Sermon for Baptism of our Lord -
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. -
It seems to be that people, in Jesus’ day and today, are always looking for a Messiah, always looking for someone to save them!
Think about the current US Presidential campaign – we long for a candidate, be it Hillary or Donald or Bernie or Ted or someone else, we long for someone who promises to make right whatever we think is wrong with this country. We long to feel like we are part of something bigger than ourselves – think of how we follow professional football teams especially at this time of year – lots of Lutherans seem to be rooting for the Packers or the Vikings this year. We just want someone or something to save us, someone or something in which to believe.
Or maybe our hope for salvation is more personal, more close to home. Maybe we just long for someone to love or even just to spend time with so that we do not feel so lonely. Perhaps all we would like is some new appreciation at our jobs so that others finally realize how important, how indispensable we really are. Perhaps we hope, even expect, to be saved by our children or grandchildren, that they grow to fulfill all of our dreams for them, which, if we are honest, may be all of our dreams for ourselves.
Filled with expectation, we all hope for a Messiah, someone to save us.
And, of course, all of our earthly messiah possibilities will and do eventually disappoint us, but we cannot help ourselves, we continue to look for, to hope for, someone to save our world, our country, our family, ourselves.
The people of Jesus’ day were no different that we are, as we read in today’s Gospel lesson from St. Luke. “The people were filled with expectation,” the text tells us, as they “questioned in their hearts” – could this John the Baptist be the long-awaited Messiah, the person to save them from the evil Roman rulers, the person to bring about God's promised kingdom here on earth. John quickly makes it clear – he, John, is not the messiah, Jesus is, but even John uses images of salvation on earth for this Messiah, one who will clear and gather and even burn.
The people of Jesus day longed for a Messiah, someone to save them from their lives under harsh Roman rule. Instead, they got Jesus, someone to save them in a much different way.
Scholar David Lose asks, with all of our own earthly longings for a savior, do we see Jesus as the Messiah?
Well, of course we think Jesus is the Messiah. If not, why would we be here in church, right? Sure. But do we expect Jesus actually to save us – not just in the eternal get-out-of-hell-free-card kind of way, but actually to save us here and now, making a tangible difference in our everyday lives? I’m not so sure. Which is kind of a shame, as it seems like the whole point of God coming to earth as Jesus, was for God to get involved in our lives, personally and directly.
In today’s text, Luke reports that “the heaven was opened” and God spoke directly to Jesus. It’s a moving and dramatic scene – Jesus emerging from the waters of baptism as the Spirit alights upon him. But I think we sometimes forget the power and symbolism of the scene the gospel writers depict, as God moves from the heavenly realm to encounter Jesus – and, through Jesus, all of us – on our own terrain. God removes, that is, all that separates us from God and meets us where we are.
This is the power of Baptism – that God has opened up the heavens, descended from on high, and come to meet us where we are and as we are… all in order that we might know that we, too, are beloved children of God and that God is well pleased also with us.
Yes, Jesus is our messiah, the one who identified with us, bearing the presence of God into our world tangibly, dying for our sins, and defeating death through his resurrection. And if we take that seriously, two things occur. First, we don’t have to find messiahs all around us. We can support our favorite political candidate or sports team, hope for a good relationship and great colleagues, knowing that we will not be saved by these things. Indeed, we will regularly be disappointed by and, truth be told, disappoint these persons. But they will not save. And that’s okay, because God in Jesus has done just that.
Second, once we realize that we don’t need another messiah, it frees us up to make a huge difference in the world and in the lives of those around us. We, after all, are those people named by God as beloved children and chosen by God to do wonderful things in the world.
Can you imagine, for a second, if everyone who supported a particular candidate decided to take responsibility for some aspect of the problems we hope our elected leaders will solve? Or if instead of waiting for that special someone to find us we went out looking to befriend those who are lonely or less fortunate? And what if we simply valued our colleagues or children or neighbors for who they are, not for what they can do for us? The world would, in very short order, be a remarkably different place.
Because Jesus came as Lord of the heavens and Son of God we don’t need any other messiahs; and because Jesus came as one of us, we are also caught up in the power of the creating and redeeming God. We are, that is, those people who do not need to save the world but have been called and equipped to make a tangible difference to that little corner of the world in which we find ourselves.
This is what it means to be Christian, to be a follower of Jesus – God has opened up the heavens, descended from on high, and come to meet us where we are and as we are… all in order that we might know that we, too, are beloved children of God and that God is well pleased also with us. God removes, that is, all that separates us from God and meets us where we are.
Jesus is our Messiah. He may not be the messiah we want, but he certainly is the messiah we need. Our task is now to live lives that show we believe this, to live lives that try to make a tangible different in our little corner of the world. God has removed all that separates us from God. God meets us where we are. God is now calling us to live lives which show we believe this.
(Thank you to the Rev. Dr. David Lose for many of the ideas written here.)
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
The Messiah We Want, The Messiah We Need
Sermon for Baptism of our Lord
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
January 9 & 10, 2016
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California