Rev. Nick Reed
Called In Righteousness
Isaiah 42:1-9 and Luke 3:21-23b; 4:1
BAPTISM OF THE LORD
Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord and the gift that Christ’s baptism means for us. While the story is only a few verses long, it is a significant story because it marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus is baptized and the heavens open up, and the Holy Spirit descends upon him like a dove, and a voice from heaven proclaims “You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.” What makes the occasion special is not only what happens in the moment but how that moment will define Jesus’ ministry and purpose for the world. The same Spirit that descended down from heaven empowers Jesus to go out into the world and out into the wilderness. The gift of the Spirit will be present with Jesus throughout all his days ministering to a world in need.
So today on Baptism of the Lord Sunday we remember our own baptism and what it means. Some of us were probably baptized as infants, others as young people, and some as adults. Some of us were sprinkled, some were dunked, and some had water poured on our heads. For us Presbyterians all those baptisms count and hold the same meaning…our baptism is a sign and seal that God loves and claims us through Jesus Christ. Our baptism was a marker for a beginning of new journey into the membership of the church of Jesus Christ.
Our Elders Elect who will be ordained and installed today can tell you what this book is. It is our denominations’ Book of Order. It is a guide that is based off scripture that helps the Presbyterian church live out its calling and organize itself to do God’s mission in the world. So on a day when we are talking about baptism as outward sign and seal that marks membership into the church of Jesus Christ I thought I would share what this guide tells us about church membership.
The Book of Order calls membership of the church of Jesus Christ “a joy and privilege”. It goes on to proclaim, “A faithful member bears witness to God’s love and grace and promises to be involved responsibly in the ministry of Christ’s Church. Such involvement includes:
proclaiming the good news in word and deedtaking part in the common life and worship of a congregationlifting one another up in prayer, mutual concern, and active supportstudying Scripture and the issues of Christian faith and lifesupporting the ministry of the church through the giving of money, time, and talentsdemonstrating a new quality of life within and through the churchresponding to God’s activity in the world through service to othersliving responsibly in the personal, family, vocational, political, cultural, and social relationships of lifeworking in the world for peace, justice, freedom, and human fulfillmentcaring for God’s creation.”
That is quite a list, an important list, a significant list of things to be a part of in the life of the church. Almost everything on this list would mean you have to take part in the act of serving, either serving God or serving others. As Presbyterians we love talking about serving. We call each other on the phone and ask, “Bob, will you serve on this committee, or Sally will you serve on Session.” My guess is not many phone calls happen that ask, “Hello George, will you serve our church by living responsibly in the personal, family, vocational, political, cultural, and social relationships of life?” “Hello Jane, will you serve the church by working in the world for peace, justice, freedom, and human fulfillment, caring for God’s creation?”
We may not ask each other these specific membership questions very much but there is no doubt the members of this particular church have shown they are committed to their promise to be involved responsibly in ministry of Christ’s church.
The promised responsibility is lived out faithfully inside these church walls and outside the church walls. From teaching Sunday school, giving time and energy to Bravehearts, serving on PCM board, leading children’s choirs, and the list could go on in the ways people from this community of faith choose to serve God and God’s creation as members of Christ’s church.
HERE IS MY SERVANT
Today’s two texts are reminders that we are called and empowered by God to serve God, and also serve a world in need. “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon them.”
This servant song of Isaiah was written when the world was in deep need. Isaiah’s community was a fractured community. Some where exiled and living along the banks of the Euphrates. Others were struggling to make ends meet living at home in Judah. This fractured community was spiritually dislocated and defeated. This servant song were words of hope to a community in need, words of inspiration to a community looking to tend to one another.
With our lens of the Gospel we read this text of a servant song and ponder the hope that has been revealed to us through our great Servant, Jesus Christ. Empowered by the Spirit at his baptism Jesus would reveal himself to the world as loving servant. Jesus brought forth justice to the nations, a bruised reed he will not break, the dimly burning wick he will not quench. Jesus faithfully brings forth justice. Jesus Christ is the amazing servant who revealed love to the weak and grace to the faint.
The second half of the Isaiah passage, specifically verses 5-9, speaks to more generally to the righteous calling of God’s people. God names our purpose that governs our life as members of Christ’s church. God has given us breath and spirit to live out our calling. “I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you. I have given you as a covenant people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners…who sit in darkness.”…
Dr. Paul Hanson, professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School says that today’s Isaiah text is “a catalyst for reflection on the nature of the response demanded of those who have received a call from God.”
As we reflect together on this text today our purpose is revealed. Our purpose as followers of Christ is to be a servant who witnesses to Christ light by being a light to the nations, open the eyes of the blind, release those who are captive to a fearful world.
As we dive into a new year as followers of Christ may we all reflect on ways God is calling us to serve in 2020. What are ministries you can join inside and outside these church walls? Where is God calling you to be a witness to Christ’s light? How is God calling you to be a light to the nations, a person who opens the eyes of the blind, and releases those who are captive to a fearful world?
NOT ALONE Maybe reflecting this calling and purpose for the members of Christ’s church sounds inspiring, maybe it sounds overwhelming. The good news is we are not alone. While baptism marks the beginning of our membership into church of Jesus Christ, it also is an outward sign and reminder that God’s spirit is guiding us, renewing, us, and giving us courage and wisdom along the way. We all are empowered by the Spirit to go and do and serve a world in need.
Beyond the spirit we can look around this space and realize we have each other to lean on as we serve God and one another in our righteous calling to be witnesses to Christ light in the world. The ordination and installation of the elders is one my favorite moments in the life of the church. It is a special time to mark a specific purpose and calling being affirmed for these elders. What makes this moment extra special is that visual reminder that in ministry we are not alone. In a few minutes there will be a time when all the ordained elders and pastors of the church come forward to lay hands and pray over the those who will be ordained as elders. It is always powerful moment and comforting moment to witness most of the congregation come forward as ordained elders to participate in the laying on of hands and to be reminded that we ALL are serving God together.
So as we go from this place and live out the calling to serve God and one another that was marked at our baptism may you go with courage knowing that you are not alone. May you go and fearlessly share the gift of love with all of God’s creation knowing that the God’s spirit is guiding you, Christ’s love strengthens you, and God’s grace claims you. “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon them.” Alleluia Amen