01/12/14 Sermon (January 12, 2014) “Not Like a Bridge"

posted Mar 11, 2014, 10:33 AM by David Hawkins

01/12/14 Sermon (January 12, 2014)

“Not Like a Bridge"

Scripture Reading:  Isaiah 42:1, Matthew 3:13-17 (Liturgist)

Here is 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.

Matthew 3:13-17

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.

John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Sermon: "Not like a Bridge"                        Rev. David Hawkins

John the Baptist has been busy, calling the people to repent, to be cleansed of their sins. But now, Jesus comes to be baptized, and John is confused.

“Why am I baptizing you? This makes no sense. You should be baptizing me. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.”
Jesus understands his confusion. If the point of baptism is simply to be a gesture of confession, then there is no point for Jesus to be baptized. He has nothing to confess. If the purpose of baptism is to get rid of sin, then there’s no reason for Jesus to even put his big toe in the water.

For John, this whole encounter just bizarre. Baptism is for sinners. And so why is Jesus standing here in front of him? What is Jesus hoping to accomplish in this very public ritual? Is it an empty gesture? A nod to tradition? A concession to John’s disciples?

Or maybe there’s something more going on. Maybe there’s more here than meets the eye.
One of my very favorite songs is “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” by Simon and Garfunkel. The music and lyrics combine perfectly to capture the idea of being carried above difficult times, of being taken out of the conflict and the chaos of grief, or fear, or pain. It’s a beautiful song, and I’ve heard it a few times used as a spiritual song, almost as a hymn -- that we are lifted up by God and carried above the battles of life, that God will be our bridge over troubled water.

And that is a comforting thought, isn’t it? That when times are tough, we are lifted up by God, gently transported above whatever problems we might have, and set down on the other side? That we can look over the side of the bridge, and see the fighting, and the stress, and the tears, but not be a part of it? I know that I find that idea very appealing.  

And I’ve heard it preached many times, from even Presbyterian pulpits, that this is the way that faith works. That if we  just have faith, then God will make everything OK, that we will be protected from the storms of life that rage around us. That God will shelter us, if we believe in him, from bearing the brunt of the pain that life inflict on us.

I once heard from a Presbyterian Pastor, waving his Bible, that if we simply did what we were told to do, life would be like a four-lane highway, no bumps, no potholes, straight, level, flat, and safe, as far as you could see.  

The problem is, that’s not how it works. That’s not how it worked in the Bible, and that’s not how it works in real life. As much as I hate to say it, we, that is, all of us, are going to find ourselves in painful situations from time to time. We are going to be battered by a hard and unfair world, and there is simply not getting around it. And the hard thing is, God is not going to be our bridge across troubled water.

God has not promised a life without trouble, or grief, or pain, or loneliness, or despair. And regardless of how much we wish he would, God will not swoop down and simply carry us across the dangerous, chaotic waters of our lives.

Because that’s not how it worked for Job, or Jonah, or Jeremiah. Or for Moses, or Samson, or Tamar. God didn’t remove King David from experiencing the turmoil of his family that led to the death of his son Absalom. God didn’t take away the pain in St. Paul’s side. God didn’t take away the grief of Mary, the mother of Jesus, at the foot of the cross.

If we take the Bible seriously, this book about the history of God and God’s people, we find that God’s people have always had to wade through the troubled water of their times. The Hebrew slaves had to go through the water of the Red Sea, to escape Egytp. The wandering tribes had to go through the waters of the Jordan River to get to the promised land, the Exiles had to walk through the waters of the Babylon in order to return to Israel.

All of God’s people, in all times and places have found themselves facing the uncertain and dangerous rivers of life. And there is no other way than to go right straight through them.

But we do not go alone. While God does not promise to carry us above the chaotic waters of life, he does promise that when we step into them, He will be right there with us. That wherever we are, God is beside us, before us, behind us. And when we go through the water with God, there is new life on the other side.

And this promise is sealed in today’s scripture.

Jesus has come to the water, not hoping to be forgiven his sins, but to fulfill the prophecies of a saviour who would live among us. He came to the water, not to confess a failed past, but to consecrate the promise of new future. He came to the water, not to become holy, but to the make the water holy for us, that we might know that God is truly with us.

When Jesus wades into the waters of the Jordan, he not only steps into the waters of our baptism, he steps into the dangerous waters of our lives. His choice to enter into the river means that his life is inextricably bound up in ours. This is the beginning of his ministry, the beginning of his teaching and healing, the beginning of his journey that led, not to riches, or power, or an easy life on a four-lane highway, but rather to a hill, a cross, and a tomb.

And then to a throne at the right hand of God.  

Baptism is not the goal of Christianity. We are not done when we get baptized. Baptism is the beginning of the discipleship journey, not the end, and on this journey, we will find ourselves again, and again faced with the decision to step into the water. The life of faith is not an easy one, and it never has been.

But the Good News of the Gospel is that whenever we do take that step of faith into the choppy waters of the unknown, God is with us. Whatever may come, God will never abandon us, will never leave us. This the promise of the Lord’s Baptism. God has entered the water, and we are not alone.

Today, we are installing a new class of Elders. Most of them have been previously ordained, and are renewing their vows of ordination as they take up the task of leading this congregation. One of them, on the other hand, will be ordained for the first time today. She is continuing on her path of discipleship that began with her baptism. She is taking another uncertain step into the waters of her Christian faith.

When Jesus steps into the waters with John, he invites all of us to go with him. Not just to be baptized, but to step into the waters of Christian Discipleship, with all its uncertainty, with all its danger, with all its potential for pain and suffering. It’s an invitation to a risky life that is lived in the presence of God.

And regardless of our feelings of inadequacy, or our fears of what might happen, all of us are called to this life. We are all called to a baptismal life of wading in the troubled waters of an unpredictable world. We are all called to step into the waters with Jesus, and hear the beautiful words of the God of our salvation: “This is my Child, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Thanks be to God. Amen.