Lectionary texts for January 13, 2008, the Baptism of Our Lord
2008-01-05 by Paul Wilson
My name is Paul Scott Wilson and I am Professor of Homiletics at Emmanuel College in the University of Toronto. I am an ordained minister in the United Church of Canada and have written several books, most recently, The Practice of Preaching, Revised Edition (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007). I have been asked to reflect here on one or more of the assigned texts for Sunday, namely, Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17. I will focus on Matthew.
I do not know how many times I have preached the gospel text from Matthew and heard it preached by students in class. After all of these encounters I am a little suspicious of how I and other preachers have sometimes handled this text in the past. What could be simpler—it is just a few verses? The baptism of Jesus is one of the traditional texts read in Epiphany that give witness to the manifestation of God in Christ, two others being the manifestation to the Gentiles symbolized by the Magi, and Jesus’ first miracle at Cana.
In our text, John protests that he needs to be baptized by Jesus, words that happily serve Matthew’s purpose to correct those who still follow John the Baptist. John’s purpose was fulfilled with this baptism that is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Any initial surprise that Jesus comes to John at the Jordan, all the way from Galilee, and that he even gets baptized is quickly dismissed by Jesus’ words, “Let it be so for now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” The rich imagery draws our attention to focus on his immersion in the waters of the Jordan, the Holy Spirit descending like a dove, and the voice of God identifying Jesus as “my Son, the Beloved.” Jesus does not become God’s Son in this moment; though in Matthew he is the only one to see the dove, his identity from the beginning is simply confirmed in John’s baptism.
It is easy to let the imagery distract us into free association that may not help here: water imagery suggests summer holidays at the beach house of Aunt Marla and Uncle Pete; baptism with water recalls our own baptisms; we imagine a similar dove descending and God’s voice at every baptism, “This is my child, my beloved.”
Some of this may have merit for sermon development but it has little to do with the meaning of the text at hand. We often seem forced to such strategies because of how we were taught to handle Bible texts, like this one, as semi-autonomous units. We treat a text as a pericope, a portion of Scripture that may have had its own unity and independent oral tradition prior to being written down. We treat it almost as a stand-alone item, as of course we need to initially, just to translate it and discover what it says through historical-critical analysis.
Our mistake may come when we think that by treating a text in this manner, we have done what is needed for the pulpit. Jesus commissioned the church to proclaim the gospel, not specific texts in their own right. Individual texts are an essential means to this larger end. The gospel is the subject of the Gospels. It has to do with the coming of God in Jesus Christ, his earthly ministry, the cross and resurrection, his Ascension and gift of the Spirit, and the fulfillment of all God’s promises in his coming again at the end of time. In all of this Good Friday and Easter are not just part of the story, they are the reason for the story, they are key elements and relate to every text.
One might be tempted to say that our text, in mentioning Jesus’ identity, contains the gospel. It certainly relates to it. It says he is the Son of God. Yet what might this mean? What is a seeker to make of this? Nothing in the events of the text conforms to our regular experience. If we stay within the text’s boundaries, we may not discover its essential meaning. Arguably need to read it in light of the entire book, and get away from our habit of guarding the independence of texts as though we are celebrating the Fourth of July. Our task then becomes finding how this text connects with the gospel.
Jesus’ baptism is not ours nor is it technically even a type of ours, though it involves water. John says in an earlier verse that his baptism is “with water for repentance”. Even John distinguishes between his baptism and the one Jesus offers “in the Holy Spirit and fire” (3:11). John’s baptism marks repentance, and it may anticipate what Jesus offers, but there is just a turning away (metanoia), no death to the old self and living to the new. In any case, Jesus does not need this baptism. What has he to repent, as John affirms? Jesus mysteriously says that he “needs” it. Already these few verses take us searching beyond the boundaries of our text.
Sometimes when a text does not contain the gospel, we need to use it a vantage point to gaze in the direction of the cross and resurrection in order to locate the gospel. In this case, we see that the baptism that begins his earthly ministry is inseparable from the cross that ends it. They are two bookends of the same event. He does not need repentance in himself for anything he has done. His repentance in baptism, like his death, is on behalf of the world; the world does need to repent and it does need a Savior. Jesus’ action in both places is the fulfillment of all righteousness, in two ways: First, it is an act of obedience to God’s will. His Sonship is defined by his perfect faithfulness to God’s will, hence the dove. Second, through his baptism, ministry and death, God’s reconciling purposes for the world are accomplished. Christ exchanges his innocence and righteousness for our sin and brokenness.
In moving beyond the boundaries of our text we bring the gospel into focus in and through the text. What is the good news? He begins his ministry as he will end it, for us. We are the beneficiaries. From beginning to end Christ is unwavering in his commitment to God’s will. This is another way of speaking of God’s unconditional commitment to saving us from sin, from ourselves, from death. The seal of this is the resurrection. If Christ is dead, do not believe it. But if he lives, we might cling to him as to a life preserver in a stormy sea. The One who in this text goes under the water in repentance for us and emerges to experience the Spirit, is the same One who goes under death for us in the cross and rises to give us life in the Spirit and in resurrection power. The water of our baptism is our sharing in Jesus’ death, and in faith we rise to new life in him.
In preaching this text we nonetheless can apply God’s voice to individual believers, “You are my beloved child, with whom I am well pleased.” We do this best not by staying within the text using analogy with Jesus’ baptism, rather we may do it via the other bookend, claiming what we know to be true in faith. We are God’s children and God is well pleased when we seek to be in the relationship God intends and establishes through baptism.
2008-01-04 by Dean Snyder
As usual my thinking has been all over the place until I find the message that speaks to me significantly enough for me to care about sharing it with others.
I am focusing on the magi as paradigmatic Gentiles whom Matthew is affirming and including. And Gentiles are paradigmatic of all newcomers -- those from the outside who are now included.
I am going to talk about three things magi/Gentiles/newcomers do: 1) Bring new gifts, ones that the community has sometimes been afraid of; 2) Shake up power assumptions (the magi did not seem very impressed by Herod's power); and 3) Restore a sense of joy to communities whose lives tend to become prosaic and ordinary.
Second that emotion
2008-01-03 by rick brand
I think I will take David's suggestion and look at Ephesians. Paul says that he knows the secret of the universe and that secret is that the gentiles are equal before Grace to the Jews. At least that is the way I think he sees it. (All the commentaries I have read say that.) Would Paul say that Muslims are equal to the Christians before the grace of God? Wasn't the world for Paul, them or us, Gentiles or Jews? So is it possible that Paul is saying that all people, those who lived before Jesus, those who never heard the word Jesus, and those of all creeds and religions stand before God in the grace of Jesus? Have I stretched this thing too far?
"Lectionary Homiletics" Highlights
2008-01-02 by David von Schlichten
Scroll down to read nourishing blog entries by Dan Flanagan, Larry Lange, and guest blogger Dean Snyder.
Under Share It!, at Free Samples from Lectionary Homiletics you will find Timothy B. Cargal's exegetical article.
Here are highlights of some of the articles for this week from Lectionary Homiletics.
Charles Allen wisely draws our attention to God's use of practitioners of the occult (the magi) to lead us to Christ. Indeed, God reveals the baby Jesus to such "heathens." Perhaps, then, we Christians, in our encounters with non-Christians, should be more open to them, more willing to have mutually influential dialog.
“Preaching the Lesson”
Anna Carter Florence reminds us that being wise and smart are not the same. The wise men are wise, but going to Herod for help with the search for the new king is stupid. Jesus urges us Christians to be both wise and smart. Further, we will make many stupid mistakes, but Christ transforms us to travel home by a different road.
Larry Lange, in “It Was Just a Dream,” creates a humorous and revealing portrait of the three wise men, including Fred, the youngest of the wise men, who is handy with a Blackberry. The sermon is exceptionally creative and illuminating.
Gazing at the star and squinting for Sunday's sermon, I am
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Only a partial Epiphany
2008-01-02 by Dan L. Flanagan
I have in the past dealt with the Matthew 2: 1-12 passage from the perspective of the Magi being "seekers," and applying their spiritual search to the spiritual "seekers" of our contemporary culture. I continue to see this passage from the perspective of spiritual seeking; however, this week I am focusing on Matthew as an Epiphany text that only begins our journey toward what is outlined to Abraham in Genesis 22:18 -- that he by his offspring, "shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves."
If Christianity claims Christ to be the fulfillment of that blessing to all nations, Matthew's story (Epiphany) is only a beginning to the fulfillment of God's revelation to Abram. The Magi (who study the stars) follow a mysterious star. They encounter the Jewish lore of a Messiah to be born and associate this celestial mystery with the expected Messiah. Their encounter with the baby Jesus in Bethlehem brings them great joy for their "seeking" has been fulfilled....but only partially. One cannot demonstrate a faith commitment by the Magi from Matthew, only an offer of gifts to a child they hoped would bring fulfillment. Their return trip illustrates the place of Matthew's Epiphany in the unfolding gospel....as the Magi (directed by a dream) avoid Herod and return a different route instead of carrying the good news to someone who clearly needs it. Herod (and the rest of Jerusalem whom Matthew says reacted out of fear) represents the obstacles along the path of our spiritual journey.
Matthew's Epiphany is similar to Wesley's class structure in that the world is now aware of God's incarnation. The fulfillment of God's blessing to "all the nations" has begun, but is far from complete. Each step of our journey to encounter the faces of "fear," we may be able to advance in Wesley's class structure until one day all the nations have found blessing in Christ.
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