They grow up so fast, don’t they?
It seems he was born only two weeks ago. Mary and Joseph, the innkeeper and his family, some sheep and shepherds, and a less-than-perfect first Christmas. But they made it through those first few years, the terrible twos and all that. It seemed like a blur, running on autopilot a lot of the time, but they made it through.
And then, it could have just as easily been Friday that the Magi visited Jesus and his parents in their home, having travelled —field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star. And on the heels of their visit, a harrowing escape to Egypt, Herod turning the whole country upside down in a fear-inducing killing spree, full on infanticide to root out any potential threats to his power.
Today we find ourselves on the banks of the Jordan, Jesus a grown man, preparing to be baptized by John. In the blink of an eye, it seems, he’s gone from helpless infant, to toddler, to tween making questionable choices, a little defiant, a little sweet, and now—can you believe it—he’s all grown up. He comes down to the water for a mikveh, a ritual of purification, a ritual of reconnecting with God and creation, laying down his burdens by the riverside, joining John’s movement, that Jewish peacenik movement for justice, peace, and so much more.
They grow up so fast, and before you know it, they’ve gone through school, moved out, and whatever guidance you’ve given them, whatever instruction you’ve offered along the way, whatever way of life you’ve modeled for them—well it’s up to them now.
And heaven help us, but it’s hard to tell exactly how they’ll turn out. There are clues, of course. There are clues and indications along the way of how they’ll turn out. But that vision of the future doesn’t always come with the rush of amniotic fluid, the pushing, the baby’s first cry, and the indescribable feeling of skin on skin. It seems to me, anyway, that who they are, who they are becoming appears in moments and glimpses of life in progress. But from the very first, they—like you and me—are beloved.
Earlier this week, my kids and I were building a bobsled track in the backyard. We live on a pretty steep embankment, and over the years, we’ve been working to perfect a snaking sled run that weaves down the hill, through the trees. In years past, there was a spicy turn that sent my father in law flying. He doesn’t ask to come anymore.
At the top of the hill, the kids jostle over who should be the next to go. Who’ll be the next to try the run, to take the plunge.
Which doesn’t have quite the spiritual weight of Jesus and John on the banks of the Jordan, but perhaps you get what I mean. Going back and forth figuring out who should baptize whom. Who should go first. Who should take the plunge.
The conversation between my kids never pulls out the word righteousness, or the corresponding word justice, both ways of translating the Greek word dikaiosynē.
With the kids, there is usually some question about what would be fair. Jesus comes to be baptized by John as a way of fulfilling all righteousness. All Justice.
This snapshot in time, of Jesus and John, on the banks of the Jordan, surrounded by others is vivid for me, partly because of what it is, and partly because of what it represents. Jesus is committing his life—as many others before him had—to living in a particular way. A way of resistance against the dominating powers. A way of resistance against the powers of death and disconnection from the land and those around them.
A way of life, rooted in God’s dream for the world, a dream and a vision and a reality of wholeness. Of justice and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
A way of resistance against the spiritual and political powers at play that were leading the people to a sense of disconnect from God, the land, and one another. Jesus comes to lead us in resistance against the forces of consumptive empire. The forces that promise thriving for some, but lead to death and destruction for so many.
And these scourges have evolved in our modern age: Individualism. Consumerism. Greed. Doing whatever it takes to get ahead. The impulse to prove our worth by climbing to the top of the heap. But that is not the way of God, is it?
Today we find Jesus on the banks of the Jordan with cousin John saying “this isn’t right.”
We need to live in a new way. A new way that is actually a very old way, a way as old as Creation—of people living in right relationship with God, with one another, with the land.
And on the banks of the Jordan, wading deep in the flowing, cleansing water, Jesus shows us the way of resistance to the lies of the world. Because the way of Jesus isn’t ultimately the way of dominance or separation but the way of justice and reconciliation.
This is a way that leads through death before it can get to new life. Like Jesus’ baptism, the plunge the water is a death to exclusion that we might enter the life of embrace.
Jesus shows us in this moment, is constantly inviting us to live lives seeking the welfare of our neighbours. To do so can often mean pushing back against those forces—spiritual and political, individual and societal—that would cause harm. To resist evil. Evil desires. Evil systems. Those things that lead to loss of life. Loss of agency. Loss of health. Loss of connection on our communities and in the wider world.
On Friday, our Bishop released a video and tomorrow she will be releasing a report describing the state of our diocesan structures—the ways in which we organize and govern ourselves—as being palliative. Which is to say, that the way in which the Diocese is organized is no longer serving life. It is no longer serving the mission of the church in the ways it once did. In the ways it ought.
We can see and feel these things throughout the diocese, the ways in which the diocese organizes around discipleship and leadership and finances and governance and so on.
We can see the ways in which we spend so much time and energy dealing with maintaining property, that we have little energy left to sit and listen deeply for the word of God in prayer, and then to follow, together, where the Spirit is leading us. But what should come first?
And so the Bishop has asked us to come together as a diocese, in prayer, and in a series of meetings, to listen, to discern, and to find our way forward. She has called us together that we might say out loud the ways in which we have been working. The ways in which we have operated and governed ourselves are actually leading to clergy burnout. They’re leading to the burnout of lay people bearing more and more of the burden. The ways in which we have organized ourselves have become a burden, and not a joy. There is an injustice at play. And we need to address this.
Because we can tell the kingdom of God is near when new life comes on the other side of death.
Our question now, as always, is this: How might we claim and reclaim the joy of the gospel? How might we be emboldened in the joy of connection with God, with Creation, with one another? How might we discern which ways of being Christian community together are leading more deeply towards our life in Christ?
And how might we discern which ways of being, which practices, are keeping us from the freedom and joy we ought to be experiencing in Christ?
Ultimately, how might we—Christ’s very body—find ourselves in the river, Holy Dove hovering above, hear and believe God’s voice from the heavens saying to you, saying to me, saying to all of us, “you are my beloved, with you I am well pleased?”
And out of that sense of God’s love for us and the whole of Creation.
Out of our astonished hearts, hearts that have heard and have begun to embrace the reality that we need do nothing to earn God’s favour.
Out of our astonished hearts, we extend that same bounty to one another, as we embody such a world here—at St. Stephen’s. In New Denver and Silverton and Rosebery and beyond.
We extend that same bountiful love to God’s beloved in all times and places. And how do we do this? We commit ourselves to prayer with and for one another.
We bear each other’s burdens.
We offer healing and community.
We reach out our hands and our hearts to a world in pain.
We lift our voices in praise and adoration.
And we proclaim a world that cannot be purchased because it’s already been given. It’s on offer today, for you, for me, for all of us. All we need to do is say yes. All we need to do is open ourselves to the gift.
This year, thinking through what our diocese is going through, what our parish, what this congregation is contending with, I wonder how we might respond to the reality of God’s love. To turn from the ways that lead to injustice and disconnection, towards the ways Jesus is pointing us—ways that promote embrace, that promote righteousness, justice, and life?
What actions might you take as an individual? What actions might we take as a community? To listen deeply and expectantly for God to speak. For God to show up, to transform our lives, and the life of our neighbourhoods, the lives of our neighbours.
Here with Jesus, wading in the water. Plunging beneath the surface. Dying to ways that lead to death. Rising to ways that lead to life. How might we live differently?
How might we live so that others might live? How might we live that we, our friends, our neighbours, are invited into the abundant love and life of the one we call Saviour, Lord, Companion, and Friend?