The Baptism of Our Lord, January 7, 8, 2017: “Intended Consequences or St. Peter Wore a Safety Pin”
Isaiah 42:1-9. Psalm 29. Acts 10:34-43. Matthew 3:13-17
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
Matthew 3:13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ 15But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up 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. 17And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
Acts 10:34 Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’
John the Baptist was busy baptizing people and calling them to repentance, a change that would order their lives from self-serving ways to ways of life-giving openness to God’s grace. There would be intended consequences.
One consequence is that Peter, some 3 or 4 years later, was baptizing people he never thought he would meet or associate with: Roman non-Jews. Gentiles in a distant city whom he would later have to passionately defend before the Jewish believers back in Jerusalem.
Well, thank Goodness, Peter had that strange dream where God commanded him to eat both kosher and non-kosher food. Prompted by that dream, he could welcome Gentile strangers who invited him to their commander’s home. There he found himself telling all he knew about Jesus to the Roman centurion Cornelius. Some of that telling was today’s lesson from Luke’s book of Acts.
Imagine that: Peter is baptized Cornelius and his household! People hadn’t really expected that Gentiles would be accepted into the baby church. And thank goodness he did. Another intended consequence: we Gentiles were brought into the church, the community of believers.
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We stand today with our feet in two worlds. And that’s not new to us. I imagine you and I are getting used to it by now.
We celebrate the wonderful story of Jesus’ Baptism. We hear of Peter’s ministry to strangers. We remember our own Baptisms in hymn and prayer. We hear the divine words over Jesus, “You are my … beloved” and we accept them as words said about us as well.
Why are we so bold?
When Jesus stepped into the muddy waters of the Jordan, he stood in solidarity with all of us. Our Baptisms inaugurated our ministries, our vocations as children of God, as Christians – every bit as much as they did for Jesus, Peter, Cornelius’ household, and are still doing for Christians of all times and places.
Many Christians, starting already in the early writings of the church, think of Jesus as the pioneer, the one who blazes the way for the rest of us. All along the path, which you and I walk behind him, the baptismal words resound, “This is my … Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Luther said that Baptism is an act that takes but a few minutes to do, but a lifetime to finish.
And finishing it is not something we can do on our own. The early church did not stop with naming Jesus the pioneer of our faith, but boldly proclaimed him also the finisher or perfecter of our faith. He would be the first whom God would raise from death to new life. And his raising gives us reason to celebrate the new life of all God’s beloved, more numerous than sands on the seashore or stars in the night sky.
One of the first sentences spoken at our funeral services is this: “All who are baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
In YOUR Baptism, you were clothed with Christ and called the Beloved of God.
That’s why the Holy Spirit comes upon us. That’s why the words spoken over Jesus can be spoken over us as well. “This is my…Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
A joyful thought on a joyful Saturday evening / Sunday morning.
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So… what is the second world in which we stand this evening / morning?
It is a world globally beset by war, by poverty, by hunger. It is a world of political confusion and uncertainty. It is a world of fear: of terror, of reprisals, of prejudice and hate. It’s a world of personal issues – Jason’s relationship is in trouble; Judy’s job is at risk; Phyllis will make hospital visits every day this week; Frank despairs of understanding his kids; Joe has a serious decision to make which torments him and keeps him awake at night; Sally, newly retired, isn’t sure why she should get up tomorrow morning; Robert, newly widowed, doesn’t want to get up again any morning.
Some people are pinning safety pins to their shirts and sweaters. Why? It’s a way of signaling a willingness to step up and take a stand. It’s a way of saying, “I will listen if you want to talk.” or “If you wear a hijab, I’ll sit with you on the train” or “If I do see or hear something, I’ve thought it through, and I’ll stand up and say something and not be a silent witness.”
The apostle Peter had seen Jesus glow on the mountaintop. He had seen him heal his mother-in-law. He had witnessed Jesus eating with sinners and outcasts. He had endured the shame of denying Jesus three times, had watched him die, had met him on the Easter beach cooking breakfast, had received his forgiveness, had heard Jesus’ call to “feed my lambs” and “tend my sheep.” He had what we have on Sunday morning.
Now he would put on a safety pin and take that joy into a strange city among strange people. At first he would simply give and receive hospitality; then, at their request, he would share his Jesus joy with them.
That’s what we seek each week: to meet Jesus on Sunday in word and prayer, song, hand-shakes, and Holy Communion…and to carry that joy with us on Monday to work, to school, on the train, and in the long daytime and nighttime hours when we worry and wait for answers to our pressing issues.
Even if we don’t pin a safety pin to our shirt or sweater, we pin that safety pin to our hearts. We will encounter strangers, people as strange to us as Cornelius, the Roman centurion, was to Peter. And as Peter shared the joy of Baptism with that household, we live out our baptisms in peace and hospitality with those we encounter: refugees, immigrants, people we don’t agree with, people whom we live next-door to, people we don’t understand. All children of our same heavenly Father. All people who deserve safety and respect and love.
This is the intended consequence of Jesus’ Baptism and of the story of Peter baptizing Gentiles – of all people!
This is the intended consequence for Phyllis hoping in prayer in the hospital; Frank listening to his kids as often as they are willing to talk; Joe wrestling in faith with his decision; Judy doing her best at work in spite of rumors; Sally and Robert making their lonely way into the world to be surprised by words of caring, opportunities to serve, people to love; Jason holding his beloved’s hand and looking eye to eye in dialogue; this is the intended consequence for each of you, God’s beloved. Give thanks and follow Jesus Christ, our Lord, the pioneer and finisher of our faith, from worshipful joy to daily vocation. Amen.
Pastor Beth Orling