Whenever I lead Bible study at some point the question becomes, “So what?” In other words, what does this passage mean for us as individuals and for us as a church? It’s the best part of the study. After we’ve looked at the passage and its particularities we wrestle with relevance. This first Sunday after Epiphany always leads me to the so what question. And I think I’ve often answered it incorrectly.
Like many preachers out there I jump right to the “remember your baptism” part. Yes, I want people to remember that they have been baptized into the body of Christ. I want them to know that God loves them. But if we go directly to the baptismal waters, we might be missing some very relevant wrestling.
This week I’ve read a few articles on the “nones,” people with no religious affiliation. If one or two of these folks found their way into my congregation, how would they hear this passage about Jesus’ baptism? Would it make any sense to them if I were to ask the congregation to remember their baptisms? Probably not.
But if I were to talk about Jesus and what his baptism might have meant to those who witnessed it and what it might mean for us today, maybe that would be more helpful. I want to push through the familiar to the mystery, to the wonder, to the awe. It is not enough for us to remember our baptisms. We need to respond as individuals and as the church. Jesus began his ministry dripping wet with those baptismal waters. He didn’t wait around to see if God was going to say something else after naming Jesus as beloved.
Isaiah sings of the servant who will bring about God’s new thing. The Psalmist ascribes glory to God for all that God has done. In Acts Peter speaks of God’s impartiality toward those who do what is right. Combine these passages with Matthew’s description of Jesus’ baptism. And I can’t escape the question that keeps coming to me: What do these passages tell us about what is essential to Christian faith?
If I were going to preach this in church this week, I’d ask this. And once we had settled on answers, then I’d ask: And how are we going to get these essentials out into the world?
RCL – Year A – First Sunday after Epiphany – January 12, 2014