Get Back In Line!

Luke 3:15-17; 21-22

15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

We’ve moved from the sweet baby Jesus to the start of his adult ministry pretty fast on the church calendar. Part of it might have something to do with the fact that we’ve got little to go on about the in between times. Conveniently, the Bible leaves out the terrible two’s, frustrating tween years, and any of the hormonal angst the son of God may have endured.

What we do have is the introduction of Jesus ministry, in all of the Gospels, through John the Baptist. John comes to tell us how Jesus will change the world. Sounds a little cliché, but you get the picture. In Luke’s account of his baptism, what we are provided with is very short. The actual story about the baptism is 2 verses. Everything that Luke crams into these verses is important and deeply significant. I could try to fit it all into one sermon, but I’m going to guess you don’t want to be here all day. I will invite you to the conversation time after coffee fellowship where our questions and thoughts the sermon doesn’t touch on can be brought up and talked about.

What we do know is on this day of Jesus baptism, is he is in the River Jordan (that detail I pulled from the other Gospels) and he is with the people.

It’s not just Jesus, John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit and God in some kind of isolated, surreal divine moment shrouded in divine light and harps playing.

In Luke’s description of this important moment in Jesus life, the beginning of his ministry, he was with the people.

I like the translation from the New International Translation of the verse 21 that says “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too.”

Couldn’t Jesus have take his status and power that John the Baptist was proclaiming in the earlier verses, and climbed on the ecclesiastical ladder of success and divinity then jumped to the front of the line?

Better yet couldn’t Jesus have gotten to the river’s edge and said “John get out. Move over. I’ll take this baptizing business from here.”

Jesus get’s in line with the people.

But why? I mean who are these “people?” And why does he feel he it is important to be like them, not separate from them?

I’m going to wager a pretty fair guess that these aren’t gussied up church folk who think they have formed their own line. Somewhere else. Somewhere they can keep the church silver polished and carpets clean from the mud someone might track in.

Because the people in this line are sinners, common folk, everyday hard working servants and outcast who have been deemed unworthy by society.

Sounds a bit harsh, but in ancient Jewish community’s baptism was a purification ritual that was performed by religious authorities to cleanse the person and make them presentable in the eyes of God. It wasn’t just sin that made a person “unclean.” Diseases, dealing with the dead, menstruation, or touching a person who had been judged “unclean,” all were reasons people would have been lined up that day to be baptized.

And Jesus get’s in line "the people."

At his baptism Jesus got in line and identified with the damaged and broken people who needed God.

The thing is, he didn’t need to.

This is Jesus we are talking about. The Son of God.

He doesn’t need to stand in line to be purified.

He doesn’t need to do anything to be made more presentable in the eyes of God.

God loves Jesus, and there is nothing that Jesus can to do gain God’s approval.

God expresses this in the words “spoken from heaven” Luke says. “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

God says “I love you because of who you are. You are my Son.”

Jesus didn’t need to get in line and yet there he is. Standing with the people who are broken by the decisions they have made in life, the religious and political oppression they experience and with the hope of a new beginning through a return to God.

Friends that new beginning is real; in the promises of baptism, we have new life in Christ. It doesn’t mean that in baptism, or when we join a particular church, or when we are ordained to an office in the church, or we come to the table, that God loves us anymore. Nothing we do can make God love us more. God loves us because we belong to God. In baptism we are made one with God and with each other.

This last part is where the church has really struggled. Lots of denominations, churches and faith communities over the centuries have lived in such a way that once we become baptized, once we join this particular church, once we become an elder or leader of the church we get to stand in a “special line.” A line “separate” from all the “other” people. All those “sinners.”

Whether we realize it or not, this happens.

Think about how many people stay away from church because they are at a really low time in their life. Some folks think that they aren't worthy to come to church, for whatever reason. Maybe they are going through a divorce, facing an addiction, fired from their job, or experiencing financial or emotional hardship. And maybe they walk through whatever church doors for a Sunday or two and then they don’t come back.

They like the music and the preaching OK, but they felt like the church was only a place for respectable, successful kind of people who seem to have it all together. It was a line that they didn’t feel like they should be standing in.

So they seek help from nonprofits or support groups, and assume that they can only come through the church doors and get in line when they feel like they have it all together.

Jesus did not start a new line.

He stood with the hurting, the broken, the suffering. This is who he was baptized with. This is the family of faith in to which we are adopted and dripping wet God calls us out of the water and commissions us to get back in line.

Not because we need to be baptized again, but because God’s gift of grace is also God’s call to us to respond to that grace.

To get back in line and stand with the broken.

Get back in line and care for the hurting.

Get back in line and be the body of Christ for the world today.


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