January 10, 2015 sermon
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Beginning of a Journey
Let’s talk about water. I love listening to the sound of water. I have been listening to water sounds for a long time, and one of my ex-coworkers told me that I must have been a water fairy in my previous life. We are advised to drink a lot of water. Our body is 70% water. We talk about the benefits of water. For example, drinking enough water is good for maintaining healthy and beautiful skin. There are people in the world who don’t have access to clean water and some responsible privileged people go to these parts of the world to dig wells for them so that they can have water. On the other hand, there are greedy corporations making profits out of selling water. The head of a certain global corporation famous for its chocolates and chocolatey products thinks people don’t have the rights to clean water, so I am boycotting this company. Good people and bad people do these good and bad things because water is the source of life, the most important thing to us.
On the internet there are a lot of posts about, for example, 10 things to do with avocadoes, 10 health benefits of avocadoes, etc. Let’s think about things we can do with water. First of all, we drink it to sustain our lives. Another important use of water is washing and cleaning; both our body and things. Because we use water for cleaning dirty things, water has been used religiously as a symbol of cleansing, Christian baptism being one of them.
At the beginning of Luke chapter 3, John proclaims a baptism of repentance and gives a sermon. This baptism is about washing away our sins; purification and refinement. Then Jesus was baptized… (By the way, I have another piece of biblical trivia after the shocking revelation about the nativity story we heard on Christmas Eve; according to our knowledge Jesus was baptized by John, but the Gospel of Luke doesn’t say who baptized him.)
Baptism for repentance and purification was not really new to the people of John and Jesus. There are references from the Hebrew Bible and the writings of the apocalyptic sect before Jesus’ time. For example, the purity law from the Law of Moses uses water as a means of purification from uncleanness. The apocalyptic people who are the “ancestors” of Christianity also used water as a means of spiritual purification using languages such as “God will purge by his truth all the deeds of man, refining for himself some of mankind in order to remove every evil spirit from the midst of their flesh, to cleanse them with a holy Spirit from all wicked practices and sprinkle them with a spirit of truth like purifying water”. This is where John’s baptism comes from.
The baptism of Jesus was the beginning of his public ministry. Jesus came out of his private life and started his public ministry after John was arrested. It is believed that Jesus and John belonged to the same religious/ spiritual movement; now that the leader John is gone, Jesus steps up to continue the movement. I have told you before that Jesus came from John and his beliefs were a little different from John’s; while John stayed away from the human society to maintain spiritual purity, Jesus went into the human society to change it from within.
The baptism of Jesus was an initiation process to start his ministry as the agent of God; this is the beginning of his journey as the Son of God. We all go through some kind of initiation process in our lives. For example, my seminary graduation was a process of sending me out for a new ministry and my ordination was a process of sending me out as an ordained minister. This initiation process is about being prepared for something new, which naturally includes a sort of repentance and new resolution no matter what field you are in, not just a religious one. You are starting something new with a new resolution to start doing things better that you might not have done in your past.
For Jesus, his baptism was the initiation process in which he is “ordained” as God’s beloved, before he started his public ministry. He is starting his journey with God with an initiation ceremony binding himself to God; baptism is a covenant with God. All of us who are baptized went through this initiation process of becoming God’s people and a resolution to live in God’s love.
Baptism is a beginning of a journey that we take along with God. We start this journey with purification of body, mind, and spirit, and with a new resolution. Then it is natural that we start this first Sunday after Epiphany with the story of Jesus’ baptism. After the season of waiting for the coming Christ and celebrating his birth, now we wait for God’s revelation in our life; we wait for the light of God to be revealed to us through the birth story of Jesus. This is the beginning of our spiritual journey with God. We celebrated God’s endless love for humanity through the birth of Jesus and felt the blessing. Now it’s time to reflect on the reality of living as God’s and Jesus’ people, its “good, bad, and the ugly”, for this journey is not only full of joy and sunshine but also full of hardships and trials. Being a disciple is a life long journey filled with hardships and trials; it’s not for the fainthearted! The baptism story of Jesus is a good preview for us disciples, for right after the baptism and God’s declaration of his love and approval for Jesus, he is led to the desert to be brutally tested. Being Christ is also not for the fainthearted! Jesus had to go through all this joy and suffering to be able to start his journey. His trial in the desert shows us that living as God’s people involves resisting basic human inclinations, such as the desire for material possession, power and honour. Resisting the same kind of temptation as Jesus did is our reality as people of God who decided to be disciples. We have to resist temptations for secular greed, and love each other with the love of God even when it is difficult (because we all know that sometimes it is very difficult indeed). It is a bumpy journey, a dangerous journey following Jesus. We will even follow him to his cross during Lent. This is a preview of our Christian journey ahead, and you have been warned…
This season of Epiphany, let us start anew our journey with God. Let us renew our baptism, our covenant with God, and make a new resolution to celebrate the love of God, and to follow Jesus and his teachings through the “good, bad, and the ugly” of our life journey. But don’t worry too much; we go on this journey while trusting God’s guidance and help because God calls us “beloved” like at the baptism of Jesus. Peace be our journey. Amen.
Rev. Sunny Kim