Sunday, January 7, 2018
Where is God showing up for you? The past few summers here at Bethel we’ve done a weekly “God sighting” time where we lift up where we’ve seen God at work in our lives during the week. With the extreme cold and dark of this winter, as we confront going back to school and work after the holidays, maybe still dealing with sickness or seasonal depression, I think it’s a good idea for us to ask that question not just in the summer but also today, “Where is God showing up for you?” And let’s remember that it’s not a question of whether God WILL show up for you or not, God WILL show up, it’s just whether we’re paying attention to God’s presence in our lives or not.
This morning God shows up at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan river in a pretty dramatic way. The heavens are torn apart, the Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove and we hear the voice of God from heaven. There are many times in my life where I wish God would show up in such a clear way for me, too. It would be so much easier to make hard decisions if God would just talk to me from the clouds. I would probably pay attention to what God is trying to tell me better if the heavens were being torn apart, too. It wouldn’t be so easy to get distracted with other things, especially the alerts on my phone.
But you know, we live in an easily distracted culture that likes to plan and not necessarily be ready to be surprised for God to show up. In church today, we usually sit down with a family about a month in advance or more of a baptism to talk with them about what baptism means. We plan who the baptismal sponsors or godparents will be, what the child will wear, who else to invite to attend the special service – all those details. I’m not sure John or Jesus planned on being baptized that day – John was baptizing people in the Jordan River and Jesus came along and it happened. I don’t know that anyone there expected God to show up in such a dramatic way, but God did. So while it’s likely we won’t hear God’s voice as loudly or clearly as Jesus did on his baptism day, nor will we see the heavens being torn apart, we can be sure that God will continue to show up ESPECIALLY when we least expect God to, often in the most ordinary of situations.
The thing is, John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, a ritual cleansing ceremony that a Jewish sect called the Essenes practiced in that area of Palestine in the first century. Here’s a picture of some Jewish mikvehs or ritual baths that are still used today in Italy. John’s baptism didn’t have the same meaning that Christian baptism has for us today, and Jesus’ baptism helped make baptism a central sacrament of the Christian faith later on. John’s baptism was a ritual bath – more significant than just going for a swim in the Jordan river or washing feet, to be sure, but also not a once-in-a-lifetime salvation moment. Maybe we could liken it more to a confession and forgiveness with a lot of water involved. John baptized people regularly – it’s kind of how he got his name, John the Baptizer. It is likely that those witnessing Jesus’ baptism were as surprised as we would be that God showed up in such a powerful way.
Martin Luther advised Christians to remember their baptisms every time they washed their hands or took a bath because of this idea that God shows up in ordinary circumstances in powerful ways – doing the laundry, washing the dishes. It was Luther’s hope that even though you might not remember the actual moment at YOUR baptism when the pastor spoke those words “Child of God you are sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever,” that you would hear and feel God’s presence with you with those same words over and over and over again. As Christians, we can plan for and expect God to show up in ordinary and extraordinary situations.
The truth is, all of us need to hear what Jesus heard on his baptism day: “You are my beloved child. With you I am well pleased.” This is what God said to us on our baptism day and continues to say to us in all kinds of ways all the time in ordinary and extraordinary situations. “You are my beloved child. With you I am well pleased.” This is how God shows up for us. But it is hard to hear these words and believe them when God seems to be so quiet sometimes. The noise of the world and of our own sinfulness is loud. One week into our New Year’s resolutions and some of us are likely already full of regret. Why did I eat that extra piece of pie I found in the freezer? Why didn’t I get my new daily exercise routine done in these subzero temps? Why wasn’t I nicer to my kids or my spouse or my grandkids? The list of how we have failed our own expectations of ourselves or our imagined expectations of God’s for us quickly gets large. And it seems in our busy and distracted lives that even if the heavens were torn apart and God thundered those words we so badly need to hear, “You are my beloved child, with you I am well pleased,” that we wouldn’t hear them or see anyway.
God’s people were in a similar predicament with an oppressive government, ineffective religious institutions and growing poverty when God showed up in a little baby in a manger. Angels sang out the good news, shepherds told everyone they knew, a star pointed the way and kings came to worship him, yet still some denied that that was God showing up. Today, we remember that this baby son of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth was baptized in the Jordan River and God showed up. God literally told us that this is God’s son and we should follow him, yet some still denied it. In chapter fifteen of Mark, which we will hear on Good Friday, the temple curtains were torn apart, reminding people who saw the heavens torn apart at Jesus’ baptism AGAIN that this is God’s son, who now died on a cross to save us from our sins, because God loves us that much. Yet some people didn’t see the significance of this tearing apart. Today, we give thanks to God for our baptisms. We eat bread and drink wine because Jesus told us this is my body, this is my blood, that Jesus would still show up for us today, and some people will still say, well it’s just some tasteless wafers and Manischewitz. God shows up again, again, and again. God says, “You are my beloved child. With you, I am well pleased.” It is up to us to trust that promise. To believe those words. To know them to be true. That’s what it means to have faith.
We did not ring in the New Year in a pleasant way in our family – three of us got the stomach bug. Grace was the lucky one and Erin got the worst of it. As I was rocking Erin to sleep after a pretty rough few hours, she looked at me sadly and said, “Mommy, can you sing ‘Jesus Loves Me?’” Wow. That was God showing up for me that night. I realize that Erin is a pastor’s kid but she does not usually request to sing church-y songs. Usually we’re singing Row Row Row Your Boat or Mary Had a Little Lamb. From the mouth of my own child I heard words I needed to hear too that night – Jesus Loves Me. When I’m sick or well, when I’m having a good or a bad day. When I follow through on all I say I’m going to do in the New Year or not. When I really take time to listen and pay attention to God at work in my life or not. Jesus Loves Me. That’s all I need to hear and know. When I least expect it, God shows up. In the ordinary events of daily life and in the amazing once in a lifetime moments. God shows up. Jesus Loves Me. You are my beloved child. With you I am well pleased. That’s why God keeps showing up for us. Amen.