Thursday, January 10, 2013

Lectionary Musings for January 13, 2013

I have decided to bring a little discipline to my religious musing on one of the lectionary readings for the coming Sunday.  Yes, I now belong to a church that follows a three year cycle of readings from the Bible. As a Southern Baptist reject, I have found these readings to be surprisingly comforting.  My musings today will be on Luke 3:15-17, 21-22, labeled by commentators as the baptism of Jesus.

Why did Jesus have to be baptized?   I know scholars can provide answers.  I suspect that in the past I had explored the question either on my own or in a study group setting, but no glib answers spring to mind. 

We know some people were confused and thought John the Baptist was the Messiah.  Even John's own denial may not have stopped their belief in him. Jesus knew he was the Messiah, but he does not wish to announce it to the world.  He is content to let the confusion continue for a while.  This will give him time to call his disciples and begin the long, circuitous death march to Jerusalem.  I think with his baptism Jesus is announcing the beginning of his ministry to God.

One oddity in Luke's narrative is that John is arrested and thrown into jail before Jesus is baptized.  I had never noticed this because all the narratives of Jesus baptism have long since blurred into one preferred story in my mind.  A commentator called my attention to this strange glitch in Luke's story of Jesus' baptism.  If John is in jail, who baptizes Jesus?  God, the Creator.

By going to the place of baptism, Jesus announces his intention to become the God that has always been within, the God submerged within the human until this time. Now that divinity will be free and fully engaged in the world around him.  

Jesus prays, heaven opens and 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.""  Here for me is the Trinity: Creator, Holy Spirit, and Word.

In the beginning, the Trinity is one.  The Holy Spirit (Love) is the binder between Creator and Word as the universe is spoken into existence.  In choosing to be born of a woman, the bond was not severed, but I believe it must have been stretched.  How could it not have been as the Word of God was poured into a vessel as limited as a human being

At baptism, Jesus acknowledges who and what he is.  The Holy Spirit  descends and binds Creator and Word together.  The Trinity is wholeJesus will show us God in human form linked by Love to the Creator.

How does this passage speak to me?  It reminds me that Jesus made a conscious commitment to pursue the purpose God had set for him.  I believe that we are confronted at some point with existence of God, just as Jesus was confronted at his baptism by the Creator.  When does this happen?  At different times, in different ways, with different concepts of God.  Then and only then are we required to make a choice.  We can choose to become some small part of God's plan, God's being, or God's eternity, but it is our choice and I believe it comes for everyone on this planet. 

For me, this choice came at age 29 I had received a doctorate in chemistry at age 25 and was actively engaged in science.  I was a confirmed deist, not attending any church and not interested in doing so. I had been told as a child by Sunday School teachers and ministers that Christians did not ask questions about God or about our faith.  Any faith that did not like questions was not for me. After age 13, I never attended a church of any kind again. 

As the years passed,  I did feel I was missing something in my life.  I began a totally unsystematic study of various faiths minus Christianity, of courseI also made random attempts at finding some volunteer opportunities (none religious) where I could be of service. Nothing seemed to fit. 

I was a voracious reader.  I had enjoyed C. S. Lewis' Narnia series as a child.  Now, I read his science fiction trilogy.  I was a little put off by the obvious religious overtones, but I enjoyed all three books.  Looking for more by him, I read The Screwtape Letters.  Suddenly, there was more to Christianity than I had believed.  I decided perhaps I should see if there was an intellectual side to Christianity afterall.

I made a choice and joined a liberal Baptist church with an engaging minister who presented short messages that challenged you to think.  At the same time, I joined a study group led by a doctoral candidate in philosophy.  Both the minister and the study group made me realize that Christianity was a faith of the intellect as well as the soulI could ask all the questions I wanted.  So when I was asked to be a deacon, I said yes to serving and yes to God.  My choice was to believe. 

As a Christian I met a God who revealed herself in the Bible as Creator, Love and Word Now that Love came to me as the Comforter, the Holy Spirit.  There was no speaking in tongues, no tongues of fire. no overwhelming emotion.  Just a quiet assurance that I had found my way.  

Jesus was a year older than I was when he made his choice.  Perhaps the message of his baptism is that even if one committed oneself to God as a child (remember Jesus in the temple at 12), adulthood demands a fresh decision. Choose.


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