Not the way it ought to be…

Not the way it ought to be…we have said that often enough.  In the last 12 months, I have certainly said that often enough.  When things are sliding south – when troubles mount and anxiety and grief are overwhelming – it is natural to consider that life isn’t as it should be.  All of us believe (at some level) that there is a ‘master plan’, except that it has been abandoned in favour of chaos.

This may be what is behind John’s reluctance to baptize Jesus.

John has been acting as a herald – the one who proclaims that God’s ultimate messenger is just over the horizon.  John is the prophet of “big changes are coming”.  He sings his songs in the key of Isaiah, for the kingdom John proclaims is God’s kingdom of justice and peace and righteousness.  John describes “one who is coming” to set things right – a king unlike any king the world has ever known – and on very little evidence (at least it is so in Matthew’s gospel) John has decided that Jesus is THE ONE.

Everything we think we know about the relationship between Jesus and John comes from other sources.  Matthew’s gospel brings us first John, then Jesus praised (and baptized) by John.  Whatever their relationship, John has decided that the kingdom is upon them and that Jesus is the embodiment of that kingdom – God’s justice; God’s peace; God’s righteousness have come together (for John) in Jesus…and yet Jesus asks to be baptized by John…it defies logic!

Whatever John expected, this wasn’t it.  Why would God’s chosen one need repentance?  Why would the one who represented God’s righteous judgement – God’s merciful justice – why would such a one as Jesus submit to such a humbling act as Baptism?  For Baptism was (and remains) an act of great humility…

But here he is, and surely Jesus has been among the crowds long enough to know that Baptism demands repentance – signifies a turning from self and a turning (again) towards the things of God…and that is when we discover that Jesus Ito is familiar with Isaiah’s songbook.  “Let it be so now…for it is proper in this way to fulfill all righteousness…”

Jesus – even Jesus – will humble himself in the sight of the Lord; for justice is not the concern of the proud; righteousness is not the territory of the powerful; real righteousness is the privilege and property of God.  God calls servants in righteousness – indeed, God’s call defines righteousness – and it is God’s righteousness that is satisfied by Jesus insistence on being baptized.  Jesus follows this path of humility and service for God’s sake, not for Jesus’ own agenda.

Jesus is not ‘proving’ his omnipotence – Jesus is not suggesting that he knows how the story will end so that John will provide the necessary plot line.  Jesus is acknowledging that no matter how he (or we) might interpret Scripture, or the events of our lives, there is always a power at work that outranks, out thinks and out lasts us all.

+++++

This is our hope – when we declare with a sigh that “this is not the way it should be…”  Our hope is that “master plan” that lies hidden at the edge of our awareness actually has a Master; our hope is that the plans we make – plans that always seem to be frustrated by circumstances beyond our control – might somehow be rescued by divine intervention.  Even those who claim no; faith carry that hope within them – that is why there are lotteries in developed countries.  (no, I’m not suggesting that God is somehow at work in lottery wins…)

The point is we hope for help from beyond ourselves because we recognize that our plans are not always successful, and our abilities are not always sufficient to navigate the changeable circumstances of life on this planet.  And we find that hope in Jesus, because Jesus points to God in hope when he asks to be Baptized.  Jesus is seeking God’s will – not because he knows what it is, but because he trusts God to meet the needs of God’s faithful people.  Putting yourself in God’s hands, as Jesus does, is to admit that there is a power in creation that wants (ultimately) only good for us (and for all creation)

So things aren’t supposed to be like this.  Churches aren’t supposed to struggle – the Good News shouldn’t be so hard to share (or so hard to hear…) – those who follow Christ, who answer, in faith, the call of God, ought to find peace and comfort and joy in abundance…but reality is uncomfortably intrusive.  Churches are closing.  The faithful are struggling to find interest and enthusiasm for the message of the Gospel.

The ‘timeless promises of God’ seem to taunt our efforts to live into the peaceable kingdom declared by prophets and poets in Scripture.  And Jesus comes – at a time when chaos reigned and the Romans had their way with the world and says quietly to John “Let it be so now…”

Let the powerful make their noise; let it seem as though chaos will reign.  The peace that passes understanding is a whispered word in the furious storms that surround us, and whispers are often lost in the wind, but this Word made flesh will one day still the storm and hush the wind.  Jesus, who comes in humility and points to the rock-solid constancy of God, will demonstrate for us how to navigate the stormy waters of uncertainty.  Aware of the chaos, but never losing sight of the presence and purposes of God, Jesus  leads us through baptism – through death – and into the heart of God’s “master plan”.

+++++

So Jesus is both prophet and the answer to prophecy.  He walks into his earthly ministry full of a desire for the things of God – never sure what they may look like – and invites us to follow his path; to walk with him on our own journey, that he might lead us to a life full of promise – full of hope – full of God; for that is how it ‘ought’ to be.  Thanks be to God.  Amen

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3 Responses to “Not the way it ought to be…”

  1. Mark Wolfe Says:

    Take the compliments when they come Jeffrey!

  2. revjeff Says:

    I don’t know about brilliant, but I’m glad you liked it.

  3. Mark Wolfe Says:

    Wow Jeff- I wish I could write like you! A fabulous, and hopeful, sermon. Love the part about the Master in the master plan- brilliant! Thanks so much.

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