January 12, 2020 Isaiah 42:1-9, Acts 10:34-43, Matthew 3:13-17
Bill Bryson in his new Book, the Body: A Guide for Occupants, is said to bring (and I quote) “all his usual powers of poetry and precision to the warm wobble of flesh that is our enigmatic home”. Human beings are interesting and fascinating creatures and the human body is a work of art!
- You cost about $126,000 to build. To run the numbers: you are 61 per cent oxygen (valued at about $11.62) and 10 per cent hydrogen ($20.90), mostly bound up together to make water. It gets pricier when we get to carbon, which costs roughly $58,000 for the 30lbs’ worth we typically contain. Calcium, phosphorus, potassium and a smattering of rarer elements make up the rest.
- You get cancer every day. Or you would do if your natural defenses weren’t cellular stormtroopers. “Every day, it has been estimated, between one and five of your cells turns cancerous and your immune system captures and kills them.”
- Race is one millimeter deep. Courageously attending the dissection of a corpse, Bryson quotes the surgeon who pulled back a minute layer of skin and said: “That’s all that race is – a sliver of epidermis.” As we spread across the world, some people are thought to have evolved lighter skin in order to glean vitamin D from weaker sunlight. Throughout human history, people have “de-pigmented” and “re-pigmented” to suit their environment.
Biologically, skin color is just “a reaction to sunlight”, Bryson quotes the anthropologist Nina Jablonski as saying. She adds: “And yet look how many people have been enslaved or hated or lynched or deprived of fundamental rights through history because of the color of their skin.”
This is the world and the form in which Jesus the Son of God entered!
Sometimes it is good to look at things and people in a most basic way. That is when we notice that we have lots in common with other human beings, animals and creation. Everything really is somewhat interconnected, or as I tried to point out last week, our stories are connected. Yes the world is indeed interconnected.
We are interconnected biologically– as a species, homo sapiens.
We are interconnected technologically via the World Wide Web. We are interconnected economically and some say we are gradually becoming more and more culturally interconnected.
We are also connected to our past and where we came from, the connectedness with our ancestors. More than 26 million people have taken and at-home ancestry test last year.
So even as our world is shrinking, even as it becomes clear that we are all in the same global boat, even as we know that our fate and our future as humankind are interconnected, we as a species find it hard to focus on our commonalities. Instead we find it easier to focus on the differences.
Now it is true and historians agree that humankind have actually made tremendous progress in this regard. Our world, in spite of what many believe, is actually much better off now than ever before. Generally speaking, human kind is much more tolerant of differences, much more inclined to accept others, and more willing to find commonalities than ever before. However, this trend is not always linear and if one takes it for granted it may be that we lose ground. In other words, progress fluctuates somewhat, but without any doubt the arch is clear.
And it does not mean that we have arrived or that there is no room for improvement.
Some of you may ask: now where on earth is he going with this? Well today is the Baptism of our Lord. The baptism of Jesus is the beginning of the public ministry of this Jesus, who became one of us. The Gospel according to Matthew simply leaves out a huge part of the life of Jesus. In Chapter 2 we read about the evil King Herod who had all infants 2 years and under killed because he feared Jesus, who had just been born. The holy family escaped to Egypt and returned to Nazareth. And then John the Baptist appeared on the scene and he baptized the adult Jesus. And at the baptism of Jesus a voice from heaven said: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased.”
Not only does the divine voice declare the roots of Jesus, God’s Son, the beloved Son of the Divine, it also commissions and empowers Jesus for his ministry. Someone once said: “Jesus’ baptism expresses his faithfulness to accomplish God’s purposes and commission”.
What we often forget as Western Christians is the fact that Jesus was a Jew! He lived within the Jewish tradition and he understood his ministry as a continuation of the ministries of the prophets. In order for us to understand Jesus we need to understand the history of Israel. We need to understand that for ancient Israel God walked with them –in good times and bad times: when they entered the Promised Land but also when they were exiles in Babylon.
His people, when they suffered injustice in Babylon, received a promise that someone would come, a servant who would have a passion for justice. He will faithfully bring forth justice, he will not grow faint or crushed until he established justice. This promise lived on, it stayed alive to the day Jesus came to this earth. The disciples and the biblical authors and the church to this day believe that Jesus is God’s way of bringing about justice to this world. The Biblical authors agree that Jesus then is the One that connects God’s plan with human history.
The speech of Peter in Acts 10 is a very good snap shot on what God’s plan is with humankind. In a nutshell Peter summarizes the essence of the message of Jesus. God sent Jesus to the people of Israel preaching peace, he was rejected but God raised him. And then he says something that changed the world: “He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the One ordained by God. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” The biggest theological question in the book of Acts of course is: “What about the Gentiles? Do thery first have to become Jews before they are accepted by God? Do they first have to be circumcised and follow the Jewish dietary laws before God shows interest in them? For even someone like Peter at some point believed that God when God looks at the world, at humankind GOD sees two kinds of people: Jews and Gentiles. Now he realizes that God sees people and God’s love is inclusive not exclusive!
The lectionary readings today combine a few fascinating aspects about our faith and about our place in God’s plan for the world. In a sense this is like putting together our genealogy as a family of faith. What this means is that the world is not only connected by the World Wide Web and as human beings related to each other. More importantly we are connected with each other through because we are all human beings! We are family because of God’s love of all.
God has a divine plan for this world. God wants this world to be a place where everybody counts, a where justice for all reigns, where all people can live in harmony and peace. A place where the oppressed are comforted, the eyes of the blind are opened, where those prisoners in dungeons are brought to new life and where those who are in darkness will see the light.
The people of Israel had a tumultuous history, a history of ups and downs, but the one constant is that God had something in store for them that was better than what they were experiencing from the very beginning.
We too live in tumultuous and dangerous times: collectively and individually. My heart cringes when I hear or people struggling with anxieties and problems that sometimes seem too much to carry. And I know this is not what God had in mind for them. I know of people who have done things in their past and are still struggling with feelings of guilt or of the consequences of the things they did. And I know God wants to liberate them from the dungeons of fear and guilt!
God’s divine plan was to send the Son to fulfill these promises of a new beginning, of forgiveness and of justice. At his baptism God confirms that Jesus is the divine plan for our world. He is the one that would not only talk about justice and peace; he literally carried the world’s injustice on his shoulders to the end. He was the one who said: “Come to me all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” He was God’s gift to people who felt disconnected!
The Apostles were called to share the good news with the world by word and action. They were not always faithful. The history of the church shows that their and our actions often became a stumbling block for God’s plan with the world. Instead of bringing people together it separated people. Instead of bringing comfort to people who are burdened it placed more burdens on them. Instead of caring for the children, the poor and the weak, the church exploited them. Our common history as a church is tainted. And yet, for some strange reason God chose to use us as instruments to bring hope, justice and peace to our world: weak and fallible human beings like us.
It has started. The work of God started a long time ago. Our ancestors in faith have done God’s work. They did their best. We are it now. It is now up to us. At the beginning of the new year, we know that there will be many opportunities to continue God’s work. How will we do it? Do we still really believe that God is mysteriously guiding human history to its final destination? Do we really believe that we are part of God’s plan? How committed are we to work for justice and peace? These kinds of questions are not easy to ask and they are even harder to answer. However we, by our baptism are part of God’s plan for this world. The story of God’s involvement with the world has become our story too.
Our church, that is you and I have made a difference in this world already. We need to remind it each other that what we are doing counts! We need to encourage each other that it matters what we do. We need to say to each other that we are in this together. We are connected in a way that transcends race, language, geography and everything that separate people nowadays! We are connected to Isaiah, Peter and John and the other disciples. God’s plan with this world goes back a long way. By the grace of God, we are included in this divine plan. We have to continue what started many centuries ago. God called us and we have a whole New Year to respond faithfully. Amen.