describing the servant and Jesus here in his baptism fulfills that righteousness of the Lord - "all righteousness"
Matthew then tells us, "Then John consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up out from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And our choir chaplain, Gary Pate, in his Epiphany devotional the other evening, rightfully pointed out that in our Lord's baptism we see a picture of the Trinity: The voice from heaven, God the Father. The baptized person of Jesus, God the Son. And the descending dove, the Spirit of God. Good Trinitarian Theology!
Our Gospel lesson ends today with verse 17, "And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved with whom I am well pleased." The voice out of heaven speaks in the third person rather than the second! (as Mark and Luke report.) Not you are my Son but "this is my Son," not you are my Beloved but "this is my Beloved." Matthew's baptismal story is not to be read simply as Jesus' call, it's Matthew's readers' call, our call. Jesus is obedient in baptism, and we are to be obedient in our baptisms. As Jesus' obedient baptism carries forth in Matthew's Gospel, as Jesus lives, dies, and is raised as God's faithful, serving Son, so the Christian community, you and I, are to follow him in baptismal obedience.
Today we remember our baptisms. Today we are going to reaffirm, re-promise our baptismal vows. We will confess our faith with the use of the forth century Apostles' Creed and will come to 5 stations to receive tokens in the water. And let this token, wet as it will be, let it be a reminder that in Christ we belong to God. Said the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, "You were bought with a price therefore, glorify God in your body." Matthew tells us he voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." Isn't that a prayer for all of us? We, in Christ, are children of God. We, in Christ are Beloved of God. We, in Christ, are well pleasing to God.
And isn't Isaiah's prayer our prayer too? "Here is my servant whom I uphold. Would that the Lord in Christ say of us, you are my chosen in whom my soul delights.
Howard Thurman, a Presbyterian minister from Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco, once wrote:
When the song of the Angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.
The grass withers and the flower fades but the promises of God abide forever.
Westminster Presbyterian Church