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Established May 2009, Little Rock, AR

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Questions, Answers, and Assurance

January 13, 2019

QUESTIONS, ANSWERS, AND ASSURANCE

January 13, 2019 (Baptism of the Lord)

New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Arkansas

 

Exodus 3:1-12


3Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ 4When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 5Then he said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ 6He said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

7 Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ 11But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ 12He said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.’

 

Isaiah 43:1-7


43But now thus says the Lord,
   he who created you, O Jacob,
   he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
   I have called you by name, you are mine. 
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
   and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
   and the flame shall not consume you. 
3 For I am the Lord your God,
   the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
   Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. 
4 Because you are precious in my sight,
   and honoured, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
   nations in exchange for your life. 
5 Do not fear, for I am with you;
   I will bring your offspring from the east,
   and from the west I will gather you; 
6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up’,
   and to the south, ‘Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
   and my daughters from the end of the earth— 
7 everyone who is called by my name,
   whom I created for my glory,
   whom I formed and made.’ 

 

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22


15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ 

 

The baptism of Jesus marked the beginning of his public ministry.  At his baptism, Jesus was affirmed by a voice from heaven that identified him as “the Beloved” Son of God.  At his baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus.  At his baptism, Jesus moved into the foreground ahead of John the Baptist, but also ahead of Herod and all the other political, religious, and cultural personalities of his time.  

It is easy to overlook an important detail that Luke’s Gospel mentions about the baptism of Jesus.  Luke 3:21 indicates that “when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened.”  We overlook that Jesus was baptized in line with others.  We overlook that Jesus stood in a baptismal line.  We overlook that Jesus as praying.  We focus on the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove and the heavenly voice, but we overlook the humility of Jesus, the prayerfulness of Jesus, and the way Jesus is identified in the Bible as one person among others who were baptized.

Yes, John the Baptist recognized him as God’s Messiah for the world.  Yes, Jesus had been nurtured from birth as special.  But in the Luke’s account of his baptism, Jesus stood in line with people like us.  Jesus prayed like we do.  Jesus began his public ministry with baptism, so we view baptism as the beginning of our public identities as followers of Jesus.  

We also overlook something John said while emphasizing that he was not the promised Messiah.  Many people may be familiar with John’s statement:  “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals.”  We tend to overlook what comes next.  At Luke 3:16 and 17, we read:  “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”…

 

Let’s unpack that agricultural reference.  During this period of time, wheat would be harvested by hand in the field and then taken to a threshing floor, an area of hardened earth or stone.  There, cattle or oxen would walk on it or people would beat the wheat stalks to separate the husks.  After the husks had been separated from the stalks (sheaves), the husks would be tossed into the air with a winnowing fan – a fork-like shovel – and allowed to fall to the floor.  When tossed, the air (wind) would separate the wheat grain from chaff (wheat husks and straw).  The wheat grain would then be gathered for use in preparing meals.  The husks and straw would be gathered for burning.  

We tend to overlook that when John the Baptist used this illustration, he was declaring that Jesus would, through the agency of the Holy Spirit (the wind) separate righteous people (the reference to wheat) from unrighteous people (the reference to chaff).    In this agricultural metaphor, Jesus enters humanity and gathers humanity for God.  In this metaphor, Jesus and the Holy Spirit worked together to expose – as it were – righteousness and unrighteousness.  In this metaphor, Jesus embarks on that prophetic work at his baptism.  

The passage from Exodus 3 involving Moses and the burning bush encounter is, like the baptism of Jesus, revealing about how God calls people to be prophetic agents in the world.  Like the baptism of Jesus, the burning bush encounter marks the beginning of the prophetic ministry of Moses.  Unlike the baptism of Jesus, Moses was not part of a line of people.  Moses witnessed the burning bush and heard the voice of God while alone.  Unlike the baptism of Jesus, the burning bush encounter did not involve water or win.  So why have I included it in this meditation?  

I did so to emphasize that Moses before the burning bush, like Jesus many centuries later at his baptism, was impressed with a divine sense of God’s prophetic purposes for his life.   The burning bush encounter marked Moses as God’s choice to engage in prophetic living similar to how the baptismal experience with the Holy Spirit marked Jesus as God’s choice to engage in prophetic living.  

 

The burning bush encounter of Moses, like the baptism of Jesus, provides answers to questions that constantly haunt us.  In every age, people oppressed by sinful forces wonder if God sees their plight.  Then the LORD said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt…” They wonder if God hears their cries.  “I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters.”  They wonder if God knows their suffering. “Indeed, I know their sufferings…” They wonder if God will deliver them. “I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians…” 

But don’t miss this truth about baptism that appears in the baptism of Jesus and the burning bush experience of Moses.  Baptism identifies us as God’s prophetic people of liberation to a world and people suffering from the oppressive realities of sin.  When Jesus was baptized and when Moses was called they each sensed a calling to live intentionally, purposely, and prophetically for God!  Jesus heard these words:  “You are my Son, the Beloved…”  Moses heard these words:  “So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people … out of Egypt.”

 

Jesus and Moses show that God sees, knows, and cares about humanity.  Jesus and Moses show that God calls people to be involved in seeing, knowing, and caring with God about humanity.  Jesus and Moses also show that God sends people to be involved with God in delivering people from the oppressive forces of sin in themselves and in God’s world.  Baptism marks us as God’s people to see with God, know with God, and care with God about humanity and God’s world.   

Shift now with me and reflect on the question Moses posed at Exodus 3:11 where we read these words: But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”  Like Moses, each of us wrestles with feelings of inadequacy in the face of oppressive realities.  We seem to be outnumbered by the forces of oppression.  We seem to be less influential and prominent.  We seem to have fewer resources.  Even when we have sensed God’s call for us to live as forces of divine liberation from the powers of oppression, we feel alone and relatively powerless.  

Let us remember the assurance the Holy Spirit gave to Jesus at his baptism and that God gave to Moses from the burning bush.  Jesus heard “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  Moses heard, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you:  when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”  

Jesus and Moses were not alone!  The Holy Spirit was with them.  The Sovereign of all things was with them.  

 

At Isaiah 43:1-3, the result of that prophetic partnership between God and God’s prophetic people is declared in this assurance to the world:  But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel; do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.  For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”  

In baptism, Jesus stood in line with us.  In baptism, Jesus stepped into prophetic living for God as our example.  In baptism, Jesus followed the tradition of Moses in hearing God’s voice and responding to God’s claim on his life.  In our baptism, we, like Jesus and Moses, declare that God can, does, and will work through people who are empowered by the Holy Spirit to deliver people from the oppressions of empire and all its sinfulness. In our baptism, we declare that God is with us!

Now, as was true for Moses and Jesus, workers are oppressed by rulers.  Now, as was true for Moses and Jesus, immigrants are oppressed and vilified.  Now, as was true for Moses and Jesus, people are suffering.  The names and faces of oppressors are different from the names and faces that Moses and Jesus faced, but the oppressive ways of empire and their impact on vulnerable people and the world have not changed.  

Workers, immigrants, women, and children are still targeted for abuse and mistreatment.  Rulers still believe and behave as if they are not accountable to the righteousness of God.  Suffering people are still crying out.

 

Therefore, as baptized followers of Jesus and successors to the liberating prophetic life he, Moses, and many others lived, let us step forward to challenge, condemn, and denounce the Pharaoh responsible for the current partial shutdown of the federal government because he wants to build a wall to prevent immigrants from finding safety and security in the United States.  Let us remind Pharaoh Trump that another Pharaoh thought he could get away with abusing workers and immigrants.  

As baptized followers of Jesus and successors to the prophetic life he, Moses, and others have lived, let us remind Pharaoh Trump that it is wrong to cheat and defraud workers by withholding their wages (Exodus 20:15 – You shall not steal; Leviticus 19:13 – You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning).

As baptized followers of Jesus and successors to the prophetic life he, Moses, and others have lived, let us remind Pharaoh Trump that it is wrong to deny justice to immigrants, children, and vulnerable women (Deuteronomy 27:19 – Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.)   

Let us, as baptized followers of Jesus, live as God’s prophetic agents to challenge, confront, and call people to embrace the liberating love of God.  Let us, as baptized followers of Jesus, exercise holy audacity, condemn the Pharaoh oppressors of our time and place, and demand that oppressive rulers stop abusing and mistreating vulnerable people and God’s creation.  Let us, as people guided and strengthened by the Holy Spirit, live as people who know that God has called us, that God sends us, and that in calling and sending us God is pleased to call us “beloved.”

Amen. 

 
©Wendell Griffen, 2019