Breaking ThroughLuke 3:21-22
Please pray with me…
Imagine with me. You have left your home in dusty Jericho. It is not just dusty because of the sand in the area, but also because of the ash flying through the air from the open fires upon which meals are made. Everything you touch has a think layer of dust on it. And your skin clammy with the beginning of perspiration becomes an attractive vacuum for the dust. It covers you, very thinly but enough to notice and to be annoying. The dust is everywhere.
So, you have left your home in dusty Jericho and and you move through the city and out into the wilderness. You have heard about this prophet who is hanging around by the Jordan. So you head toward the rising sun, east to the river as it nears its emptying point in the Dead Sea. In the few miles you are in the desert making the walk to the waters your mind begins to think about all that dust. All of that grime that is always everywhere. It never goes away. You scrub the house and it just returns. You wash your body only to have the dust dry on you skin before you are even dressed. It is the bane of your existence.
And as you wander in the wilderness you watch as dust devils dance in silhouette on the horizon. And your mind jumps to the chaos that is your life. The insecurity you have about feeding your family. The well being of your aging mother. They tears you shed for the death of your neighbor. The constant barking of orders from the Roman overseers as you work in the fields. The beggars, always there, Blind Bartemaus, will he ever find happiness. All of it spins in your head like the dancing of the dust on the horizon.
Then as you begin the descent into the valley carved by the ancient waters, waters crossed by Jacob after facing God on the Jabbock; waters crossed by Joshua and the people of Israel as they made their way to the promised land; the waters crossed by the Elijah and Elisha; the waters that washed away the leprosy of Naaman; as you begin your descent you see him. The prophet you have heard of, standing waist deep in the water. He is proclaiming repentance for the forgiveness of sins and people are running to him to be washed in the water.
You make your way to the rivers edge. You sit and watch. You pick at the dried and cracked dust coating your hands. Will it ever go away? Will this dust ever go away? You listen to the man in the water, but you are skeptical about his claim. How can it be that one dip in the Jordan can cleanse you? If you can’t even get your house in order, you can’t get your house clean, how will something like this clean your soul, clean your spirit, clean your heart?
There is just too much dirt in there.
Imagine with me. You leave your home in Indianapolis. You leave it and you know it is disarray. You know you haven’t dusted in days, in weeks, in months. There is a layer of minuscule matter coating every surface, and you see it every time the sun shines in the window. You watch it dancing in the sunbeams, taunting you. You see it, but why bother, really, it is a Sisyphean task, it always comes back. The dust.
It lingers there like the back log of bills waiting to be knocked down. You can almost feel the weight of it as it falls on you. And it gets under your skin. Every time you get the phone call from a collector of and alert from the bank telling you you are overdrawn, the dust collects. It builds up and up until you are about to break. You lash out at those you love because everything you see is dirty. It just won’t come clean.
The dust in your aching joints and muscles tries to keep you from getting things in order. You know that as you get older it gets harder and harder to move around the house. To get the cleaning supplies from under the counter. And you feel it every time you move. And you want to scream.
It collets on the bottles of vodka that you turn to when you think no one is looking, the bottles that sometimes offer you solace, but more often than not make a mess when you fight with family. Your need for the bottle adds another layer. You want to, but it is so hard to get clean.
The dust coats your skin. It cakes on and every time you try to get it off you end up with bleeding knuckles. No matter what you do you can’t get clean.
And so you leave your house covered. You leave your house and you step in the mud. You see the violence in going on around you – four dead in 10 days. You watch as bile bellows forth from those who seek to lead our country. They dehumanize everyone who is not like them. Right, Left, Tea Party it doesn’t matter – the discourse does nothing to increase the dignity of God’s children.
Covered in dust and dirt you find your way to this place. You find yourself in a blue padded pew. You don’t know why you are here, and you almost didn’t come because you thought you were not good enough. You were too dirty. Stepping in there would make you vulnerable and you might get shamed by people who have their stuff together.
You come in these doors and into the blue padded pew and you see that the person next to you is just as dirt covered as you. You look around and everyone you see has dust covering them.
You come into these doors and into the blue padded pews and you hear words. You hear these words. These words that were witnessed by the one who left Jericho that day so long ago. That one covered covered in dust who made her way to the Jordan to see the prophet in the camel hair tunic. You hear these words that changed her life forever. You hear the words you have longed for; words of hope; of promise. You hear these words this day seated int he padded blue pews:
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 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.”
Well, sisters and brothers, we are all here today covered in dust and dirt. We are all here today with sin writ large on our hearts. WE are all here today with questions and uncertainties. We are here on the shores of the Jordan. And we witness all in one place and one time God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Sprit break forth into the world. Exploding from the heavens into our present reality – into our dusty and dirt word – Exploding into your reality saying to Jesus, I love you. I love you before you have even done anything. I love you and you are here to hear it. I love you.
And I’m here to let you know that that is the power of baptism. That is the power of the promise of God. That through these water all that dust and dirt you carry; the weight of the world, the sin of the hear, the hurt and anxiety – through these waters they get washed away. You don’t need to scrub until you bleed because in these water – God’s love does all the work. Because in the waters of baptism we hear clearly God say, I love you. I love you now. You don’t have to be perfect to come to these waters. You don’t have to do everything right. You don’t have to be busy doing work. No, I love you. I have loved you since before you drew your first breath and I will love you into eternity.
Through the waters of baptism comes new life; comes new hope. Cleansed in these holy waters you come out a new person. You come out marked with the cross of Christ forever and that is something that will never be taken away.
Now you may be about to say, Pastor, it sounds like you are saying that after baptism everything will be perfect. The dust is washed off and will never come back. Well, I am sorry to say, the dust does come back. You aren’t cured of hard times. They will still be there. You aren’t promised prosperity or fortune. You will sin again. People will still act like jerks. There will still be heartache and grief. After all it is still a dirty and dusty world. But what happens when you come out of the waters of baptism you come out of them with a new perspective.
You look at them the dust and dirt and say it ain’t that bad, because I know if can get washed off. You look at stress and confusion and say, I don’t have to go through it alone because I belong to God now. I belong to the church. I belong, because God loves me.
The aches and pains don’t go away, but they are transformed form instruments of torture into a ridiculous reality. Your getting old and this is what happens, but you aren’t getting old alone. You are part of something bigger when you come out of the waters of baptism. You come out as part of the body of Christ who has other weary travelers just like you and you can lean on each other. You can encourage each other. You can cry for each other. You come out of the waters of Baptism into the body of Christ that has younger and stronger people to stand long side you to lear from you; to help you; to grown from your knowledge; and to pick you up and carry you- because God love you. God loves you for who you are.
The stain of violence and putrid political rhetoric still will sully the streets. But instead of being worn down by it and carried along in the vocal hurricane you are able to say – this is not what the Kingdom of God looks like. This is not the eternal life I just was born into. You are given courage to be bold in the face of violence. You are given the voice to name the causes of violence; guns, drugs, gangs, sin, and broken systems that perpetuate the myth of redemptive violence. You are able to look at structures in place and call them racist because the disproportionately affects persons of color. You are able to say to your your candidate you are wrong. You are able to say that their platform does not reflect the kingdom of God. You are able to offer a different realty. The reality that is love. That is God’s love for all people. Let me say that again -God’s love is for all people. You missed it – God’s love is for all people.
Love that is for white people and black people. Brown people and first nations people and asian people. Love that is for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered people. Love that is for Jewish people. Love that is for Muslim people. Love that is for Hindu and Buddhist. It doesn’t matter who you are. God loves you. God loves you. I don’t think you hear me… GOD LOVES YOU.
When you come through the waters of Baptism you are able to come out clean having been bathed in God’s love. You come out of the waters someone new. Someone who knows the dust won’t stay put.
Someone empowered into a new way of life.
Someone ready to move mountains.
Someone ready to tear down wall.
Someone ready to reach out and love the ones everyone else says hate.
Someone who is ready to sit with the suffering; weep in the weeping; dance with the joyous.
Someone with a heart full of praise, singing Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless your holy name.
Someone who can’t help but shout the Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear.
Great are you Lord and greatly to be praised.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
You come out of the water as someone who can look to the heavens and hear God say, I Love You. I Love you. I Love you.
The doors of the church are open…