Sermon For January 11, 2015 ~ The Season Of Epiphany

Ephesians 4:1-5 & Mark 1:4-11

A Season Of Surprises: The God Of Wow!

Sermon #2 “Surprised By The Calling”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ www.FranklinCircleChristianChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

E-Mail: PastorAllen@FranklinCircleChurch.org

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

Dome depicting the baptism of Jesus by Saint John the Baptist, and the Devil with the horns as an old man stands on the left side, holding a leather bag; Arian baptistry, Ravenna, Italy. Photo by Georges Jansoone - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Baptistery.Arians06.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Baptistery.Arians06.jpg

Dome depicting the baptism of Jesus by Saint John the Baptist, and the Devil with the horns as an old man stands on the left side, holding a leather bag; Arian baptistry, Ravenna, Italy. Photo by Georges Jansoone – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Baptistery.Arians06.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Baptistery.Arians06.jpg

Is there anything surprising or, more pointedly, is anyone surprised by the call of Jesus as seen in his baptism?

All four Gospels reference the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan River. Yet, there is no indication at all in any account that Jesus was surprised by the call from God he received that day. In fact, he is portrayed somewhat as a passive actor in the drama of his own baptism. Jesus isn’t surprised that it is John the Baptizer who will conduct the ceremony. John, the odd, quirky, loud, wild, confrontational one that has made such a stir of things, bringing throngs of people to hear his preaching and participate in his ceremony. He has even caused enough anxiety in the local religious leaders that they had to come out to see what all the fuss is about. Jesus isn’t intimidated about John’s presence and administration of the sacrament at all.

Nor is Jesus surprised by John’s sudden and out-of-character humility when he arrives on the scene. John makes it clear that he is so unworthy to baptize Jesus that he’s lower than the slave who has to untie her or his master’s dirty sandals. In Matthew’s Gospel the protestations are put into words, with John swearing that things should be reversed and thus corrected in his mind, and that it should be Jesus baptizing him, not the other way around. However Jesus is quite comfortable with the topsy-turvy hierarchy of this moment and he being the one to receive the blessing and not give it.

Similarly, Jesus isn’t surprised by the voice coming from heaven, proclaiming him God’s Beloved, nor by the dove which alights upon him, bringing rich symbolism from the days of Noah in the past and the day of Pentecost in the future.   Whether the voice is heard or the dove is seen only by Jesus, or by Jesus and John, also, or even by the crowds, we don’t really know. Jesus simply isn’t fazed in the least. Nor does he seem shocked that right after this amazing call directly from the heavens above that he is “driven” into the wilderness by no less than the Spirit itself. Nope. Jesus quietly took it all in.

Nothing seemed to surprise Jesus. But I would bet my life that almost everyone else around Jesus was surprised.

John was surprised; not by Jesus’ coming. In fact, he had been preaching about this very moment, having read the scriptures carefully. “Prepare a way in the wilderness!!!” His people were longing for a revival of prophecy (as seen in I Maccabees 4:46 and 14:41) and there was a intense desire for the long-awaited Messiah or anointed one to come save the people (perhaps as seen in Malachi 3:1, Exodus 23:20, Isaiah 40:3, etc.). John was not surprised by Jesus’ arrival on the scene, but clearly what he was taken aback by was the kind of Messiah Jesus was. This was a Servant Messiah. One would think that as attentive to the writings of Isaiah as John was, he might also have seen Jesus’ prefigured in the so-called “Servant Songs” of Isaiah 42-51 (1) And yet not only is John confused by the request by Jesus for John to baptize him, but several years later when John is in jail, he is still not sure, and sends a message asking Jesus if he is the one for whom they longed, or should they expect another (Matthew 11:2-6). John was surprised by the type of savior God sent.

And I believe the people were a bit surprised. In large part, they had become so enamored with John himself. His fire and brimstone preaching was convincing them all to repent and be baptized. Wasn’t that enough? Why would they need to expect another when this one in front of them seemed to contain all the passion a Messiah should be expected to show. Time and time again the people would get confused as to why John was not the one they should follow. When Jesus pressed his disciples about who they thought Jesus was, many of them replied “They think you’re John the Baptist,” for John had been brutally murdered and they wondered perhaps if Jesus was just a reincarnation of John. (Mark 8:29, Matthew 16:15, Luke 9:20). The people were surprised that John wasn’t the savior God sent.

Likewise, I think the religious leaders were surprised. I don’t think they understood exactly how much unrest was at hand and how deep the population’s anger seethed at the wretched oppression of the Roman government and the pathetic collusion of the highest level religious leaders. Mathew’s description of this same event illustrates this rage: “When [John] saw that many of the Pharisees and Sadducees were coming to be baptized, John said to them, ‘You pack of snakes! Who told you to flee from the coming wrath? Give evidence that you mean to reform!” (Matt. 3:7-8) The religious leaders were surprised by the profound yearning for a savior to come to the people.

But there is one more person who was, and still is I suppose, surprised by Jesus’ calling. It was his disciples, which is to say you and me. You see, in the call for Jesus to be baptized, we are called to be baptized also, yes, but even more than that. We are called to serve God like Jesus. In Jesus stead. I come again and again to the words Jesus would say to his disciples as they prepared for his death: “The truth of the matter is, anyone who has faith in me will do the works I do – and greater works besides.” (John 14:12)

We are surprised by this claim because far too many of us have fallen prey to the incorrect assumption that the only ones who can truly “do ministry” are those who are ordained, or perhaps also those commissioned. Much like John the Baptist was surprised by Jesus’ reversing the power dynamic in his baptism, we are surprised by Jesus capsizing our comfortable notions that “someone else” is called to ministry and not we ourselves. The early founders of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), especially Alexander Campbell, would be frustrated at best, disgusted at worst, at the modern state of affairs where the ministry has been given solely over to those who are called to the full-time, ordained, occupation of Minister. There is a place for that profession, yes, but not at the expense of all our ministries and all of our callings to serve God and our neighbor.

Jesus was not surprised by his calling from God. At least we have absolutely no sign in any of the four Gospel accounts of him being startled. But that does not mean that the manifestation of Jesus as the anointed one, the Messiah of God, at the time of his baptism didn’t shock a few folks. Maybe they were surprised by the humility of the servant messiah. Maybe they thought someone else was already “it.” Maybe they misunderstood the need for a savior. But as we ponder what it meant then, let us not forget the primary impact of Jesus’ baptism now: his call to us. “Come, follow me.” And when the full impact of this calling in our lives becomes evident to us, we may very well be surprised.  May we respond anyway: “Here I am, send me!”

Amen.

(1) Servant Songs in Isaiah: 42:1-4, 49:1-6, 50:4-9, Isaiah 52 (esp. Isaiah 52:13-53:12), and perhaps Isaiah 61:1-3. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Servant_songs for more details.

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