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  • The Rev. Arianne Rice

What Might You Ponder Anew?

This morning is the feast of the Baptism of Jesus. And this occasion prompts an interesting question. Why does Jesus need to be baptized?

Baptism is the forgiveness of sins. Does Jesus have sins to be forgiven? We don’t know anything about him between this moment, the beginning of his ministry, and his birth. Just a swath of time where who knows what has happened. The idea that Jesus does need baptism sparks controversy and argument. What would the son of God, the incarnate God need to be forgiven for?

Does Jesus need to be baptized to make incarnation real? God with us, God sharing our humanity, so therefore Jesus needs to do what we need to do. Jesus needs to be baptized, needs the ritual, this outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace, just like all of us. Is that why he needs to be baptized?

By the way, I don’t have answers to all my questions with this one!

But one thing I ponder and think about – does Jesus need to shake up John the Baptist? Does Jesus need to model, incarnate, make real for what actually happens when we prepare for the coming of God? That when God does break in, the story never goes how we think it will, or how we think it should.

John the Baptist had a story in mind for this moment. He’d been preparing and he’d been telling his story for some time to all those people who came for baptism at the Jordan.

In John’s story – One is coming who is more powerful than I! And yet, the one who came, did not come with power and might – but came as a vulnerable and helpless infant, born to a homeless family constantly on the move.

In John’s story – One is coming who is more powerful than I and I am not worthy to carry his sandals. And yet, he is. Not just worthy to pick up Jesus’ shoes but worthy to baptize him. John said, Jesus would baptize with fire and the holy spirit, his winnowing fork would be in his hand, he would separate the wheat from the chaff – so y’all better watch out and bear fruits worthy of repentance.

John’s story is a story of winners and losers John’s story is an “or else” story – you better do this or else.

But Jesus never lives into that story. The story of Jesus is win-win. That is always the story of God. And when we partner with God – like John the Baptist does, even though he tries to prevent it – it will always lead to win-win, even though, most of the time, it doesn’t make sense as we’re living through it.

This week in the Day School chapel I shared another story of a baby being born. The story of Moses. Which of course, shares some parallels with Jesus’ birth, especially Matthew’s telling of it.

When Moses is born there is a “bad king” like Herod, this one is Pharaoh, who also is afraid his rule will be thwarted so he decrees all the baby boys have to go. Moses’ mom, you may recall, in an effort to hid her child puts him in a basket.

Pharaoh’s daughter, walking by the river, spots the basket discovers the baby and then hires Moses’ actual mother to be the child’s nanny. So Moses’ mom doesn’t lose her child, but is a part of his life, albeit secretly.

This is a pretty difficult story, but it makes sense in chapel that God takes care. God takes care of Moses, his mom, even the Pharaoh’s daughter. And then we sing – He’s got the whole world in his hands – which makes sense.

After telling the story to the kindergartner’s – a hand went up – “Rev. Arianne, when are we going to hear the story of how God became God?”

Hmmmm – the story of how God became God. The question makes perfect sense. We hear the story of how Jesus came to be. We just heard the story of how Moses came to be. The children know there is a story of how they came to be. So, of course, it makes sense to them that there would be a story of how God came to be – because that is how they make sense of God.

God is separate from them. God is outside of them. God is a being, who probably has a lot in common with their parents.

But, that is not how we make sense of God as we get older. And I don’t have a story about how God became God that will make sense to the kindergartners.

In the beginning when God created – is how this whole thing starts, so our first story assumes God is already there.

In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God – is John’s gospel – again, it assumes that God is already there.

I could tell them the story of Moses meeting God in a burning bush (does that make sense) and telling Moses, I am what I am, I will be what I will be. But I have a feeling a hand will go up – Rev. Arianne – I will be what? I am what?

There is only one scripture I know that references God and beginnings and that’s revelation – I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end – but I don’t think they will be satisfied with that story, does it satisfy you?

One thing that is modeled in this story, is adult baptism. One reason I believe we’ve adhered to the tradition of infant baptism, started five centuries after the church began, was that it’s easier. No questions. No trying to have it makes sense. No wrestling with what it is this ritual signifies – a complete transformation of the way we see the world. Just listen to what we pray:

We thank you for the water of baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn through the Holy Spirit.

What does that mean? Does it make sense? It is a mystery of faith. A mystery of faith that we come to understand when we look back at the stories of our lives and see where God has broken in and made a way. Where what we expected, the outcome we prepared for, didn’t manifest the way we believed it would. Because God’s provides in a way that is more than we could ever ask or imagine.

Even though that way will involve a death, or a letting go. Even though that way requires us to be reborn, to accept forgiveness. Even though that way leads to something new, beyond what we are able to see.

I always want there to be answers in my sermon – the stories we tell in chapel make it sound easy – the way God works God’s purpose out – but you and I know it isn’t easy – it isn’t easy to live through the questions.

The other day I was pondering the word “ponder” – you know we sing that hymn – ponder anew what the Almighty can do? I was driving home from the Y – parked at the stop sign by Boyce and Charles – near Loyola Blakefield – saying that line over and over. What is it we are pondering, God? What is the new thing to point people towards?

And I pulled out and in front of me was a pickup truck, landscaping equipment in the back – and the license plate read – Ponder2. Not lying, true story.

Keep pondering.

I answered the child in chapel by saying – hopefully I’ll find a story for next year. And he said, but we won’t be here next year – we have to go to first grade. Yes, they do.

So I trust that praying shapes believing. Because I know that he and all those kids will live into stories where their lives are not making sense. I know that every person here, to varying degrees is living through something that is not making sense. So – remember your baptism. Remember the words of God in the midst of your pondering.

Hear Jesus say – I need you.

Hear God say – you are beloved, with you I am well-pleased.

And just let that be, for now. And maybe sing to yourself – God’s got the whole world in his hands.

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