Being SJLC 2014: Gather
Topic: Biblical Verse: Matthew 3:13–3:17
The Baptism of Our Lord
January 11-12, 2014
“Being SJLC 2014: Gather”
We’re just coming off the season for lots of gatherings: holiday get-togethers and office parties, family members and friends who gather with us or we with them for Christmas, gathering around the fireplace on a cold night – and we know what that’s like from the record-breaking cold this past week! To help put this into perspective, I talked with two colleagues in ministry last week: one in Michigan and one in California. The one in Michigan said they had received a foot of snow and the high temperature on the particular day we spoke was – 27 degrees. Then there’s the colleague in California, who told me that it was sunny and 75 degrees where he was in southern California. He was headed home early for a gathering at the pool. Sigh… There’s a whole lot of gathering going on, whether we’re knee-deep in snow or swimming laps in the pool. It is that concept of gathering that’s before us today as we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism is one of those recorded in Scripture in which all three Persons of the Holy Trinity are present: the voice of the Father which says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17), the Son of God standing there in the waters of the Jordan River being baptized by John, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descending from heaven and coming to rest upon the Lord Jesus. Although the three Persons of the Trinity are always together and working in unity, there is this visible and audible gathering of them here at Jesus’ Baptism. Today, as we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord and rejoice in our Baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, we begin Being SJLC 2014 – Serving Jesus and Living in Community. For the next four weeks, we are going to focus on the four elements of our congregational vision: GATHER – DISCIPLE – MANAGE – INVITE. And today, we begin with that first vision element of GATHER. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
The three banners here on the wall of our sanctuary each tell a story about how God gathers his people. The first banner over on the left tells how God sent his angel messenger to shepherds on that first Christmas night with the good news of great joy that “unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). And so around Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus were gathered that heavenly host of angels and humble shepherds, just like we sing in that Christmas carol: “For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above, while mortals sleep the angels keep their watch of wond’ring love. O morning stars together proclaim the holy birth, and praises sing to God our King and peace to all the earth!” (“O Little Town of Bethlehem,” stanza 2). The middle banner tells how God gathered those first Gentile visitors to come and worship the Christ Child. That amazing star depicted on this banner reminds us how God used it to guide the wise men to come from a great distance and worship, offering their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. We, too, gather with those wise men to come and worship, just like we sang last week: “Oh, star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright; westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light!” The third banner here on the right tells a gathering story for today as we give thanks for the Baptism of Jesus. In the midst of all those people who gathered to have John baptize them in the waters of the River Jordan, Jesus shows up to be baptized. John didn’t want to do this, but Jesus reminded him: “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). And that is what Jesus came to do: to fulfill all righteousness, all of God’s commandments, all the requirements of God’s Law for you and for me. What we could never do, Jesus came to do for us. Standing in the waters of the Jordan with the Spirit of God descending upon him, the Father’s voice identifies Jesus as the One who fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy that we heard in today’s Old Testament lesson: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42:1).
Gathering is what God does – calling people of every race and language, from every background and circumstance, people young and old, rich and poor, men, women and children to repentance and faith in Jesus. Jesus’ ministry began with his baptism by John there at the Jordan River, and our life in Jesus begins at our own Baptism. It’s here in the cleansing waters of holy Baptism that God gathers a people to himself. It’s here in the cleansing waters of holy Baptism that we have been “baptized into Christ Jesus [and] into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). Through this washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit that is Baptism we are gathered into a new family, the family of faith, the family of believers in Jesus Christ.
This concept of gather is so critically important that it is the first of our four vision elements here at St. John’s. “We gather from many different backgrounds and locales. Our common faith in Jesus Christ as Lord causes us to come together to love in word and action. We give thanks to God for the past, serve Christ in the present, and are passionate about the mission possibilities for the future” (St. John’s Vision and Mission, 4/22/07). The simple act of gathering together around Word and Sacrament is so vital for our life in Christ that it really cannot be overstated. We live in a complex and hyper-busy world with many demands on our time. We rise up early and go to bed late, putting in unbelievable commuting time. We meet ourselves coming and going, and wonder why we are exhausted. There are a thousand different reasons we can come up with about why we can’t gather together for worship and study of God’s Word each week. Sunday is the only day I have to sleep in, the kids are on sports teams and they have games on Sunday, I’m too busy with work, it just doesn’t fit into my schedule, etc. In the midst of our busy lives where we make time for every other matter under heaven, why is it that gathering regularly – not a couple times a month, but each week – why do we find this so hard to do? Like Martha, Jesus’ friend in the New Testament, we often get worked up and upset about things that ultimately do not matter. Like Martha, we’re guilty of misplaced priorities. Jesus’ words to Martha are spoken to us as well: “… you are anxious and troubled about many things, but only one thing is needful” (Luke 10:41-42a). At the end of the day, what is that one thing that is needful? At the end of the day, at the end of our life, at the end of the world, when everything else will pass away, Jesus alone remains. What we do now, gathering in his Name, seeking his face, worshiping him in spirit and in truth, cultivating that life-giving relationship with him – this is that one thing needful.
This Jesus who was baptized by John “knows our frame, and remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). Because of our frailty and weakness in faith, we have this promise that “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3). How often our faith is like that bruised reed and that faintly burning wick! This Jesus who was baptized by John is the One who desires that all people be gathered to him and receive the gift of forgiveness, life and salvation that He freely offers through his death upon the cross. This Jesus who was baptized by John gave his life or each one of us that we may be saved now and for all eternity. Friends, this is why we gather today and every Sunday to share this good news again and again, inviting people in our families, our neighborhoods and our communities to come and gather with us. And as we gather, the Lord Jesus Christ strengthens us all in the covenant of our Baptism to life eternal that we may serve as his hands and feet and mouth in the world! May God make it so for Jesus’ sake. Amen.