On 12 January, the memorable homily preached to the St Margaret’s congregation by Rev Dr Michael Paterson was based on the Gospel reading for The Baptism of the Lord, Matthew 3.13–17.
“How do you like your steak served?”, she asked. “Rare? Medium rare? Well done?” “Cremated”, I replied! By the look on her face, “cremated” wasn’t an option on her list.
Today’s readings pose the question: “How do you like your God served?”
- helpless as a baby, cooing and gurgling in a manger?
- a boy playing in Mary and Joseph’s house?
- an angry activist overturning tables in the Temple?
- or an itinerant preacher, healing the sick and raising the dead?
I ask, because in seven short days we have gone from Jesus the adorable baby receiving birthday presents from the Wise Men to Jesus the headstrong adult, demanding to be baptised by John in the River Jordan.
Baptising a God doesn’t make sense. Baptism – especially the baptism of adults – is for sinners. It’s church’s version of ‘Wash and Go’.
- Wash off the old life and Go and live the new one.
- Wash off the past and Go and live God’s future
- Wash off the life of sin and Go and live the life of holiness
So what’s Jesus, the Holy One, doing playing the role of a sinner? Baptism is not for people like him. Baptism is for people like us who mess up, and spoil things, and need a new start in life.
And yet it’s precisely here, when Jesus identifies himself with all that goes horribly wrong in the world, that the silence of heaven is broken and the Father speaks up “This my Son my beloved – My favour rests on him”.
Isn’t it odd that we don’t hear a peep from heaven when Jesus turns water into wine? Isn’t it peculiar that we don’t hear a word when Jesus heals the sick? Isn’t it strange that God offers no divine round of applause when Jesus feeds the 5,000 or raises Lazarus from the dead? Instead, what wins heaven’s seal of approval is that Jesus makes his baptism the very first act of his public ministry, and in so doing makes it abundantly clear that he aligns himself with those who are messed up and that his place is with those whose lives haven’t quite worked out and that he chooses to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who are haunted by their pasts and long for a new future.
Let’s face it, Jesus could have wowed the crowds by launching himself on to the world stage with some great big glitzy miracle, or blown their minds by some amazing teaching. But no! He launches his ministry by
- plunging himself
- soaking himself
- immersing himself
in the dirt and scum and detritus of all that is broken and toxic in the world. And it’s then, and only then, that the Father’s voice resounds: “That’s my boy!”
The Baptism of Jesus asks each of us who have been baptised to take a good look at ourselves. Are we miracle-chasers, hungry for the spiritual X Factor, season-ticket holders in a religious circus? Or, like Jesus, are we willing to get our feet wet, and wade in and immerse ourselves and stand shoulder to shoulder with those around us who are barely managing to keep their heads above water?
So, back to that question: “How do you like your God served?” Helpless, lying in a manger, an object for adoration, or passionate and fierce, a trailblazer in the campaign against all that is toxic and dehumanizing in the world?
Let’s pray that this week we who have been baptized might stand shoulder to shoulder with those God sends our way. And that, when we do, we might just hear the Father break heaven’s silence once more, as he whispers in our ears: “You are my beloved Son, you are my beloved daughter. My favour rests on you!”