Regular worship services are each Sunday
at 10:30 a.m.
Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
January 15, 2017
You are God’s beloved! Every week we remind ourselves that God is love, that God loves us unconditionally, that there is nowhere we can go and nothing we can do that can separate us from God’s love. Today we are invited to imagine this this wonderful story of the Baptism of Jesus, applies to us!
It is found in all four gospels, and we think it’s pretty wild! When was the last time a dove hovered over your head? or a voice from heaven did that bartone, “You are my beloved! In you I am well pleased!”? Everything about the story sets it apart from us, encourages us to think of Jesus as other, “the only son of God” perhaps, even though he clearly told his disciples, “you are my friends, you are children of God, you will do greater things than I!”
Jesus’ baptism marks the beginning of his ministry. In Mark’s gospel, on which Matthew, Luke and John are based, the story begins simply with Jesus coming to the Jordan River to be baptized by this famous preacher John the Baptist. There is no indication that John thought Jesus was special at that moment. Jesus received the Holy Spirit and became the Messiah seemingly in the blessing at his baptism.
Matthew’s version adds John’s reluctance to baptize Jesus. For Matthew, Jesus became the Messiah at his birth. His ministry began with the wise ones in Bethlehem.
In Luke’s Gospel Jesus became the Messiah with his conception. Elizabeth’s baby (John) leapt in her womb. Mary declared The Magnificence of God!
In John’s Gospel Jesus was Messiah at the creation of the world. (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God!”)
The ancient church developed the liturgical calendar year to begin with Advent, the anticipation of the birth of Jesus, then Christmas and the celebration of that birth, then Epiphany and recognition that wise ones still seek him, and now Jesus’ baptism, when he begins his ministry
In following that calendar we come to this moment when we can once again ask ourselves, are we able to acknowledge our sacred birthright as children of God? Are we, like Jesus, able to take this moment to humbly be cleansed in the waters of baptism? It is the first step toward beginning a new year of ministry and meaning, for we know that God has called all of us to be ministers of the good news!
Matthew was sure that Jesus was already perfect and had no need for the ritual of baptism which was an ancient rite of the Jewish people often performed again and again over a lifetime to wash away the feeling of brokenness and shame. John the Baptist was a powerful prophet who lived at the time of Jesus, may have been his cousin, and preached forgiveness of sins if one was willing to humbly release them into the river Jordan (notably not in the temple baths). That Jesus chose to go to him acknowledged the need for healing renewal for all people and the validity of John’s ministry.
John used the word “repent” which meant “turn around/change direction,” He spoke of “sin” which in Greek was an archery term that meant “to miss the mark”.
In our Call to Worship today we spoke these ancient words of Psalm 139:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”
We probably don’t see ourselves as wicked, but we know we have all “missed the mark” in some areas of our lives. As the Apostle Paul said, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15) There is always room for change and improvement in our lives. New Year’s resolutions may not be helpful, but taking time in this season of renewal to examine our hearts and minds, to rededicate our efforts, to remember who we are and whose we are, to turn around/change direction if necessary, to live out our calling as children of God who are beloved of God, this can only be a good thing!
Today is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. He would have been 88 years old today if he had not been assassinated in 1968! He said the “arc of history is long but it bends toward justice.” His ministry and his courage continue to inspire me to stand for the compassion and justice he lived and died for. He was very human. He made mistakes. Would Jesus have seemed perfect if television crews followed his every move? Maybe!
But Martin and Jesus used their gifts for service to others. They foresaw their early demise, but it did not stop them. Martin’s march on Washington for jobs and justice led to real changes in this country, ones that I am thankful took place. I went to see the new movie “Hidden Figures” on Friday. It was full of reminders of how far we have come since 1961, not to mention, how much remains the same.
Jesus’ teachings on compassion and justice and his healing ministry transformed not only the lives of his first century followers but the world for centuries to come.
One great leader can make a real difference in the world. Martin gathered hundreds of thousands to stand in Washington for jobs and justice. He didn’t do it alone. Jesus taught many thousands who in turn taught many millions more “to love your neighbor as yourself”.
On January 21, there will be a Women’s March on Washington. There will be gatherings in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Redwood City and around the country. Why? Because never before in our history have so many of us realized that we must stand against misogyny and racism and homophobia and Islamophobia, to show the world that now is the time for love and justice.
Our own Kailey Moropoulos will be there. Many of you remember her as a hard worker at our Rummage Sales and Chocolate Fests when she was 10. Now she is 15 and a passionate feminist! She’ll represent us at this amazing event!
But small groups of creative and compassionate people can change the world as well! Margaret Mead, that philosopher and anthropologist reminds us:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”
We are challenged at this momentous moment in human history, when our planet is in peril, when the rich continue to get richer and the poor poorer, when people are divided so easily against one another, when fear too readily turns us from our better natures. We are challenged to renew our commitment to being the church, the body of Christ, a community of compassion and justice, a Safe Haven for those who feel threatened, a place and a people who will be the hands and feet and heart of God’s love and justice.
We are invited today to renew our baptism vows, to be washed clean by the forgiving love of God, to be filled with the spirit that whispers in our hearts: “You are my beloved. In you I am well pleased.”
In the Hindu tradition at the New Year, individuals are blindfolded by their family members and led to a mirror, usually decorated with flowers, where they are solemnly asked, as the blindfold is removed: “Who do you see in the mirror?” And the appropriate answer is, “The Lord!” They would call that spirit within them the Atman, we would call it “Christ Consciousness” or “The Holy Spirit.” But we are all carriers of that sacred center. Can you look in a mirror and see past the flaws, the wrinkles, your human limits, to see your true self? You are God’s beloved. In you God is well pleased!