It’s time to write some New Years’ resolutions. (Get out a pen.) Where do I start? How about some exercise? I make that resolution every year. (Write down “Exercise four times a week.”) That should do it. I think it is good to start with the body, if we can’t tend the body, how will we ever tend the soul? The body is the Temple, and without being well, I can’t get other stuff done.
I have two more stand-by resolutions. Write in my daily journal. This is my primary spiritual practice. Things get clear to me, as I think and feel on paper. This is the one thing I still do with pen and ink in the digital age. And resolution number three is always read 24 books a year. 2 books a month seems reasonable, and necessary, if I am going to stay fresh in theology and culture. So, I do those three; exercise, writing and reading; every year. I set lots of other goals throughout the year, but those are my self-maintenance resolutions. Now you are probably wondering if I achieve these resolutions. No I do not. However, I think I do more good things for my body and soul by making resolutions than I would without doing them. Good resolutions help make good habits.
But here is what I ask myself every year. Are good habits enough? Even if I managed to generate 100 percent follow through this year, what would really change? Paul said things like, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Will my heart be enlarged with love? Will I be any bolder? Will I be transformed into something or someone who is recognizably Christian? Or am I just plugging away, a little healthier, less stressed, and better informed, but not transformed?
Maybe I need another resolution. What is a resolution anyway? A solution. A re-solution. Solving again. Our yearly solving the same thing over again? Ugh! Maybe resolutions aren’t what I’m I need; I’m looking for something more like a revolution. I need a New Years’ Revolution! Whoever has been in charge of my life, throw that bum out, and let a newcomer take charge, someone not so beholden to all my special interests. That is the guy I want in charge-a revolutionary! Let me look that up-“Revolutionary, adjective, Marked by or resulting in radical change.” Do revolutionaries look up words? I don’t think so, they give words meaning, make they up if necessary, they are not bound by grammar or syntax.
Reflecting on the value of resolutions is a doorway for me to enter this story about the Jesus’s baptism. If Jesus were a 21st century figure, we would know much more about his decision to be baptized. We would have his Twitter account tweets leading up to the event; “On my way 2 C @RealJBaptist.” We would have the pre-baptism selfie on Facebook, the video feed from Periscope, and an e-book memoir with at least 200 pages explaining his thoughts and feelings leading up to this baptism, with the Vanity Fair follow up piece, where we could ask all our questions.
I would love to interview Jesus. “Today we have Jesus of Nazareth, who has burst on the scene with his new book, “The Kingdom of Heaven is Among You.” Jesus, we don’t know much about you, how you were educated, what you have done prior to the book, tell us more about what brought you to write this book. Who has been a major influence on your life? We have heard some interesting stories about your birth, what is the real story? Some people say your book is too political for church, and others say you are the messiah, would you like to make an announcement here on my show today?
Instead we have just a few verses about the beginning of Jesus’s ministry in Matthew 3-4, less information than I will give in this sermon. There are things inquiring minds never get to know. We don’t know if Jesus was conscious of God’s call on his life, if Mary and Joseph ever sat down and had the talk with him about his birth, or any of his thinking about -why now, why John, why baptism? There is a great mysterious void.
Here is Matthew’s point of view, who is writing two generations later, sharing what is emerging as a theology about Jesus. Everything leading up to today’s reading is telling us who Jesus is. His family tree puts him in the noble lineage of David. God’s spirit is upon his very conception in his mother’s womb. His life will fulfill prophecy of a great leader who will raise Israel from despair. His life also parallels Moses as his family flees from the murder of first-born children, with Herod standing in for Pharaoh. This is God’s chosen one to heal and transform the world.
We the reader get to know all this about Jesus in advance. But the BIG unanswered question is-what does Jesus know about who he is? Has he been groomed for this work by the best teachers, how much time has he spent with cousin John, is he aware of all the information Matthew tells us? From Matthew’s perspective, he must be aware of a high calling at some level, for John says, “I should be baptized by you.” Here is my informed guesswork about Jesus heading into his baptism. No matter what he does know, he does not really know his future, he does not know if he is God’s anointed or delusional, if he will be cheered or laughed off, or perhaps most terrifying, what happens if it is all TRUE and people follow him and believe in his teaching? You can’t transform the world without making a few enemies, because some people are benefiting from the status quo, and don’t want anyone mucking around.
Much is at stake in this baptism. Remember John’s baptism is not a standard Jewish ritual. You become a Jew at birth and circumcision. Baptism is a rare act designed for Gentile converts. It is a symbolic re-entering of the Promised Land, crossing the Jordan after the years in the wilderness. John’s baptism aligns the receiver with a radical reform of how things are, personally and socially. It is such a huge moment that Jesus is prepared to go into the wilderness and test himself in spiritual practice, to be tempted and be ready for what lies ahead. Everything will begin to change for Jesus as he engages in this public ritual of baptism. it will set things in motion, and he must live with the consequences of his choice.
Jesus is human, and part of the human condition is that we do not know what living into the future will be. Even if you are the chosen one of God, you don’t know. Even if your mother told you wondrous stories of your birth, you do not know your future. Even if you are born in a great family and have John as your cousin and right hand man, you do not know your destiny. You must decide for yourself what to do, with fear and trembling. Even if you arise from the waters of baptism, and you see a dove fluttering down to you, and you hear the voice of God, “You are my child, and in you I am well pleased,” you still must choose how to live into that promise. No matter how closely you walk with God, even if you daily hear the still, small voice of the still speaking God, you still have to choose your life and face your fears and live fully into the journey, in ways great and small.
But as we face the great unknown, it sure helps to know that you are loved by your creator God-loved beyond measure, forgiven with grace upon grace, with wisdom of the ages ready to be poured out, so you may fully live into your bold life-calling, and face fears and challenges. In Jesus, we are all beloved by God. Whatever choices you face this day or this week, whatever fears and challenges 2017 puts before you, move forward in the love of God. Whatever we as a world face, with challenges of climate change, bigotry, and society divided and aimless, how shall we face it differently knowing the love of God? As we face into the future as a church, how will we be shaped by still speaking God, to be a joyful Christian community, making God’s love and justice real?
Let us be resolved, to live each day open to the power of God, building the beloved community, playing our part. I cannot say where this will lead you. I can only say what the spirit said to Jesus, “You are a child of God, you are loved, and God is well-pleased with your courage and your efforts. Embrace these words, and just maybe the revolution will come.