January 11, 2015
What is your favorite image of Jesus?
At Christen Mills’ ordination to the priesthood yesterday in Boston, the image of Jesus as the good shepherd kept showing up in the liturgy. The good shepherd takes care of the sheep.
This is a good image to hold in our minds, especially since our default images of God reveal a god who is aloof, far off, and who is not pleased with us most of the time.
Yet like any image “good shepherd” has its drawbacks, the chief being that it presents a Jesus who is external to us and it gives the impression that Jesus is outside those places inside of us where we really need him most. They show Jesus doing something for us, but not doing something in us, not changing our inner reality of fear, shame, guilt, and darkness.
And let’s be honest—we aren’t cute little lambs who have lost their way. We are head-strong violent creatures who are self-obsessed and fearful. Each of us has places inside that we must keep hidden and that cause us and others suffering and grief.
That’s why the story of Jesus’ baptism is so important: it shows Jesus wading into our dirty bathwater, and going all the way under.
The people John is baptizing are confessing their sins and leaving them in the river. They go in dirty and come out clean.
Jesus, on the other hand, goes in clean and comes out covered with our mess.
Please notice what Jesus does not do: he does not stand on the bank, neat and dry, yelling at us to swim over to him, so he can lift us out! This is the impression the church often gives: the stainless steel, squeaky clean, saccharine sweet, Jesus who tells us we have to clean up our lives before he can help us. It’s up to us to get cleaned up first before he’ll have anything to do with us.
No, Jesus wades into our drowning pool and goes under to show that he has come from God, not to judge the world, but to save the world. It’s like Rose in Titanic, who in order to free Jack who is handcuffed to a pipe while the great ship is sinking, must go to where he is. She has to go all the way in and cut him loose.
Of course Jesus enters our sinking ship the moment he is born and the next 33 years is a journey into our darkness, until he enters that place where human and demonic violence do their worse, torturing and abandoning him to die.
I like Baxter Krueger’s phrase: “It is not “sinners in the hands of an angry God”, but God in the hands of angry sinners.”
So whenever you think you have to do something to get God to put up with you, Jesus says, “hold on—I came to get you 2000 years ago. I entered your darkness and confusion and brought you into the fellowship of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit. You have been forgiven and saved. I entered your depths in order to adopt you into the Father’s family.”
To paraphrase the early church, Jesus took on our condition so we can take on his condition.
After his baptism, when Jesus comes out of the water holding our sin we find out what the Father thinks about Jesus.
The Father cannot contain himself and cries out “That’s my boy! I love what you’re doing.”
But there’s more: the heavens are ripped open. The Greek word for ripped is the same word used in Mark 15:38 when it says that when Jesus died the curtain in the temple was ripped from top to bottom. The separation between heaven and earth is ripped open, and as is said, “what is ripped is not easily mended.” Heaven and earth are now one because the Father’s son has joined himself with fallen humanity and is bringing us back into the fellowship of God where God has wanted us since before the foundation of the world.
Then, Mark tells us that Jesus sees the Holy Spirit enter into him. Not fall on him, for the word there is “eis”, “into”— the Holy Spirit enters into him.
Jesus is fully one with the Father and fully one with us in our sinful humanity.
Imagine what that scene says about the relationship between the Father and the Son: do you think there is any hesitancy on the part of the Father in his love for Jesus? Does Jesus worry that if he’s not careful the Father will get the switch out and start hitting him?
No. There is only affection and acceptance flowing between them.
The whole point of the incarnation, and why Jesus enters our dirty water, is precisely so Jesus can bring us into his relationship with the Father. So we can hear the Father say to us, right here and right now: “That’s my boy! That’s my girl! With you I am well pleased!” and to experience the Spirit connecting us with the love flowing between Father and Son.
One day when his kids were young, Baxter Krueger was sitting on the couch watching a football game when around the corner came his 8 year old son dressed in his little army camouflage uniform wearing face paint and was with a friend also ready for battle—and these two little boys jumped on Baxter and the fun began! After the “war” was over it occurred to Baxter that he had no idea who that other boy was. He’d never seen him before in his life, yet through his son that stranger was able to enter and experience the relationship between father and son.
And once we realize this is what Jesus Christ has done for the human race, for us, we begin to see everyone from a different perspective—for everyone is also included in the work of Christ.
If it’s all up to us to repent of our sins first, then we’re in a world of hurt because we are too blind to know all our sins and too broken to confess them fully.
We begin to see what Paul means when he says that just as in Adam all died, so too in Christ all will be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:22
Remember what Jesus tells us at the last supper: “In that day, you will know that I am in my father, and you in me, and I in you.” John 14:20
Jesus doesn’t offer us a religious mechanism so we can work our way back to God. Those being baptized today are not making God love them more by going through this sacrament, rather they are saying Yes to what God in Jesus Christ has already done for them. They want to know this love, though it is beyond knowledge.
We see what this looks like among adults in our reading from Acts: Paul shows up for worship in Ephesus with what he thinks are followers of Jesus Christ, but after experiencing five minutes of the service he is bored to tears because these people are worshipping as if they do not yet know that they belong to Father, Son, and Spirit, and that it is up to them to work hard in their worship to get to God.
So Paul asks them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” That is, are you enjoying your life as adopted sons and daughters of the Father?
They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.”
“On hearing this, they were baptized into the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied”—and the worship came alive. Worship AND LIFE suddenly become a lot more fun when we accept God’s word to us: “that’s my girl, that’s my boy!”