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Blessed to Be a Blessing

Isaiah 42:1–9
Matthew 3:13–17

Today we meet Jesus at a turning point in his life. He is at a crossroads. In spite of Herod’s threats to kill him, at birth, in spite of being a refugee in Egypt in the early years of his life, the infant has survived and become a man. Now, he must choose his future path. He makes a choice to leave the familiar, and to go into wilderness where his cousin John had created a strong following of searching people looking for a new way of living in difficult times. We meet him at this sacred river; the Jordan… I wonder what was stirring in Jesus to make him want to go to this place where danger lurked. The Jordan River was a dangerous place for Jesus to be. Herod’s spies were hanging around the edges of the crowd, and John’s life was in palpable danger, because he was seen as a possible revolutionary. In fact soon after this, John is arrested and put in prison, and this news seems to have spurred Jesus into action with his own ministry.

John has gathered in the wilderness people who are searching for a new way; people not satisfied with the status quo, but looking for more integrity for their personal living, and for their culture. John’s message is both abrasive and attractive. John told them them that the in breaking Reign of God is very near. John preached, and it will require radical transformation of individuals and of culture–a whole paradigm shift! Life had to change right to the very core, that cosmetic changes to the surface were not enough. We have to change our way of thinking and acting. Sounds very like the messages we are hearing from those who call for conversion of our thinking and acting around climate change…And these messages are moving out of the wilderness…out of the marginalized places, to front and centre, and beginning to impact political agendas…. But, there is much resistance to the radical requirements of the new thinking…. Just as there was in Jesus’ day.

To symbolize the turnabout required in peoples’ lives, the dying to the old and the rising to the new, John practiced a ritual of baptism. It was seen as a new beginning, a commitment to be part of turning the world around, beginning with one’s own life. Jesus seems to have felt in solidarity with this movement for he asks John to baptize him as well.

Baptism for Jesus did not just happen. It was a choice. After his baptism Jesus experienced the Spirit symbolized as a dove hovering over the water, and God’s creating Words of affirmation “This is my beloved in whom I delight”. The symbolism would not have been lost on the readers of Matthew’s gospel who were familiar with the stories in Genesis. They’d call to mind the Spirit hovered over the water at the birth of Creation They’d remember God’s affirmation that “ It is good, It is very good”. Ah! Matthew is saying Jesus was the beginning of a new creation; a new age is coming! They’d recall Noah’s dove who after 40 days and 40 nights of chaos brought the covenant promise and olive branch to Noah to say that life was possible–that there was still a place where life could grow and renew itself. Ah! Matthew is saying that in Jesus there is a promise of a new beginning to life even in the chaos of this Roman occupation. In Jesus there is hope even though it feels as if the world is falling apart. They’d hear all that in the way Matthew told the story.

The voice from heaven that speaks at Jesus’ baptism echoes the voice spoken in Isaiah 42:1–9, proclaiming the mission of God’s beloved servant to restore justice, bringing the light of God’s hope and healing to the world. Every age in human history has longed for someone like the servant described in Isaiah, and it is easy to see how the first Jewish followers of Jesus would have associated Jesus with this figure.

From this baptism, as from all baptisms, came a new beginning, a new sense of calling and empowerment. Jesus’ baptism was not a road map all laid out, a plan where Jesus just had to follow the dots. The very next thing Jesus does in Matthew is to go out into the wilderness, where for 40 days and nights he struggled with the meaning of his ministry, and the meaning of being a beloved child of God. He struggles with what he is called to do with his gifts. He does this led by the same Spirit who affirmed him at the Jordan. He wrestled with what he was called to do, called to be. He wrestled with his demons, listening for the Spirit, opening himself to God’s possibility. How those words of being called God’s beloved, God’s delight, must have sustained in those times.

Baptism for each of us is a beginning, a time of letting go of old values and taking on new ones rooted in being God’s Beloved. For some of us this happened when we were children and it is not top on our list of things we think about each day. But today, I invite us all to reaffirm our baptismal vows… remember the choice to accept that we are God’s beloved, blessed to be a blessing to the world. I invite us all to the river of God that flows through creation blessing us with life in all its’ fullness.

Baptism is a radical act of choice that goes to the very root of things. It’s about how we choose to live and with whom we choose to journey. But baptism is also about accepting the grace and affirmation of a living God and living courageously, with integrity out of it. It’s about choosing to live life with the sense of God’s presence and benevolence and calling on our life Baptism is also about being affirmed, about belonging

Jesus rose up from the waters with a strong sense of God’s spirit breaking through to him “This is my beloved, in whom I delight” Imagine what it must have been like for Jesus to have that sense of being God’s delight–God’s joy. It must have been the source of his power to follow the path he chooses.

Imagine receiving this affirmation for yourself; Listen with your heart. Shut your eyes….. Hear God voice saying. You are my beloved… whom I delight… Imagine God’s spirit surrounding you with blessing–with affirmation–indeed with delight. Let yourself feel the power for life this can give–the healing this can give–the energy this can unlock with in you, as you let yourself be received and affirmed this way by the Source of Life that throbs at the heart of creation. You are not a stranger in a hostile universe. You belong to a God who loves you–who delights in you–and to a community that welcomes you and promises to journey with you through the struggle; and a community that needs you to journey with them. You are blessed to be a blessing to others.

Come Holy Spirit, rebirth us in your life-giving waters, breathe hope and possibility into our chaos. Help us to dance with joy and hope, when there seems little to celebrate, and to feel new life deep within. Bless us that we might choose life in all its fullness, and be part of creating justice and healing in our world. Sustain us with your affirmation that we too are your deeply beloved, your delight, and that you know us by name. Amen.

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