Sunday, January 9, 2011

God's Heart for the World - Our Heart for God's World

First Sunday of Epiphany
Jan 9, 2011

God’s Heart for the World



Last Thursday began a new season in our church year. Epiphany – the shedding of light – The Light, into all the world. The symbol of the season is the coming of the gentiles to worship, the Three Magi – the Wise Men – who came guided by a star, from the east.

And this Sunday, specifically is the celebration of the Baptism of our Lord. An unnecessary act – so much so that it drew comment at the time from the baptizer himself!

John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, as our is – something for which Jesus had no need at all. John knew that he actually needed to be baptized by Jesus, not the other way round! But Jesus persisted – a new baptism came forth – not of repentance but of identification; a baptism of radical inclusion: inclusion of himself in identifying with us sinners, his creation; and finally, in his death, inclusion of us, each one, into our place IN CHRIST; baptized by One Spirit into One Body.

Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

Epiphany is the sign of the radical inclusion of the whole world in the revelation of the Messiah, Jesus Christ – The Baptism of Jesus is the sign of our own radical inclusion in the life we have IN Christ -- our own salvation for the sake of the world. Our opening collect this morning made our prayer today : “Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior.” Salvation is the outcome of the heart that God has always had for this world! Salvation is the “Why?” of Jesus coming: “For God so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten Son …” We all know the rest, but what about then next verse?
"For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

God’s heart for the world is well documented. It flows from the root of creation itself: And God saw all that He had made and it was very good! (Gen 1:31) God’s love for the world flows through the grace he shows Noah and the call of Abraham – the covenant he made with Abraham: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:3)

We see God’s heart in the calling of Moses, of David, of Isaiah, the prophet. All of the Old Testament is filled with this focus, not only on God’s people Israel, but on their calling to be a blessing to the whole world. And it is all carried into the New Testament by none less than Jesus, God’s Son! And then through baptism, the call is given into our hands!!

Through baptism we are rescued from sin and sent, empowered by His very Spirit, into the world as His agents of reconciliation. All this began at the baptism of Jesus! It was different from the baptism offered by John for repentance. He knew it. He said it.
“I should be the one being baptized here – by You!!”

But Jesus said, “No. This is in order to fulfill all righteousness.” But Jesus, as John alluded to WAS RIGHTEOUSNESS IN THE FLESH. How could this act fill it full?


We believe that Jesus is referring to His identification with us – the “man” part of the God-Man Incarnation; Just as in baptism we are identified with Him in his death (Ro 6), here Jesus
was identified with us, in our life. And what we see that follows: God’s voice and the descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus, without measure – is God’s approval and empowerment for the mission of identification – the mission of Jesus as savior of the world.


Our Heart for God’s World

Jesus’ baptism is the one side of this coin – our baptism is the reciprocal side of the equation. He was baptized into our life – and we are baptized into His death, and thus into his resurrection and New Life from the dead.

We are baptized into his death, Paul tells us, in order that we can be free from sin and born from above – born again. Baptism is the symbolic enactment of God’s grace of forgiveness in our lives and our radical inclusion in the very life of God. This is a life that flows from the creation, through the whole history of God and His People on the earth. Through Christ and the Cross and finally, into us, and further, out into the world. We are immersed in the flow of God’s providence – His love for all humankind, and for all kinds of humans! There are no levels of sinners and there are no depths nor heights nor widths nor lengths to which God will no go to show forth His love to us and to all. And He does it through us!!

All we have to do is look – no to GLANCE – even in passing at the ways that God has revealed His love to mankind, to know that He is “head over heals” for this world! And He is waiting for us to get “bit.” To fall in love… To make the leap of faith… to finally see the world through His eyes! We sing, “Open the eyes of our hearts Lord… we want to see You!” but he wants to open the eyes of our hearts to see others… in Him and to see Him in others!

The word of Isaiah the prophet regarding Jesus apply equally to His Body, us, the Church!
0Friends, it’s a two-sided coin. The Baptism of Jesus and our baptism, are the mirror image of each other; He was baptized into our life and we are baptized into His death.
He was baptized to fulfill all righteousness and we are baptized to be filled with His righteousness!! He was baptized by water and the Spirit of God – the firstborn, Paul tells us, among many brothers and sisters; US, who are baptized by Him, subsequently, by the Holy Spirit and with fire. We are baptized to become partakers of His nature, through His death and our identification with it. By baptism we share in both His death and in his eternal life – life that begins the moment we “rise” from the water.

It is all a mysterious and supernatural exchange – as is all of sacramental reality! His life is given and received by us through these simple signs of water, of wine and bread. We truly are IN CHRIST and He is truly IN US. Not just for our enjoyment friends, but to continue this mission to its end – to its final conclusion!

Our prayer this morning echoes again in our thinking: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior! The confession of our faith – the public witness that we have to the life of Jesus is the end game of our purpose in the world and God’s purpose for the world.

Yesterday as we prayed together for the upcoming mission trips from REZ we were led to a passage in the second chapter of Philippians. Let me summarize what it said to us:
Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. 13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. 14 … Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. 16 Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud… 17 … your faithful service is an offering to God. And I want all of you to share that joy. 18 Yes, you should rejoice, and I will share your joy.

Friends, we have been included in God’s plan for His beloved world. Through baptism into his death and into his eternal life, we begin now to be empowered by His Holy Spirit, dwelling within us, and to be a part of the ongoing witness to Jesus life in the world and for the world. He lives his life in us and extends his hands through us.

I pray that you will take hold of this today. Now, here, on this First Sunday of Epiphany, as God reveals His love for the whole world through the sending of His Son, and as we partake in the Baptismal Life of Jesus this day, identifying with God’s mission and His ever-reaching Hands – our hands stretched out to the world, to bring those who do not know Him to the knowledge and love of Him, for the fame of His Name and the glory of His Kingdom.

Amen.

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