Service: Our Prophetic Call (Sermon)

“Service: Our Prophetic Call”

Isaiah 9:1-4 and Matthew 3:13-17

Allen Huff

Jonesborough Presbyterian Church

Baptism of the Lord Sunday

1/7/23  

But here is my servant, the one I uphold;
    my chosen, who brings me delight.
I’ve put my spirit upon him;
    he will bring justice to the nations.
He won’t cry out or shout aloud
    or make his voice heard in public.
He won’t break a bruised reed;
    he won’t extinguish a faint wick,
    but he will surely bring justice.
He won’t be extinguished or broken
    until he has established justice in the land.
The coastlands await his teaching.
 (Isaiah 42:1-4 – CEB)

13 At that time Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan River so that John would baptize him. 14 John tried to stop him and said, “I need to be baptized by you, yet you come to me?”

15 Jesus answered, “Allow me to be baptized now. This is necessary to fulfill all righteousness.”

So John agreed to baptize Jesus. 16 When Jesus was baptized, he immediately came up out of the water. Heaven was opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and resting on him. 17 A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love; I find happiness in him.” (Matthew 3:13-17 — CEB)

         Through Isaiah, God says, “Here is my servant, the one I uphold, my chosen, who brings me delight.”

         In Matthew, the voice from the heavens says, “This is my Son whom I dearly love, I find happiness in him.”

         Again, from Isaiah: “I’ve put my spirit upon him; he will bring justice to the nations.”

         And again, from Matthew: “Heaven was open to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and resting on him.”

         One defining feature of Matthew’s gospel is that the writer takes great care to connect the advent, birth, baptism, life, and ministry of Jesus to Israel’s prophetic tradition. Matthew wants his readers to understand—Jesus of Nazareth is the “one who is to come,” and no, they need not “wait for another.”

Those two phrases come from later in Matthew when John is stuck in prison and starting, one imagines, to feel abandoned and hopeless. So, he sends his disciples to Jesus to ask the specific question: Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another? Instead of answering yes or no, Jesus says, “Go tell John what you hear and see.” Then he quotes Isaiah 35: The blind see. The lame walk. The lepers are cleansed. The deaf hear. The dead are raised. And the poor receive good news.

Ancient prophecy, the gift of baptism, and God’s call upon our lives are all part of one, unified movement of grace. They can’t be separated. Nor are they to be withheld from anyone—period.

God’s sending of Jesus recapitulates God’s presence in and love for all humankind and all Creation. The point of Jesus’ baptism, then, is to demonstrate God’s delight in and purposes for us as well as for Jesus.

No, we’re not Jesus. As human beings, however, we are imbued with the image of eternal and universal Christ, in whom and through whom all things exist. (John 1:3a) And learning to recognize, trust, and cooperate with the Christ in ourselves is intimately and inextricably tied to learning to recognize, trust, and cooperate with the presence of the Christ in our neighbors and in the Creation. That’s why our faith tradition is, fundamentally, a community-oriented tradition. We’re more complete, and we’re better when we, in all of our God-given diversity, worship and serve together. That’s why Jesus himself assembles twelve disciples to follow him and work with him. Now, given the way the disciples always need correcting, forgiving, and long-suffering patience, it would seem much simpler for Jesus to go it alone, wouldn’t it? Nonetheless, with prayerful intent, Jesus chooses companions with whom to serve.

One might argue that, in some ways, when Jesus gathers a community of disciples, he limits himself. But think about it: What’s harder to argue is that in gathering a community of disciples, with all their foibles and neediness, Jesus demonstrates that even the likes of us have far more capacity for embodying Christ than we would otherwise give ourselves credit for. Through Christ, we can love as we are loved.

Today, we ordain and install a new class of officers. For the next three years, and for the sake of all of us, they are committing their time, their energy, their gifts, their love, their capacity to embody the Christ. And as we do this, we remember and reaffirm baptism in general and our baptisms in particular. And in that, we reaffirm our proclamation that we, too, are chosen, gifted, and loved by God. We claim that God delights in us and calls us to follow Jesus in his prophetic ways of reconciliation, peace, and society-transforming justice.

I thank God for all who are serving, who have served, and who, in the future, will serve as elders of Jonesborough Presbyterian Church. Your commitment to God, and your love of the people of this congregation reflect God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. And your willingness to serve demonstrates your trust in Jesus, the Christ, the one who has come. The one who is here. Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, you see, all of that has come and gone. Our wait is over.

Now we receive our prophetic call: As God’s beloved community, we, together, follow and serve God’s incarnate, Creation-restoring Christ.

*Very short sermon because of several other things going on during this particular worship service. To those who didn’t get their full nap, I apologize. 😉

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