By the Rev. Kristen Yates
Good evening. It is so good to be with you tonight as we begin this new year and this new phase of life together as Crossroads Church. I know that those of us who gathered this morning for training in children’s ministry felt really encouraged about what God has for us in this coming year. I know I am personally excited to be here in Salem, MA and to see how God will show up this year with our community. This is an exciting work that God has begun through us.
So today marks the second Sunday in the Season of Epiphany, a season that began last Sunday with the Epiphany, the day when we commemorate the three wise men coming to offer homage to the child Jesus, and a season that will last right up until Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent.
Now, over the past few years, I have come to a new appreciation of this season and what it can mean for our Christian journeys.
As you probably know, the word epiphany means “to reveal” or to “to unveil” and during this particular season in the church calendar, the Scriptures present us with events in Jesus’ life where something significant is unveiled about the Person of Jesus, something which generally points beyond Jesus’ humanity to his divinity.
Of course, throughout the year, as we read Scriptures, we are always deepening our understanding of who Jesus is, but at least for me, I have found that this season provides us with a wonderful opportunity to particularly dig deep and to ask who this Jesus is. It is a season that invites us to take a more careful look at passages in Scripture that we think we know well and to ask whether we really have seen all we need to see about Jesus in this passage.
For example, today’s Gospel reading from Luke is a very familiar passage to us. The baptism of Jesus is a celebrated event. One only needs to go online and google Jesus’ baptism, and a wide variety of paintings from throughout the ages will appear - this morning at CTR, we had a drawing of Jesus’ baptism by Rembrandt. We know this event well, and we know it is important because it represents the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
What I wonder though is whether we notice how strongly this passage conveys Jesus’ messianic and divine identity and the mission He has before Him. Jesus’ baptism is one of those events in Scripture that when understood in light of Old Testament prophesy and the entirely of Jesus’ life and ministry sheds a great deal of light on the Person of Jesus.
Through a series of clues in the text that would have been obvious to his earliest readers, but perhaps not as obvious to us modern readers, Luke makes it clear to us that Jesus is the long expected Messiah, and not only the Messiah but God Himself, the eternal Son who is beloved b y the Father.
Now, the original intent for the sermon tonight was that I would go through some of these clues with you, which solidify Jesus’ identity as the divine Messiah. One of the great joys and also challenges I had in seminary was to spend an entire semester exegeting this particular passage in Scripture, so I have a lot to say about this about this particular Scripture and I love the picture of Jesus that emerges when we dig deep.
Yet, as I set about writing this sermon this week with the points I wanted to make , I unfortunately found myself going around and around in circles with these points, rewriting them over and over again, all the while feeling that I was somehow missing the point of what God was calling me to share with you tonight. Perhaps, my agenda was getting in the way of God’s agenda.
So I had to stop, scrap my hours of work and ask: what is it that God wants us to hear tonight from this passage? Certainly, He wants us to see what is being revealed about Jesus, but as I finally quieted my thoughts and prayed, I believe God was telling me this: Tonight, as we begin this new year and ministry together as a church, we should focus our attention on the people in this text who were waiting for the Messiah and the process they went through during their wait, and then we should ask what we as a church can learn from this.
So as I redirected my attention to the people in the text, this is what I noticed. The people of Israel were led to:
1) trust God and wait.
2) ask, look, and listen.
3) adjust their expectations and in doing do, experience fully God’s faithfulness.
Let me explain.
When we are introduced to this passage in Luke today, we find that the people were expecting a Messiah. For those of us familiar with the Old Testament, we know that the Jewish people had in fact been waiting for this Messiah for centuries. God had promised a Messiah to them long ago, and they believed him. Thus, they trusted and waited upon God even when year after year passed and they still remained oppressed by their enemies and entrapped by their own hardened hearts.
But the people knew that God was faithful , so they continued to trust and wait.
Trusting and waiting upon the Lord, however, did not mean that the people were passive. At times the people actively looked for the messiah, for example, we see in today’s passage that some followed John the Baptist and some even wondered if John might be the Messiah. After all, there was something about John and his ways and his call for repentance that made some of the people think, perhaps this is the Messiah.
So they followed John, and they observed and listened. And as they did this so, you know what? They found that John was not the Messiah after all, and in fact, John made it very clear that he was not the Messiah and instead pointed them in a different direction.
This different direction led them to Jesus. Now, all who came upon Jesus did not recognize him as the Messiah. For many Jews, Jesus just did not seem like Messiah material. For one, he was a carpenter from obscure, insignificant village that was not fit to be the home of a king. Second, Jesus never sought to overthrow the political entities around him, which for many Jews was the main task the Messiah would take on. Finally, throughout his life, this Jesus did and said things that seemed to indicate he was God himself, a mind-blowing notion that the people of Israel could have never imagined or expected based on all they knew about God up until this point.
Yet, this Jesus was indeed the Messiah. For all who had eyes to see and ears to hear, they were able to see in the events of Jesus’ life, including his baptism, the signs that Jesus was the one they had long been waiting for. They began to see the Scriptures they knew so well in new light and they began to understand God’s work of salvation with fresh eyes too. And as they did this, they experienced God’s faithfulness in new and very tangible ways.
Long, long ago, the people had cried out for a Savior. In fact, the prophet Isaiah is recorded in Isaiah 64:1 to plead with God to rend open the heavens and come down to save His people. Finally, years later, God had acted. In fact, after Jesus was baptized, God rent open the heavens just like Isaiah had asked him to do – a sign that God had heard his people, kept His promise, and come down to save them.
So the people trusted and waited; asked, looked and listened, and finally adjusted their expectations, which opened them up to the opportunity of fully experiencing God’s faithfulness and salvation.
And I believe, friends, that is what we as a church in this new year are also called to do.
First, as a church, we are to trust in God’s faithfulness and his particular call on this church to reach out to South Salem, a vision that has been emerging for some years now and is beginning to take more and more shape. We are to wait upon God to bring things to fruition in His ways and in His time, which are different than our ways and our timing. Waiting is never easy, but I know from firsthand experience that church planting by nature is a messy and uncertain process, which requires such patience.
Waiting on the Lord and exercising patience, however, does not mean being passive or even worse paralyzed, which may be our response at times as we face the uncertainties of church planting. As we heard from our passage in Isaiah tonight, we need not fear because God has redeemed us. Therefore, if we need not fear, we can take risks. And friends, we need to take risks, knowing that some things we do will bear great fruit and others things we do will not bear the fruit for which we hope.
But even when our efforts don’t bear the fruit for which we hope, we can nevertheless trust that God is in it and is with us and that He will keep directing and redirecting our steps. Just as John the Baptist redirected the folks who thought he was the Messiah to Jesus, God will redirect us when necessary. So we must keep moving forward.
But what this means is that we will continually need to ask God for guidance –to pray that He enlarges our vision of Him and His work of mission in the world and that He continually unveils who we are and who we are becoming as a church. And we will continually need to look and listen to the each other and to the happenings around us in Salem so we know what paths we are to take and, what paths we are to avoid, and what paths we are already on that we need to abandon. This is especially important because in the process of planting a church, we will be tempted at times to do things in the ways that are familiar, and sometimes that is indeed what we will be called to do, but at other times, we will be called to take the unfamiliar path.
This then will mean continually readjusting our expectations, which may mean for example in the case of me this past week, throwing away my original sermon and with that, the insights I originally thought were so important to share with you. I had to abandon my agenda to make room for God’s agenda. For us, there may be a number of times throughout this process when we need to abandon our agendas in order to make room for God’s.
Adjusting our expectations will also involve us continuing our process as a community of asking what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in this time and this place or what it means to be Anglican in this context. Adjusting our expectations will also involve helping our supporters adjust their expectations at times and even possibly disappointing some of them when their expectations of us do not line up with how God is leading us.
But you know what, this is the good news my friends.
As we trust God, waiting upon him even when things may seem to take longer than we hope or things seem unclear, as we listen to his guidance and adjust our expectations as God leads us, the result will be wonderful.
I believe that as we journey together as a new church, Crossroads will experience firsthand God’s faithfulness in tangible and perhaps unexpected ways. And in the process of it, our faith will be deepened, our relationship with and understanding of Christ will grow, and our opportunities to share the Good News of the Messiah, the Father’s Beloved Son will be multiplied.
And this friends is exciting, for this is after all our task at hand – as people in Jesus who are also beloved by the Father, we are given the joyous task of bringing the Good news of Jesus Christ the Messiah to the people of South Salem. For this, we should be very thankful. Amen.