Jan. 8, 2017 sermon
Beginning of a Dangerous Journey
Are you familiar with the singer called Little Peggy March? I know I’m a bit too young to know her but I do! I know her because in 1963, she released a much beloved song called I Will Follow Him. “I will follow him, follow him wherever he may go. There isn’t an ocean too deep, a mountain so high it can keep me away”; this is how the song starts. Whenever I listen to this song, I remember the saying, “Be careful what you wish for”. I mean, think about it; I will follow him wherever he may go? How do I know where he might go? What if he goes to a remote village in a faraway and unfamiliar land? What if he goes to the moon or Mars? Am I really prepared to follow him anywhere, wherever it is? I have a strange feeling that those who say and sing “I will follow him wherever he may go” don’t fully understand what it might entail.
This past Friday was Epiphany, and the Season of Epiphany has started. The first Epiphany story we listen to is the baptism of Jesus. Actually the first Epiphany story is the wise men from the east visiting Baby Jesus but since the day of Epiphany was not Sunday and since we don’t have a service during the week, we skipped it. In today’s story Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, and the Holy Spirit came down to him. Then he hears a voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased”. This is God introducing Jesus to the world sort of like a debutant.
The baptism of John the Baptist was for repentance of sin. Now, wait a minute; did Jesus the son of God need a baptism of repentance? I’ve heard people wondering this. When John asks Jesus, “How can you come to me to be baptized when it should be the other way around”, Jesus says it is to fulfill all righteousness. The righteousness of God, in Greek and Hebrew means “what God requires”. This requirement and fulfillment of God’s righteousness involves salvation for God’s people. So the baptism of Jesus is linked to his death, which fulfills God’s plan for salvation, and the end times where God’s people will be saved and their enemies will be punished.
For Christians, baptism is an initiation rite to belong to God’s people. Jesus was not baptized for the forgiveness of sin; but rather, he was showing an example for his future followers. This is why people who join the Christian Church go through the initiation rite of baptism. Baptism reminds us of the death of Jesus, which I already mentioned that fulfill God’s plan for salvation, because in receiving baptism, we let our old self die so we may be born again in Christ. Through this initiation rite, we become Christ’s family.
Now Jesus received the Holy Spirit after his baptism and heard God’s voice introducing him to the world as “my beloved son with whom I am well pleased”. What a wonderful and dreamy way to start a new life! But hold on; Jesus’ new life was not all that wonderful and rosy. Right after the baptism, he was immediately driven into the desert to be tempted. Immediately after his dreamy initiation rite, he was faced with the reality of his new life; the power of evil is great, so he should be strong to preach and spread the kingdom of God. During his public ministry, he had to deal with a lot of haughty religious leaders and evil spirits possessing people. He had to be strong. This temptation in the desert was like a boot camp; it is tough and unpleasant, but you come out of it strong enough to face the challenges of the world. We all know how tough his public ministry was.
Following the example of our teacher Jesus, we go through the initiation ceremony of baptism when we join the Church. Like Jesus, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit; we hear God’s affirmation that we are God’s beloved. But as followers of Jesus, our life as Christians is not always wonderful and rosy. Following Jesus is not for the fainthearted. We have to face our world where the power of evil is as strong as during Jesus’ time. We need to become spiritually strong to faithfully live as the followers of Jesus in spreading God’s reign while resisting evil. We received God’s affirmation of love and felt all happy and renewed. Our hearts are full of love and enthusiasm that we might say, “Oh Jesus my love, I will follow you wherever you may lead me”. But are we really prepared to be led wherever he may lead us?
Following Jesus means following his examples and living by his teachings. We should be spiritually strong to resist evil and temptations of our world to be faithful to his teaching. This lifestyle requires a lot of sacrifice; we have to resist greed and desire for power. We have to forgive one another over and over again, and love our neighbors, even the ones that are difficult to love. We have to help the needy and speak against injustice, sometimes risking persecutions for doing so. The Holy Spirit that we received when we became God’s family will lead us to be loving and selfless. Do we want to, or are we prepared to be led in that direction?
The Christian journey that we started with the Holy Spirit and the affirmation of God’s love is not always pleasant, easy, or rosy. It is a dangerous journey we started. The journey of Jesus ended in suffering and death because he stood up for his belief in God’s kingdom of love and justice. When I say we are on a dangerous journey, I don’t mean we will all meet our doom like Jesus. Our journey as the followers of Jesus can be dangerous because resisting our selfish human nature and evil temptation to live as the citizens of God’s reign requires spiritual strengths. As we meditate on the baptism of Jesus today, let us remember our own baptism and vows; our relationship with God through Christ. Our relationship, our covenant with God requires a radical lifestyle of compassion and justice. At the beginning of the Christian year, and the beginning of the secular New Year, it is time to renew our relationship with God and our vows to spread God’s kingdom of love.
Rev. Sunny Kim