Sunday, January 12, 2020
Baptism of Our Lord / Lectionary 1, Year A
Prayer of the Day
O God our Father, at the baptism of Jesus you proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit. Make all who are baptized into Christ faithful to their calling to be your daughters and sons, and empower us all with your Spirit, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Isaiah 42:1-9 The servant of the Lord brings justice
Acts 10:34-43 Jesus’ ministry after his baptism
Matthew 3:13-17 Revelation of Christ as God’s servant
Title: God’s Fulfillment Center
Thanks to Scott’s cousin, I recently learned some new Amazon terminology that I find all together fascinating and disturbing, yet not surprising. Cousin Stephen works in one of the many regional locations owned and managed by Amazon that are responsible for packaging the myriad of products that one can order from the online behemoth. These temples of hyper-consumerism are referred to by the corporation as FULFILLMENT CENTERS.
Now I am sure for Amazon, the term refers to the centers that fulfill the orders that are made. However, always hearing words and phrases that have the potential of multiple meanings, and with ears that usually add some element of a spiritual context to those various meanings, and having a mind that is often seeing life played out as parables in our midst; I couldn’t help but hear this term from the consumers’ side of things and think that FULFILLMENT CENTER is referring to the promised fulfillment that we hope for, that we desire, that we long for, that we hunger for from the products that we see online, click on with excitement, and buy, all in the name of fulfillment. And, of course, it never fills the gap, the void, never fulfills in quite the way we dreamed. No matter what the name of the place that sends it.
Today, Jesus directs our attention to God’s fulfillment center – that font that welcomes us into not just this space, and not just into the church, but with this picture of Jesus standing in the Jordan, being baptized by a reluctant John, seeing the heavens open, the Spirit descending like a dove and a voice confirming that this man is God’s Son, the beloved, and in this one God is well pleased, God draws us into the ultimate fulfillment – the life of Christ.
In Jesus’ baptism, God is fulfilling the promise to send a savior, a messiah. Isaiah and the other prophets get and give hints, snapshots of what this fulfillment might look like. Heroes of the faith express fragments and tidbits of what this fulfillment might look like in their lives and their relationships with God. In this morning’s first reading we hear part of one of the Servant Songs from Isaiah (there are four). While other people, through the ages, might show elements of the description that Isaiah offers, in Jesus we see the fullest fulfillment, the perfect fulfillment, the complete fulfillment. He is the one who comes with perfect love and compassion such that he truly does not break a bruised reed, with mercy and peace he only encourages and assists the dimly burning wick.
Oh, how the church has gotten this wrong so many times. How is it possible that for long periods of time those who claim to speak in Jesus’ name, have ignored the compassion and the mercy that was not just promised by the prophet but was fulfilled in this humble healer, this tender teacher, this merciful messiah? Do we not trust a fulfillment that was so beyond our imagination? So far beyond how we might do this called ministry and salvation? Are we so exclusive regarding who we would include for this fulfillment?
We cannot imagine such complete and perfect fulfillment because nothing that we experience in this life, nothing that we can order from any website, buy from any store, find in any other human being, discover in any other philosophy, can fulfill the way that this life can that is ours in Christ through God’s promises at that fount.
And Jesus wants to make sure that we see it, experience it, inherit it. John’s trying to say: No, you gotta do me? But Jesus knows that he has come to live our life, that he is showing us the way to this fulfillment. He has come from his quiet life in sleepy Nazareth in the name of fulfillment. For him, it would have been sweet to just stay in that little town and enjoyed a quiet life. But he came to fulfill all righteousness. To make us right with God beyond anything that we think we can do ourselves. Beyond anything that any law or holiness code might seem to promise. He came to declare the kingdom of God is our fulfillment and in baptism we become part of that kingdom forever.
This baptism is just the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The first step of his proclamation of the good news that God is fulfilling a promise, God is fulfilling creation’s promise that we ignored in the garden with a bite of the apple and that we continue to ignore with every word of a hate that deflates another, with every grab of greed that robs another, with every blind eye that dehumanizes another, with ever mindless action that robs creation of its balance and beauty.
In those baptismal waters, the re-creation has begun so that fulfillment might be complete. Jesus’ baptism is his first step to the cross. But because of God’s fulfilling power in the equation, it means that this baptism is also Jesus’ first step to the empty tomb of the resurrection. Yes, Jesus coming up out of the water is a precursor to our own baptisms – joining him in his life and death and resurrection. Today just might feel like a mini-Easter. I know, I know. We just are getting over Christmas. We haven’t even gotten all the pine needles out of the carpet. Some of us rationers are still slowly working through the holiday gifts of candy. (Cookies might be a bit stale). But actually, every Sunday is a mini-Easter. It is why we worship on a Sunday. The first day of the week. Like when those women went to the tomb and found it empty. It is the day when fulfillment is complete. So we give thanks and praise to God.
And Peter is encouraging this Easter flashback (or is it a flash forward), with his preaching in the second reading. Because this passage from Acts is the second reading that we hear every Easter morning. God shows no partiality. Not only is the fount God’s Fulfillment Center, it is God’s great Equalizer. Not only are we, as Paul teaches, no longer slave or free, Jew or Gentile, male and female, but through baptism, we are also ALL made children of God. All that is the son’s – Jesus the Christ, the Anointed One, is ours. We are fulfilled by the grace of God.
As we journey through this Epiphany season, this season of a-ha’s and discoveries, as we continue to explore this wondrous gift from God – the babe, who is quickly becoming the man who is our savior and our friend – we are wise to continue to return to the font, to God’s fulfillment center, and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to discover anew all that is fulfilled for us, in us, and through us for the furthering of God’s fulfilling kingdom in a world that is so hungry for fulfillment.
The Rev. Mark Erson