Baptism of the Lord Year C

Oreo Cookies, Family Photos, and Steve Young. Not necessarily in that order.
Item: Family Albums. “Who’s that?” ask Laura, to her little one. And with a roll of her eyes, as if the question was a no-brainer, Amy says, “that’s me.” This is New Year’s Day and the old photos are out and we’re looking back, to look forward. And Amy is pointing at her mother’s swollen stomach and seeing herself. Clever kid! Then comes the question that makes you glad you’re a visitor: “but where was I before that?” Aa!
Item: Steve Young. Best player in the NFL. That’s what the New York Times says this morning. But, they wonder, if he’s so good – and they have all the stats to prove it – if he’s so good why does he still fall behind Joe Montana in the hero stakes? Myself, I think he’s too nice to be a hero. In the TV ads he’s this big, genial, slightly dopey, all-round nice guy. The ideal big brother, the perfect uncle, the model son. But I like my heroes to be just a little less “nice” than him. A little more out of reach. A little more … special.
Item: Oreos. After 85 years of being a disguised pork-product the archetypal American cookie is about to be declared … kosher: no longer off limits to Jewish kids across the country. And a Rabbi, long tempted by this chocolatey forbidden fruit, sees this as the end of Jewishness as he knows it. “Can we,” he asks, “survive being so normal?”
Three good questions for a Sunday morning/afternoon: how did we begin; who are we taking after; and what makes us different?
A New Year, and though the church’s year began with advent, today we begin reading in earnest from Luke’s gospel. We are going to spend the rest of this year with Luke’s Jesus. And though most of the stories are the same, the character at their heart is different. So who’s the hero of the story as Luke sees him? Well it’s not the troubling, miracle-worker that Mark marvels at; nor Matthew’s great preacher of a new inner law; and above all it’s not John’s commanding, all-knowing, super-hero who walks through the gospel two-inches off the ground. Luke sees Jesus as one of us: an ordinary person, a good person, who prays like the rest of us, gets tired like the rest of us, gets baptized like the rest of us. Jesus is a gentleman, a gentle, kind soul with a desire to cure all the ills of the world. With a powerful message of liberation delivered quietly and without violence. This is our hero: one of us; a son of Adam. But if he’s so like us doesn’t he make a lousy hero?
Luke takes us back to our beginnings to answer that question. Back to this moment at the Jordan when something happens to Jesus which makes all the difference. It’s not the baptism. And it’s not voice from heaven. It’s when the Holy Spirit comes and settles on Jesus.
As Luke sees it, Jesus begins his ministry because the Spirit comes to him and begins to lead him and empower him. The Jesus that we follow begins there, drenched and praying, when God comes to him anew with a message and a mission.
Luke wrote the Acts of Apostles too. And today we hear Peter talking to a bunch of foreigners. Peter’s just had a vision telling him to break kosher – to eat his Oreos — so here he is swallowing religious pride and speaking the gospel to outsiders. And what happens next? As they are all praying the same Holy Spirit settles upon them all. God comes to them anew with a message and a mission.
For Luke it’s the Holy Spirit that makes all the difference. It’s where we all begin. Jesus began there. The Jewish Church began there at Pentecost. The universal Church began there in Cornelius’ house. And we begin there too.
Our hero, the Jesus we’ll be with all this year, is just some nice guy who let himself be seized by the Holy Spirit, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, and led on a wild goose chase by the Holy Spirit.
I for one find that disturbing. I like my heroes a little out of reach, a little special: not so ordinary. Because then I can let them be who I am supposed to be. I can watch from a safe distance while they take my risks for me and live my life.
I like Mark’s Jesus because he’s wilder than I am. I like Matthew’s Jesus because he’s wiser than I am. I like John’s Jesus because he’s more magical than I am. But Luke’s Jesus frightens me because he leaves me no excuse.
I don’t like my heroes to be too much like me, because then I might have to be one too.

One reply on “Baptism of the Lord Year C”

  1. “I don’t like my heroes to be too much like me, because then I might have to be one too.” That’s a thought-provoking quote.

    Here’s another thought — Jesus was able to do what He could do because the Father was doing the doing and speaking through Him. Jesus told us that. Now Jesus wants to live through those who are His today!

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