On the Baptism of the Lord (10 January)

Readings: Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

In this post I just want to share some quick impressions of the readings assigned to the upcoming feast.

The prophet sings that God has redeemed His people–bought them back out of their enslaved condition. But for Christians, I think there should be something that makes us uncomfortable in the light of the revelation of Christ (43:3-4):

For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.

Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life.

What is going on here? Are the oppressors being led into slavery instead? Doesn’t this imply, at least a little bit, God as a cosmic chess-master? Should we take the theology expressed here as “the word of the Lord” for our time and place? Is there really one people on the earth (never mind one geo-political State), that is more important than another?

I love the Psalm. The utter power of God as Creator is all around us, and yet the focus is the People of God, the image bearers in their right-relation with the rest: “And in the Temple [the place where the Divine and created intersect] all [cry], “Glory!” (It’s enough to make this pentecostal boy wanna shout! Amen?)

(There’s an odd thing here in the translation: “Young wild ox.” The King James says, “Unicorn,” and most people are embarrassed by that. I’m not sure “young wild ox” is any better; an ox is a beast of burden, a domesticated species. For that reason, there are no “wild” oxen. Basically, this is the best that the translators can do with a term that nobody knows how to handle. Fortunately, the substantial theological narrative doesn’t change much, if at all.)

Racial reconciliation, and how Evangelical Christians can live into it, has very much been on my heart, lately. I have watched a sermon on #BlackLivesMatter a few times in the last week. Black preacher (whoooee can she get her preach on!) Pastor Michelle Higgins called Evangelicalism in North America to repentance in a winsome and moving way (please take the half-hour to watch, I promise it’s worth it!). Now it seems that the Urbana movement and other Evangelicals are backing off, presumably because Higgins’ words imply the deaths of several other idols, not just white supremacy, that are important to the Old Brigade within American Evangelicalism.

But the reading from the Book of Acts speaks of this sort of situation, too; it answers the problem I have with the Isaiah reading. Some of the privileged apostles go to Samaria because they hear that that lot has also believed Jesus! Samaritans have two things working against them: they are half-Gentile heretics according to orthodox Judaism of the day. But down go the boys, and the story implies a round of careful listening; perhaps of the apostles “checking their privilege” enough to really hear the witness of these people, to realise that from God’s perspective (and by ethical extension, their own), #SamaritanLivesMatter. They let go of their racial and doctrinal prejudices; they do not decide who deserves dignity and inclusion and who does not. They could have acted as gate-keepers for the Holy Spirit and abused their privilege as Jewish Christians, but they didn’t. The Holy Spirit isn’t theirs to control, so they lay their hands on, and wouldn’t you know it, Holy Spirit empowers them too. The playing field is level, and now they (and we) must treat all “as one” (echoes of Higgins).

(It seems to be a reasonable implication that the reason why the apostles knew that their new friends were God’s was because they also spoke with tongues and prophesied. Even today, this is a normal occurance when the Spirit comes upon individuals and communities who follow Jesus.)

The thing I always find so remarkable about Luke’s Gospel is how often prayer and the activity of God are right next door to each other. Something I noticed for the first time is that there seems to be a time interval between Jesus’ baptism and his prayer. His prayer, in fact, might seem to provoke heaven, the descent of the Spirit and the voice of God: “This is my Son, the Beloved. I am very pleased with Him.” Christian tradition sees here a demonstration of the Triune heart of God–the three Divine Persons are here, in their Oneness.

There is something else that I would like to draw out from Luke and Acts as a pentecostal and sacramental Christian. So many believers read the stories of Jesus’ mighty acts and decide that they have to consign themselves to being “merely human,” because–say they–Jesus did his work because he was God. Since am not God, I cannot do the cool things Jesus did.

Not so. Jesus was baptised; we are baptised. Jesus’ prayer life fueled his intimacy with the Father, and therefore his ministry; so too with us. Jesus needed and received the Holy Spirit; we need and receive the Holy Spirit. He received the affirmation of the Father; thus it is with us. So if the Human One, Jesus, was able to do what his father asked of him by the power of the Spirit (like healing the sick or casting out demons), should we expect, as his apprentices, to be excused from that kind of ministry? In a word: NO!

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