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Friday, January 1, 2016

January 10, 2016, Baptism of our Lord, Year C

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Jesus' baptism is not about repentance. It is about his identity being publicly, ritually re-rooted into God."

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Luke 3:15-17, 21-22, David Ewart, 2010.

"I don't think that Luke tell us about Jesus' baptism just to inform us about what happened to Jesus. He relates this story also to indicate something about our baptisms, our need to be in prayer, our anointing with the Spirit, and our subsequent battles with evil and ministry in the world."

Exegetical Notes by Brian Stoffregen at CrossMarks Christian Resources.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Father of great and everlasting glory, by the power of your Holy Spirit you have consecrated your Word made flesh and have established this Christ, our Savior, as the Light of the world and your covenant of peace for all the peoples.  As we celebrated today the mystery of Jesus' baptism in the river Jordan, renew in us our own baptism: Pattern our lives on this Christ, the One you have specially chosen, the Son on whom your favor rests, the Beloved with whom you are well pleased.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Luke 3:15-22
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We began our lesson with the Advent theme of expectation. The people were filled with expectation. This expectation and hope for the Messiah is pricked with the emergence of the prophet and Baptist -John.

In Luke's Gospel John clearly points forward to the coming of Jesus and the baptism of fire promised and fulfilled in Luke's second book Acts. (Notice in our Epistle reading the people have been baptized yes, but not with the spirit.) We cannot get away from the Gospels work at defining Jesus' ministry over and against John's. We may guess that both had followers and that the question may very well have remained alive well after John's death and Jesus' resurrection. We might also remember here that Luke's Gospel tells us that John the Baptist will send two of his disciples to inquire of Jesus, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" (Luke 7. This of course correlates with Paul's later proclamation that indeed he is the promised one in the Book of Acts in the synagogue in Antioch. Acts 13:25) It is quite the switch from Mark's Gospel where John the Baptist makes the proclamation and from John's Gospel where-in the people ask the question of John the Baptist. So a key thing that is being offered in this passage is the revelation of Jesus Christ as God's chosen one.

The themes of power and might are also present. They are apocalyptic themes and again highlight the transformative power of Jesus and the transformative power of baptism in the Holy Spirit. This is a transforming fire. Fire of course is prominent throughout the Old Testament proclaiming the presence of God and returns again in the fire of Pentecost in Luke's telling.

Leaning on Isaiah 21:10, 41:16, and Jeremiah 4:11, 15:7, 51:2, John the Baptist reminds those gathered around him that God is sending this great and powerful prophet with a winnowing fork to clear the threshing floor and to gather the wheat, burning the chaff in an unquenchable fire. This always reminds me of how John the Baptist's message is a corporate one. He is not the one deciding who is wheat and who is chaff. Rather, he is reminding the nation and all the people that this is God's work and each will be judged and that the whole nation shall be judged. There is mutuality in this judgment and a reminder of whose judgment it is that is often lost in our modern day discussions on matters of the church. In our day we enjoy sitting in the judgment seat.

Now something interesting happens here in the text. Herod imprisons John. Some scholars argue that Luke's text does not say that Jesus was baptized by John. I find this a difficult proposition. It is true that this particular Gospel says Jesus was baptized sequentially after John's imprisonment. But is certainly not clear and in the different texts that I have looked at I am more apt to read that simply Luke has removed John from the baptismal event to highlight the actions between the Father and the Son, rather than to imply that John did not baptize Jesus it is more about God action. This should be true for us as well; it would be good to remember as sacramentalists we do the actions - God does the work. It is an interesting thought and may simply have been a literary way of ensuring that Jesus' baptism is a Spirit baptism depending upon no one else. I categorize this as things in the bible that make you go, "Hmmmmm?"

What is important though, and highlighted by Luke, is that the baptism has happened. It is over. And, Jesus is praying. This seems integral to an understanding of Lukan spirituality. It is only when Jesus is praying that the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the bodily form of a dove, and God's voice speaks. Heavens are opened in prayer, and you can hear God's voice in prayer.

The image of the opening of the heavens is an image of new time. This is a new moment in Luke's Gospel, a new moment in the life of the people Israel, a new moment in judgment, a new moment in the unraveling and gathering of "all the people" including the gentiles (as we will see in Acts). So this is a new moment, enabled by baptism, but triggered by prayer and the descending of the Holy Spirit.

You can read more about the imagery and details of the words used by Luke here:
The last thing that stands out for me in the Gospel reading this week is the "Beloved" proclamation in verse 22. Beloved is an act and not a feeling, it is a charge if you will to Jesus as Son and servant to take the power given to him and to begin to use it to restore creation and transform the people of God.

So I have been thinking and praying about this text and I am wondering about myself and for us. As we, you and I, look forward into the year, as we look forward into our lives we must be ready to do the work God has given us to do? We are baptized. Are we praying and are we receiving the Holy Spirit given to us in the grace of that prayer conversation with Jesus and with God? We have been expecting; now we are ready. Will we take up our charge as Jesus did, to restore creation and transform the world even as we are being transformed? And, most of all are we ready to do this in partnership with all of our brothers and sisters and most of all with Jesus?

Some Thoughts on Acts 8:14-17

Continuing in our Baptism themed week we have this reading about the mission in Samaria by the church in Jerusalem.  Luke seems very keen to show that the church is acting together (this is not news to those of you familiar with the last two decades of studies on Peter and Paul in Acts).  So here we have the idea that people in Samaria are becoming followers of Jesus, they have been baptized but they have not yet received the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the church in Jerusalem must send along missionaries to pray for them and to place hands on them.  This is an essential part of receiving the Holy Spirit - the laying on of hands by the apostle. 

In some way our own tradition has moved away from this as an essential role and part of the work of baptism.  We have moved more clearly towards a protestant understanding where the apostles are not necessary for the laying on of hands in order for the newly baptized to fully be received into the church.  It is worth a pause then on this Sunday to give a nod to our Episcopal tradition of Confirmation - which is this very symbol of giving the Holy Spirit.  The bishop, as one of the apostles, comes to the community (not unlike Peter and John) because people have chosen to follow the Lord and have even been baptized in the name of Jesus.  But full incorporation historically has included the giving of the Holy Spirit to the people of God by one of the apostles in the great line of apostles. 

Here is a picture of my own lineage of apostolic succession.  It is the family tree of my ministry. For those that are confirmed it is in some way their family tree.  And, it illustrates the very real physical and spiritual connection the baptized and confirmed of our day have to those in Samaria and the first followers of Jesus.

All of this being said what is clear that the Holy Spirit is what inspires the church and it is essential in the work of baptism.  The language of baptism centers around forgiveness of sin, living the new life of grace, sustenance for the pilgrim journey, inquiring and discerning heart, and courage to will and to persevere.  The language of confirmation in our tradition, or the laying on of hands in apostolic succession, is about God's blessing of the Holy Spirit, the giving of wisdom (knowledge and obedience), especially to God's word, and most of all service to God.  We are in the laying on of hands and the Holy Spirit bound to service, and through the power of the Holy Spirit we work to fulfill the service that is set before us by God.

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