Sunday is coming, “Jesus alongside us in the water” Luke 3:15-22, Baptism of our Lord C

“Now when all the people were baptized and when Jesus had also been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘this is my son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)

All the people. All of them who came. They were all baptized. The soldiers. The tax collectors. The crowd. All the people who did not belong under the political structure or the religious culture. Who were they? The unclean. The brood of vipers. The unworthy. This is who was baptized with Jesus at the river Jordan: all the undesirables.

There were no VIPs. There were no political officials of note. There were no religious leaders of good standing. Nobody credentialed. There was only John, who by his self-declaration was “unworthy” to be there too. He was not the Messiah. He knew it. His job was to point the way and “prepare the way of the Lord.” He practiced ‘a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ (Luke 3:3). He preached sharing and taking care of people with our food and clothing, of acting fairly and honestly in our work, of protecting people without abusing them violently or taking advantage of them (Luke 3:10-14). John called out injustice and the distortion of relationships (Luke 3:18-19). It was the kind of good news that eventually tossed John in jail and it cost him his life (Luke 3:20).

But not yet.

Jesus came to the wilderness. He didn’t begin his ministry in the Temple, or in a palace among the important people run by the powers of this world. He stood at the river Jordan, the crossing point into the Holy Land with outsiders and misfits and everyone else who did not belong. And he was baptized along with them. It almost sounds like an afterthought. They were all baptized. Jesus was too. Unlike the Gospel of Matthew and Mark where the voice of heaven seems to be directed solely at Jesus, as Luke describes this scene all who were baptized heard and could see it for themselves. The Spirit came. The voice called out the beloved. All the undesirables were part of it. You and I are too.

We often ask, ‘Why would Jesus seek baptism?’ After all, Christians tend to assert that Jesus was sinless. In that regard, ‘a baptism of repentance’ would be not only unnecessary but also problematic. Yet all four gospels claim Jesus’ baptism – and his ministry begins to take shape after this event. Perhaps what Luke is trying to reveal is not so much that Jesus is God’s beloved (which in the text he clearly is), but that God is up to something far greater in baptism than self-revelation. Jesus is with them in the water; crossing all who join him in baptism them over from left out to the included, from the unworthy to the beloved, from forgotten about to the remembered, from the unclean to the clean.

Repentance separates the fruitless branches. Jesus does clear the chaff from the wheat. The fire of the Spirit continues to purify us just as the water continues to clean us up and make us whole. We are not left as we were – forgotten on the outside or unworthy on the fringe but are made anew by the Jesus who joins us in the water – loved as we always were but that love is announced in public with the same blessing from the heavens for all to see and hear. The kingdoms of this world never like competition.

Like Jesus, as we emerge from those waters our ministry begins to take shape. Following this Jesus and living in his kingdom is dangerous to the powers that be, and we should expect nothing less than for them to reject us as we live a life of inclusion, generosity, care and integrity. It may make us outliers, push us to fringe, and leave us in the wilderness. Like John (and Jesus), it may even cost us our life.

Fear not. Jesus is alongside us in the water, waiting to lead us to cross over to the other side of the river and find our new community where we are welcomed and loved forever.

Take a look around for the other misfits and vagabonds who join you.

Who do you see there?


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8 thoughts on “Sunday is coming, “Jesus alongside us in the water” Luke 3:15-22, Baptism of our Lord C

  1. What do you mean by “inclusion”? Do you mean an acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle, i.e. homosexual acts? Do you really think Jesus would have approved of that? Your ELCA membership numbers are in free-fall. Do you wonder why?

    • Hi. Thanks for reading the post and for your passionate response! There have been many weeks we write these reflections and wonder if anyone ever reads them, so thank you for the affirmation of that pursuit. Thank you.

      As for the content of your comment, neither Joe or I nor “our ELCA” as you describe it l, have any quarrel with you. There is no need to be hostile. Yes, the ELCA strives to be an inclusive church. We have struggled with this calling a good long time and keep making strides in that regard. We also really stink at it in many ways and have a long way to go. We are learning.

      Speaking just for Joe and I, we are two people who spend a lot of time in the gospels each week. We study with other clergy colleagues, meet with church bible study groups, discuss with individuals having a rough go of life, and spend a lot time in our own personal study in the preparation of sermons and messages like this blog. We stand behind what we say, knowing we never will get it fully right while seeking to follow Jesus better in the warm the embrace of God’s undeserved love and mercy. We call that ‘grace.’

      Here is what I suggest:

      Go spend some time with the people you think God hates so much. Get to know them. Befriend them. Figure out what motivates them to hang in there with so much hate and anger directed their way. Listen to what they struggle with, what gives them joy, hope, courage and where their pain is. Try to learn from them something about humanity (both theirs and yours) that you didn’t understand before.

      In my reading of Jesus, I think he would much rather have you spend your time doing that than scolding strangers online. Peace to you.

      • Oh please. I have many family members who are gay. You did not answer my question: Does Jesus approve of homosexual acts???? I DO NOT HATE GAYS !! I am NOT hostile! I do not HATE! Why do liberals always say this???

        • Funny thing is that Jesus never talked about homosexuality. What do I think? I think he would be cool with it. Homosexuality mentioned in the Bible is nothing like we experience in the world today.

          • Okay. So what is homosexuality today? From what I know it is still a man sticking his *****into another man’s ****. Please correct me if I am wrong. What about all the Catholic priests? What were they doing ???

          • Sounds to me like you would benefit from moving this conversation from this venue to sitting in person with your gay friends. You’ll learn a lot and won’t need to use *s and CAPS.

  2. Katherine,
    1. I’m curious, when you ask about inclusion why you go right to homosexuals? Why not racists? Why not the powerful? Those that exclude? Those that perpetuate systems that oppress? Those that don’t help the homeless or the hungry

    2. When I read the bible, I don’t see Jesus spending a whole lot of time talking about individual behaviors. I don’t see him talking about homosexual lifestyle. I don’t see him talking about how long a worship service should be. I don’t see him talking about whether it is okay for a women to be a pastor. I don’t see him talking about climate change. So it’s hard to say what would Jesus approve of i 2019

    3. When I have these questions, I go to Luke 14:18-20:

    “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to bring good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
    to let the oppressed go free,”

    or Mark 12:30-31
    you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these

    It seems to be that Jesus is more about love and acceptance then he is about judging people we want him to judge.

    4. Can you explain to me what a “homosexual act” is? Is it different than when any other two people express the love?