Sunday, February 19, 2017

Your Father in Heaven Who is Perfect

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, [7] let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
 Love Your Enemies
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, [8] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:38-48 (ESV)
“You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” Jesus started this section saying that our righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees and scribes.  Then he talked about what that would look like. It would mean to be like Jesus who in his love for you fulfills the law. It would mean to turn you other cheek when someone strikes you. It would mean to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, as when Jesus cries out from the cross and says “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” It was his prayer for you that in his forgiveness you would be made perfect.
“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It’s present tense. People think that Jesus is giving them a goal to work towards here. No, he is giving a command that is beyond your ability to fulfil. It’s present tense. Right now you must be perfect. And that’s the thing. If you aren’t perfect you are not going to become perfect.
It echoes our Old Testament lesson about being holy as your Father in heaven is holy. There God speaks about what it means that God is holy, how God’s holiness is shown in this world, and therefore how that holiness is reflected in the life of those he has made holy. In Leviticus he talks about the sojourner and leaving food in the field for them to eat. Caring for those less fortunate than you. It most often did not happen. A person can hear it here in the words of Jesus. You have heard it said, “Love your neighbor but hate your enemies.”
Yes, they had heard this said. They had never heard that read, not from scripture. It was the reaction that we men have. We hear God tell us to love our neighbor and we think we are doing pretty good when we do love our neighbor. But we are like my confirmands who think this extends as far as the front steps on the house across the street where your neighbor lives.
People tell me love comes naturally. Jesus talks about this love. We love those who love us. We greet our brothers in the market place. Who doesn’t do that? Sure, there is a shadow of love there, but it isn’t the love of God who causes the sun to shine on the just and the unjust, who makes it to rain on the evil and the good. Well, really he just causes the sun to shine, and rain to fall on the unrighteous. From his perspective there is not much difference between any of us, we are all imperfect. None of us reflect the holiness of God. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God.
And Yet, God still loves you. Not because you are perfect, not because you are making so much progress in becoming perfect. No God loves you for the same reason he loves your neighbor, for the same reason he causes the sun to shine on your enemy. Not because they are perfect, or better than you, or any other such thing. No, God loves you, and God loves them for one reason and one reason only. He loves you because he is perfect, because he is holy.
So it is that his holiness is reflected not in righteous anger striking out against sin. It does that. God holiness has little tolerance for sin, it is burned in his presence. But that is because sin kills those he loves. Sin kills you. Sin is hate. Hate is sin. This is true even of the hate you have for your enemies those who persecute you. But God’s holiness is shown in love. So it is that while you were still enemies of God, he died for you, to justify the ungodly, that is he died for those who were not perfect, who were not holy, that you would be given life, love and forgiveness in his perfect son who prayed for you from the cross, saying “forgive them Father for they know not what they do.”

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Do not Swear an Oath

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (Matthew 5:33-37 (ESV)
“But I say to you.” Jesus peppers this portion of the Sermon on the Mount with this seemingly innocuous phrase, “But I say to you.” It’s not as innocent as it seems. Jesus is making a claim here. He’s commenting on the Law of Moses given by God himself. Only one greater than Moses, that is, only God himself has the right to take the Law of Moses and make it more intense. His listeners would have understood this if we don’t. God’s law, we aren’t to add or subtract. It’s his law, it is perfect. Don’t touch it, it will kill you if you do. But touch it? That’s what we do. We take complete liberty with it in our efforts to come out smelling like roses. Only God has the right to do with his law what we do, and here he comes not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.
“But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.”
How often do we do that? I swear to Jerusalem! Ok, that isn’t one of the oaths a person hears all that often. We are more likely to say “I swear to God,” or perhaps, “I swear on my mother’s grave.” And we don’t really think much of it. Perhaps we make a pinky promise. Jews would never swear to God. And if they did they wouldn’t take it near as lightly as people do today. We ascribe more weight to the bodily functions of the bed and bathroom than we do to the name of the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth. It’s a societal neurosis that we consider those things to be more sacred, so sacred that their true Saxon names can’t be used in company of the polite.  
The Jews of Jesus’ day used the word Lord in the place of the name of God given to Moses through the burning bush. That ground was sacred, holy ground, Moses had to remove his sandals before he approached. It was sacred because God was there, and he was in the presence of God. That which God touches is made sacred by his touch, and cleansed by his fire.
But now Jesus seems to go even further than the Law of Moses. Don’t swear by anything that is sacred, not even your own head for it too is sacred and you have no control over it.  
Jesus seems to go even further, but what he really does is point up the problem for us. Here the laws upon which Jesus works are the civil codes of Israel. These laws were about limiting and controlling evil within society. Jesus isn’t recommending laws for society. But he is showing us that knowing right from wrong isn’t enough. He is showing that following the law as it is prescribed for society is all well and good if you want to stay out of jail, but really what is wrong with your heart that the law needs to be there in the first place?
I’m often told that we are born with love, but we have to learn to hate. It is said in different ways by this world that has a vastly different view of our hearts than that of Jesus who believes all forms of evil come out of the heart. That the evil is naturally there, and at its root is selfishness. I don’t know my experience has been one completely different. It’s not an easy thing to admit. But when I compare my life to the life of love that Christ lived I see a fundamental difference between the love with which he died on the cross for the sins of the world, and sacrificed his life even for those who hated and hate him, and the love for which I might buy roses for Laura on Valentine’s Day, or even the love with which I try to improve the lot of people in my community. Not that there is anything wrong with those sorts of things. But I often find that whatever love I may have for my fellow man it is often rather deficient when it comes to practice. I know I shouldn’t be angry, but I find myself quashing anger in my heart and working overtime to do so when things aren’t going my way.  Sound familiar? I find myself thinking if not calling people outright things much worse than fool, it would have been raka in the Aramaic and meant Godless, because only the fool says in his hear there is no God.
And yet not even the atheist is godless. Oh they may not care to recognize God, but they have a God. Their God is your God. Their God is the God who says do not swear by anything sacred whether Jerusalem or your head. Yes, that’s right, your head is sacred, your head is holy, So God considers it and so it is. It is sacred because when you, like the atheist were still enemies of God, still loveless, still selfish and only loving where your own best was concerned, well then this God showed selfless love and died for you, and died for the whole world that no one would be raka, no one a fool but that all would be sanctified by his blood, and no one godless. And in that God let his yes be yes and his no be no, and the oath he swore to Abraham was fulfilled entirely. 

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

That's How He'll Always Be


 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:13-20 (ESV)
“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven.”
Thankfully for you, your righteousness is Christ’s righteousness. His righteousness exceeds, it far surpasses the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees. His righteousness does not relax the commandments not does it teach anyone to do the same. Rather his righteousness fulfills the law and the prophets as only the love of God can do. His righteousness fulfills the law with his atoning death for our sins on the cross. It is this love he shares, it is this righteousness he gives in the forgiveness of sins that imparts its saltiness to us. Indeed it is this love that salts us for sacrifice and makes our entire lives a pleasing aroma to the Father in heaven. Lives that are no longer lived for us, but for him because as Christians we live everyday knowing that to live is Christ and to die is gain. So it is that in Christ you are the salt of the earth, and the kingdom of heaven permeates everything you do.
“Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees.” It perhaps jars our ears a bit to hear this. The scribes and the Pharisees were such bitter enemies of Jesus Christ it is hard for us to imagine them as righteous, or to see them as so many did in the first century. They were men zealous for the law, careful to make sure that they upheld the law. They fell into every trap known to man, but traps that still catch so many who try to make their righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. They prayed constantly, three times a day at a minimum. They fasted every week. They kept the Sabbath in strict fashion. They never touched anything unclean. They never ate a thing that wasn’t kosher. When Jesus said their righteousness had to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees the poor farming and fishing folk in hearing must have died inside. Oh, they knew the faults of the Pharisees better than anyone. But they also knew their accomplishments.
Most of the people in hearing would have been those that quietly gave up on the pursuit of righteousness and felt they had all they could do to try put food on the table and raise their children to be passably decent human beings and not get sideways of the law, end up crucified outside of town. They were the kind of people described in Tim McGraw’s song “How I’ll always be,” Talking about taking the backseat on Sunday morning after a Saturday having a couple beers with his friends.  The kind of people we colloquially call the salt of the earth. It’s just a nice thing to say about someone. They struggled with their temper, When Jesus launches into the rest of the sermon and talks about hating one’s brother, lusting after their neighbor’s wife, not making oaths and loving your enemies. Then they began to understand how far they fell short of the mark, and perhaps even how far short of the mark the Pharisees and Scribes fell short.
The biggest problem is love. How many of us find that lacking? How many of us wonder that if perhaps we had just had a little more we wouldn’t have an ex to cut us to the core? How often do we wish we could actually love our enemies and perhaps even imagine we do as we pray for the conversion of Afghanistan but feel as if our heart has been stabbed with an icicle when that testy customer comes through the door, or the coworker we can’t stand decides to nuke pink salmon in the lunchroom again? Perhaps that Pharisee that is always trying to give you unwanted advice for how to live your life?
See this was the problem of Scribes and Pharisees. I mean it’s a little problematic to throw up your hands and say “that’s how I’ll always be” even if it is more or less true. Though always is a long time, and the Holy Spirit is on your side. It’s even more problematic to go the route of the Pharisees, to think that perhaps you can cut here, fudge there and emphasize this and that. Don’t erase the jot and tittle, just move them around a bit to suit yourself and think you have accomplished God’s law. Then pass by on the other side when life has bludgeoned your neighbor and left him crying for water on the side of the road.
Then perhaps we realize how lucky we are to have Christ whose righteousness far exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. He didn’t come to abolish the law and the prophets. He didn’t remove a jot or a tittle from the Old Testament, but he fulfilled it all in love. In love he came and died for you who were enemies of God. In love he saved you from the law whose jot and tittles were enough to kill and shut you out of the kingdom of God like so many foolish virgins pounding at the door. And even now it is with this love he salts you in baptism. It is with this love he never tires of sharing the forgiveness of sins because that is how he’ll always be. And with that love he lives for you and in you and through you in everything you do, the salt of the earth just trying to get by.

Now the Peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen  

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom

12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
 16 the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.”
 17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. 23 And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
Matthew 4:12-25 (ESV)
And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.
What Matthew is doing here in this last little bit of Matthew chapter four is summarizing all that is about to follow. It’s a rather common thing to do in storytelling. What will follow in this gospel are records of how Jesus proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom, say for instance in the Sermon on the Mount that follows immediately in chapter five, and stories of how he healed various sick and possessed people, like the leper or the centurions servant in chapter 8. The gospel of the kingdom and the healing of the sick went together.  It was for these reasons he came and it was for these reason that he chose disciples to follow and learn from him, so that through them he could continue to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom through his church.

The gospel of the kingdom, It translates the good news of the kingdom. And the good news of the kingdom was the news that the kingdom was at hand. It was joyous news. People had waited for this kingdom to come and now it was here, but where? The people couldn’t quite see it, even though it was right in front of their eyes. They often missed it, even as we often miss it. For sure in manifested itself in the healing of the sick, the lame the possessed and the insane. But somehow that wasn’t quite what they were expecting of the kingdom. So no matter how nice they might have thought it was to have their loved one’s healed they still wanted to see the kingdom.
The kingdom was embodied, the kingdom is embodied in her king, Jesus Christ our Lord. His kingdom is found wherever he is found. Where he is found he reigns, and where he reigns his subjects live in freedom from sin death and the devil, because he does not reign through the law but in love that fulfills the law, and in the forgiveness of sins the gospel itself.
He reigns in love. He doesn’t care to cajole, harangue or threaten his subjects. He knows who they are. He knows their infirmities, and he knows their weakness. He knows the only cure is the forgiveness of sins, and so his love for us leads him to the cross that our sins can be forgiven and we can receive his love, and live in his love that living in his love we would love him our king and love those whom he loves those for whom he died.
And this has a healing effect. This is true throughout the history of the church that has always had a special relation with those who cure and heal the sick. It is not coincidence that Luke, the evangelist and disciple of Paul was a physician. That the church is responsible for the development of hospitals and universities where the medial arts have continued to be studied and advanced.
No, it’s not a mere hope for the glories to come but a manifestation of his love in this world, in this world where Jesus Christ came to show his love in his death and bring hope with his resurrection. It’s this love of Jesus that creates his church, this love of Jesus overcomes our weakness and washes it away in Holy Baptism. It is this love he shares with you when he gives you his body and his blood in the bread and the wine for the forgiveness of sins.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Lamb of God who Takes Away the Sin of the World

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. [7] 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus [8] was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter [9]). (John 1:29-42 (ESV)
“The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this and they followed Jesus.”
It’s always a peculiar thing to me that after all John has to say concerning Jesus that John ever has any disciples left to take care of him in prison or go as Jesus if he is the one they should be waiting for or should they look for another. When Jesus comes, John’s purpose in life is all washed up. He was to prepare the way of the Lord. The Lord is now here. Here is the one who ranks before him because he was before him. John hints at the divinity of Jesus, his preexistence as the Son of God begotten from all eternity before he was born of the Virgin Mary. John points at his death and sacrificial nature of Christ’s existence by calling him the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.  Finally, this will be the hint that gets two of his disciples to break rank and follow Jesus. “Behold, the Lamb of God.”
Agnus Dei is how you say that in Latin, the Lamb of God. It doesn’t point to a glorious end. For first century Jews concerned with scripture, it would bring to mind a couple images. It would bring to mind the suffering servant of Isaiah of whom it was said that he would be silent like a lamb brought to slaughter, and that he would bear the sins of many. It would bring to mind the Passover lamb that saved the Israelites from the angel of death in Egypt. It would be a graphic memory for all of them who had gone to the temple year after year in Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. They would bring their choicest of lambs to the temple in long lines, Father and son, perhaps with the one lamb the family had, raised for this purpose only, almost like a pet kept in the backyard. One of those bummer lambs you see in the classifieds. Not sure how they would have bottle fed a lamb in first century Palestine, but I’m sure someone figured it out. There would be many of them on the temple mount. One by one pulled down to the pavement, and without hardly a bleat the throat slit and the blood collected, tossed on the altar, and running red through the gutters cut into the stone for that purpose. The orchards below the temple always had the choicest of fruit. I don’t know if you have ever seen a lamb slaughtered, but it is rather uncanny how little a fight, how peaceful the whole thing goes off. It would have been the image brought to mind for the disciples of John. The image that would find fruition on the cross, when before the Sanhedrin, before Pilate, before Herod he would make no protest.
Perhaps that is why the rest keep their distance, and those that follow, follow apprehensively.  “Behold the Lam of God, and the two disciples that heard him say this followed Jesus.” But it would be Jesus who would turn and tell them to come. It would be Jesus that would choose them, and show him where he stayed. “Come and you will see.” He says.
What choice do we have? “Come and you will see.” It’s really the point of this text selection for this Sunday, this second Sunday in Epiphany. The season that emphasizes the earthly ministry of Jesus, before he turns towards Jerusalem to play the part of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world during Lent. Come and see. Come and you will have your own Epiphany. Or as it says elsewhere, Seek the Lord while he may be found. It is what the disciples are doing. What are you seeking? The Lord! The one who ranks before John because he was before John, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  But the disciples got to follow, watch from a distance until Jesus told them to come.
Jesus tells you to come. It was a journey that began with your baptism. There Jesus made you his disciple. There he discipled you, as his own disciples followed through on the great commission. “Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe all I have commanded you.” And so they his disciples, the church, made you a disciple. But they were the words of Jesus that said come and you will see. Where do we go? We go where Jesus promises to be, we go to where Jesus stays. This is not a mystery.
Where two or three are gathered in my name, he says. And so we begin the service with his name, and are gathered in it, and here he is for us and with us, and here he stays. And then it is no longer we who come to him, but he who comes to us. In his word, all of scripture that testify to Him alone. Then it is he who comes to us in the bread and the wine, the body and blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, our paschal lamb that must be eaten. It’s a wonderful thing. Because then he follows us home, to be with us day in and day out around the breakfast table before school and work in family devotions, at lunch when we break bread with coworkers and classmates and console them in hardships with the words of Christ, that perhaps they too like these disciples of John would be inspired to follow Jesus to where he stays. Then he follows us and stays with us in all we do, dwells within our hearts and permeates all we touch. And then the Lamb of God who Takes away the sins of the world blesses all that we do, forgives all that we fail, and sanctifies all that we touch, whether at work or at play, at home or away.

Now the peace of God that Surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Sunday, January 8, 2017

I Have Need to Be Baptized by You

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, [2] and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, [3] with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17 (ESV)
“I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
Then Jesus comes. That’s how Matthew puts it in the Greek. Perhaps, it doesn’t sound right in English because the rest of the story is in the past tense. But Matthew wants to punctuate a new chapter by slapping the grammarian across the face. Then Jesus comes. John is baptizing on the river.  The people are asking him what it is he is doing. He just got done telling them that his baptism isn’t the one they really need. His is water for repentance. When the Messiah comes, he will baptize you with fire and the Holy Spirit. Then Jesus comes.
Then Jesus comes to be baptized by John with his baptism of water for repentance.  When John says he baptizes with water, he is emphasizing that it is only water, and that it was only repentance. It was based in the law. John was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He was strict with the law, neither adding to it, nor taking away from it. He was calling people to repentance. He was showing them their failure to live up to the standards of the law. Showing them their need for this one who would come to baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit.  And he, who Jesus would says was the greatest among men born of a woman, would know his own need of this baptism.
Today, you have a lot of people who don’t think they need it. I think most of this stems from a confusion of John’s baptism and the baptism of Jesus, but also from a confusion regarding the law and the nature of grace. Somehow, people think they can be quite good enough without baptism, and don’t need baptism to show their faithfulness to God. There are other people who see baptism as more or less a ceremony of dedication in which they pledge to live a righteous life according to God’s law. Of those who see baptism in this manner, the smart ones don’t get baptized. If you are going to go that route, you will have to live a life that would perhaps resemble John the Baptist’s, and even he failed. Even he recognized his need to be baptized by Jesus. Yet, Jesus who came eating and drinking, managed to live the better life, the perfect life that John couldn’t live by avoiding the pitfalls or worldly pleasure.
John separated himself from the world. He had disciples that followed him out there in the wastelands. They fasted, and they avoided drink as the Pharisees point out to the disciples of Christ who did neither. And yet he knew he needed to be baptized by Christ. He knew he wasn’t perfect, he wasn’t righteous, that we wasn’t even worthy enough to wash the feet of Jesus much less baptize him. It really shows the futility of sanctification by way of the law.  People think they can do it. That they can make themselves holy by following the law. And then they fail. So they add to it.
Now, John had a special commission from God to be who he was, to be as it were a Nazarene even from birth. That is to live his life in accordance with the Nazarite vows of the Old Testament, that any Jewish person could take upon themselves from time to time in devotion to God. Paul even did it as a Christian. These were the vows he was completing when he was arrested in the Temple in Jerusalem. But some men would be set aside for this from birth. Men like Samson in the book of Judges. To this day, there is warrant for this sort of thing in the Christian life too. Some Christians do things similar to this at lent. Or at other times in their life, to exercise discipline in their lives perhaps, to help turn their attention to things above, to bring added focus to prayer and daily devotion. Perhaps as training their bodies to withstand temptations when they come so  they do not fall in the midst of persecution, or let their own greed and lust get in the way of showing love to their neighbor in the name of Christ.
But for the most part to live a life in the manner of John would be sinful in and of itself without the commission from God. To take it upon yourself to live a life that would spurn the earthly gifts of God as evil. I mean this is one of the reasons I just love the book of Ecclesiastes. There the wisest of men, King Solomon, at the end of his life in which he pursued the meaning of life which he finds to be vanity outside faith in God, lays out what God has given man to enjoy in this world: the wife of your youth. It’s a strange phrase, but in it I think he shows that joy that comes with a mature relationship that has weathered the storms of life and raised children together, as well as the joys of the youthful relationship when Meatloaf considers you doubly blessed.  Then he says wine which God has given you to cheer your heart. He counsels against drunkenness and the abuse of this gift easily abused. But nevertheless, would consider neglect to also be abuse. Bread, by which he means food. It’s not something that is supposed to merely nourish you, but it too is supposed to bring joy to your heart. Something that you share with those you love, and allow to nourish your soul. Finally, there is the work of your hands. Work isn’t supposed to be drudgery. In this sinful world it often is. It is not for nothing that God condemns Adam to eat by the sweat of his brow. Yet, even in the drudgery of modern day jobs, God gives us a glimpse of the heavenly paradise to come when we take pride in our work, and those moments where we find joy. But it’s not just the job that is meant here. It’s perhaps hard to find any satisfaction working the cubicle farm, where the florescent light is a poor substitute for sun. But here is also meant the joy that comes along with working a garden in the back yard, or tinkering with cars, welding, knitting or any other number of hobbies. All this to say, God does not intend for your life to be one living in the wastelands of Palestine eating locusts and wild honey. Nor, does he consider anyone holier because they avoid drinking. Love anyone more because they abstain from marriage and sex. These are temptations sinful temptations, actually. Perhaps John the Baptist knew this most. It’s funny, he never counsels anyone to live the way he lived. He tells the soldiers to be content with their pay. Tells the tax collectors not to over tax. Tells the people to share in their abundance. But he never counsels a life divorced from the world living like hermits. He condemns King Herod for taking his brother’s wife, but doesn’t have anything to say about his life of luxury.
John knows what the answer to his sin is. It is not a more strict life, but being baptized by Christ. And then Christ comes.  But Christ demands to be baptized by John to fulfill all righteousness. “Let it be so now” he says. It came from heaven, John’s baptism. It did not bring with it the Holy Spirit promised in Ezekiel 36. It did not bring with it the forgiveness of sins. Those who were baptized by John would later have to be baptized with Christian baptism as is made clear in the 19th chapter of Acts. But it was from heaven, as is the law of God. And along comes Christ. He has no sin to repent of. But he submits to the baptism of repentance. He repents not for his own sins, but for your sins. In bowing to repentance with you, in bowing to repentance with all those who submitted to John’s baptism of repentance, he accepted your repentance as his own. And with that repentance, he paid the price for your sin with a baptism of his own, the baptism that we are baptized into, the baptism of his death and resurrection. In this way Jesus fulfilled all righteousness for you. That when his baptism of death and resurrection were done, we who are baptized would be buried with him into his death that just as he is risen from the dead we too might walk in the newness of life.  This is the baptism in which we live a holy life. It’s a life not made holy by works of the law, but by the life Christ lived in accordance to the law out of love for us, that in his love the holiness of Christ might permeate our life in love.  His love, the life he laid down for you his friends, the death you were buried into, would permeate your life with newness. And it is this love with which he washes your feet, his death that we proclaim until he comes, when he washes away our sins anew in his body and blood given for you.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.