Thought I would share my words from the pulpit at West Fayette Presbyterian Church this morning.
And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ … Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Colossians 4:3-4
I am going to tap into Ron Hutchcraft and his messages this week. Ron is part of my daily devotional routine mainly because he is not a preacher, but rather he is a teacher. His words from Scripture are translated from King James or NIV-ese into everyday language I can not only understand but relate to. His stories make me think on the message … and that’s what I’ll be attempting this morning.
The other day, he led off with a story.
Jennifer and Courtney were three year old twins and they were excited about preschool. In fact, they were so excited they got up in the middle of the night in their Omaha, NE, home and walked out of the house to make the six-block walk to school. All this while, their parents were sound asleep.
You might say, “Oh, isn’t that cute?”
No! See, snow was everywhere that night and the temperature was nine below zero. The girls were reported missing at 4:04 a.m. after family members awoke to find a light on and the door open.
Two police officers started driving the route to school, hoping they’d find the girls before it was too late. At one point, however, their squad car was stopped by the ice on a steep hill.
They were stopped right in front of an alley, so they decided to investigate. And there they found these little foot prints, then three tan boots no bigger than the palm of the officer’s hand. And finally they found barefoot Courtney wearing an open coat and kneeling beside her sister Jennifer, who was face down in the snow wearing socks but no coat.
Even though Jennifer was near death when they found her, both the girls miraculously survived. If someone hadn’t come looking for them though, they would have died.
Two little girls were lost and dying, and they wouldn’t have made it back home themselves. Their only hope was for someone to look for them and find them.
It’s always that way for someone who’s lost, including you and I. See, lost is actually a word in the Bible that’s used to describe our spiritual condition. It’s because, as the Bible says, Each of us has wandered away from God like sheep.
We’re lost. We’re away and ultimately dying. If you’re honest with yourself right now, maybe the word lost pretty much describes how you’re feeling.
Jesus came to seek and to save those who are lost. Jesus is God come looking for you — a lost child He loves very much. Notice He did exactly what those police officers did for those lost little girls — seeking/saving.
Here’s the simple fact. You cannot find God. God has to find you, and that’s pretty radical. It means all our religious efforts to get to God, all our self-improvement will not get us home to a God whose standard is perfection. A lost child doesn’t find himself. He or she gets found by the rescuer. All our spirituality, all our ceremonies, all our services, all our attempts to complete ourselves by finding God through spiritual searching or exercises still leave us lost.
We are those little girls, hopelessly lost, face down in the snow about to die spiritually. And Jesus is that policeman coming to where we are to rescue us.
That was the message of Christmas. That was the message of Epiphany. That is the message of salvation.
But, who is this Jesus? What do we know about Him?
That’s the discussion today. The Bible only gives one account of Jesus between birth and adulthood — Jesus at age 12 in the Temple, in one brief scene. It is left to our imaginations to picture Jesus at age seven, or 16, or 25.
See, back in Jesus’ day, not many people knew Him. He was a carpenter’s son, just a kid from Nazareth. In fact, while the Judeans were looking for a Messiah … they were looking in all the wrong places and for the wrong person. Don’t we do that as well, seeking God through our own reasoning or because a preacher has a gift or we heard it from a friend of a friend of a friend?
Many thought John the baptizer was the Messiah. That’s why they flocked to him to be washed pure by water. But John knew he was just a supporting actor in the salvation story.
“I baptize you with water. But One who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire…” stated John — pointing his followers toward Jesus.
In today’s gospel, we’re told Jesus came to be baptized. Luke, Mark and Matthew also all relate the story and it marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.
One of the questions theologians like to ask over cocktails is why Jesus was even baptized. I mean, after all, if John the baptizer was urging people to be baptized as an act of repentance, if he meant people to come to him to receive a symbol of forgiveness for sins – why was Jesus there? Why did Jesus need to be baptized at all? Surely Jesus didn’t need repentance or forgiveness, right?
Well, let’s go back to the catechism or Sunday school. Our tradition considers baptism a sacrament. What is a sacrament?
That’s right, an outward sign of an inward grace.
… as He [Jesus] was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are My Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased.”
Talk about an outward sign! Talk about God’s grace!
Baptism is primarily a symbol of what God is doing for us, not what we are doing for God. As such, this understanding of baptism as a symbol of God’s grace helps answer our questions about why Jesus comes here to see John to be baptized. Obviously, He doesn’t need to repent in the same way we do, but “to repent,” in its literal meaning, means to turn around, to turn back, to go a new direction – God’s direction.
Jesus’ baptism was also a change in direction for Him. He begins His ministry of preaching and teaching. See, before He calls disciples, before He reads from the scroll in the temple, before the crowds start following Him, He comes to be baptized as He shifts his identity from Jesus, child of Mary and Joseph, to Jesus, Son of Man and Son of God.
I think Jesus, like the crowds, was filled with expectation and anticipation. He was about to make a huge change in His life. His baptism represents this beginning, and Jesus Himself seems to see it as the starting point. He’s about to do a lot of wonderful things. But He hasn’t begun yet. See, these words from God the Father don’t come at the end of Jesus’ journey. They don’t come during Jesus’ arrest or trial or crucifixion. They come at the beginning. At the start.
Our baptism similarly was a symbol, a sign, a reminder, a way God spoke to us and said, “You are My child, My beloved, with you I am well-pleased.”
We have an opportunity to remember, through today’s lesson, the love God has for us. You have an opportunity to remind yourself you are God’s child and He pours grace upon grace out into your life and into your heart. You have an opportunity to commit yourself again to God’s plan for your life. You have an opportunity for a new beginning, a change of direction, a parting of the heavens as God smiles upon you to remind you that you are Beloved.
When Jesus came to be baptized by his cousin, though He may not have come to repent, He was certainly coming to mark a change in direction — a beginning. He was setting into motion a course of action for His life where there would be no turning back.
Rather, it was a turning to. In those three short years, Jesus reached out to those hurting, to those marginalized, to those with the simple faith of a child. He was reaching out to me. He was reaching out to you.
The very name Jesus means “the Lord saves” — that’s “save” as in rescuers saving Jennifer and Courtney and Joe and each of you. He came and gave His life to rescue ours. He went through the “crushing agony of Golgotha” for us. And He exited the tomb to prove it.
But every day, we are with people who don’t know that. See, following Jesus means living to join Him in His rescue mission to save them.
Jesus came to rescue us. Now it’s time to pay it forward.
And the faithful said, Amen!