Jesus, the Human One, the Christ, the Lord, is asking to be baptized by John who recognizes that he is not worthy to do this. Have you ever served someone, given something to someone, been asked to be part of introducing someone, or in some other way been invited into the close company of someone whom you feel is your superior? Have you ever been in the presence of someone around whom you feel or have felt small, inferior or unworthy?
About 12 years ago, Father Elias Chacour came to my house for lunch. Father Chacour is the Archbishop of Israel. He has several books out, which I am happy to lend out, about his life and how he was led finally to begin a school in the heartland of Israel for the purpose of crossing the walls, the boundaries that so strongly divide the middle East based on ethnic, religious, cultural and political differences. His school, which teaches children from preschool age through college has teachers who are Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Drew. The students also come from all of these different religious and cultural backgrounds, and his school not only focuses on academic excellence but also challenges people from these different life views to find ways to talk about their differences and to live together in peace and cooperation. For this reason, Father Chacour has twice been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and he is a man who, when he opens his mouth, captures the full attention of anyone in the room with him who cannot help but listen and be moved by his faith, his love, his commitment to justice, his ability to forgive the tragedies and injustices that he and his family have endured living in that area, and his unbelievable strength, motivation and ability to bring peace, understanding and love to any situation of conflict and even deep animosity.
Twelve years ago he was in the United States raising awareness, support and money for his school and his peace work, and it happened that through various connections Father Chacour came to my house to meet my family, my two kids (at that time), and to have lunch with us. I found myself feeling, in anticipation of this event, deeply anxious because it was clear to me that I was not worthy to have this man in my house. When he came, put my one year old son on his lap and blessed him with his tears, his hugs and his prayers, I myself was moved to tears of gratitude and an awareness that it was not just Jonah who was being blessed but all of us in that room. Here was truly a holy man, who was sitting with me and my family, allowing us to feed him, and I felt completely out of my depth. I remember this event and don’t feel that I’m even deserving of his remembering me or my children. And then I read today’s story, and I have no doubt, NO DOUBT, that John’s comment to Jesus was a statement of that same feeling, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"
But Jesus’ response is the same, I think, that God says to us today. Jesus says, “Let it be so for now: for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”
We are called to serve and follow God. And that takes us into tasks that we may not feel worthy, ever, to perform. I want to tell you a secret that I hope will not get me into trouble. As you may imagine, I talk to other pastors. And one of the common feelings, common comments, is that we all feel at times like “fakes”, especially when it comes to serving communion, marrying people, burying people and baptizing people. Who are we, who are we, that we are given the privilege to bless these key times in another person’s life? That we are called to be present with people at these most important transitions and spiritual events in another’s life? Who are we to serve the Lord’s supper? Who are we to follow in Jesus’ steps and serve you this meal? Who are we to proclaim to you on Jesus’ behalf with water that you are loved and chosen by God, and given the chance for new birth through baptism? Who are we to stand in that place? And all of us pastors, if we have any sense at all of our own fallibility, our own humanity, our own limits, all of us at one point or another have felt like we are fakes. That we are simply not deserving to be given these privileges in this way. It is a gift beyond all others to serve you communion, to baptize your children and sometimes yourselves, to marry you and to be with you when your loved ones have passed, to visit with you in the hospital, to walk your journeys with you.
It’s not just being a pastor, though. With David’s permission, I want to talk to you about his response to becoming a Deacon. He was having a hard time emotionally holding it together on the day that he was ordained as a deacon. It was a huge deal to him to be able to serve the church in this way. And frankly, it should be. It should be for every one of us called into the service of God, as we all are. Who are we, that God, GOD loves us so much, so very very much that not only did this God come to be with us as one of us, but God calls us into service, into serving God-self and God’s people with love and compassion and care?
Jesus is not here anymore to love the least of these. God isn’t here enfleshed at this point in time to bring justice, love kindness and heal and serve one another. Jesus isn’t here to feed us and to baptize us and to marry us. So we have to do it. We are called to do this. So we have to listen, even as John did, to Jesus’ words, ““Let it be so for now: for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”
The call is there for you too. As Isaiah wrote, “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 to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” We may not feel we are up to doing this, but we are called by our baptisms to live in fullness and wholeness and completeness…to do that which God can only do through us until God is here again.
This has come up in conversations with several of you at other times, but I want to say more about this here. When I say we should feel the amazing honor it is to do God’s work, I am not saying that we should believe ourselves to be horrible sinful people who deserve nothing but death. I don’t believe that. God made us good and I believe that almost all people are trying to be the best they can be. I also believe God doesn’t just love us in spite of who we are but because of who we are. I don’t, however, believe that there is an opposing or black and white choice here between either thinking ourselves to be nothing or thinking of ourselves so highly that there is never a sense of awe at the tasks we’ve been given. I also don’t believe that having wonder about what we’ve been called to do has to include a sense of shame or guilt. But I do think humility, or humbleness, is an important part of what we are called to be and do. Walking humbly with God means remembering that all we are and all we have are gifts from God. Therefore, we are called to be deeply in awe and grateful that we are created to be God’s children, created to follow a call to love one another, created to serve in the many wondrous ways we are called to do that; with our talents, with our resources, with all of who we are.
As we renew our baptisms today, on this baptism Sunday, I invite you to take into your heart that memory that God has chosen YOU, and that in choosing you and loving you, God is also calling you to do that which we may feel unworthy to do, but which is awe inspiring regardless….to stand up for justice, to open eyes, to bring God’s love to a world that is sometimes so lacking in compassion. God loves you, and God calls you therefore to do this for now… ”let it be so for now” until the time when we can do it together with God, face to face. Amen.