Monday, January 13, 2014

Be a Witness

    Long ago, when I was in high school, I actually had the privilege of having my dad teach me Algebra, Physics, Chemistry, and Pre-Calculus.  I know I am biased, but my dad was a very good teacher.  I learned a lot from him.  But there was one thing which rather upset me at the time.  Dad wouldn’t help me with my homework at home.  If I had a question about anything, I was required to go to his class during study hall.  He just wouldn’t help me at home.  It was rather frustrating!  Why would my dad do this to me?  Why would he make me go to study hall to get help?  He was right there!  It didn’t seem fair. 

    But, let’s think about this for just a moment.  Let’s think about why my dad did what he did.  Let’s think about what is and isn’t fair.  And let’s think about it by asking this question: Did Jesus need to be baptized?  Ponder that for just a moment.  Did Jesus need to be baptized?
    The obvious answer is “No.”  I mean John the Baptist is blunt when Jesus shows up to be baptized.  John looks Jesus straight in the eye and says, ““I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 

    Jesus is God incarnate–the fully human, fully divine Son of God.  God doesn’t need to be baptized–at all.  God doesn’t need repentance or the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus is blameless before God and before humanity.  There is no need for him to go through this process.  At all.  Yet, Jesus shows up to be baptized by John, and Jesus makes John go through with it.  “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”   Why does Jesus demand to be baptized? 

    Let’s turn to the opening statement of our second lesson from the book of Acts.  Peter is addressing the household of Cornelius–a Gentile.  Please remember in the context of this time, Jews and Gentiles did not mix.  They were like oil and water.  Jews considered Gentiles unclean.  Peter had just had a vision in which a sheet was lowered out of heaven with all sorts of unclean animals on it.  God commanded Peter, “Get up. Kill and eat.”  Peter replied, “Nothing unclean has ever touched my lips.”  God said, “What I have called clean, do not call unclean.”Immediately after this vision, messengers from Cornelius arrived at Peter’s door.  They said Cornelius had received a command to contact Peter while praying.  Peter went to the household.  When he arrived, he found a group of God-fearing Gentiles who were receptive to the message of Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit brought them to faith.

    Upon seeing this, St. Peter addresses the people who had gathered in the house, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”  Now, we usually take this text and run with it and talk about how God doesn’t show any sort of favoritism based upon one’s cultural context, one’s gender, one’s sexuality, one’s skin color, or what have you.  There is nothing wrong with doing such a thing, but I think we need to push it farther.  We need to push God’s impartiality all the way through.  Even to His own Son who came to live among us.

            Why was Jesus baptized?  God shows no partiality.

    Why did my dad refuse to help me at home?  Dad shows no partiality.  Not all the students could access my dad as easy as I could.  It wasn’t fair to them if he helped me at home.  Dad wasn’t going to show favoritism.

    God wasn’t going to either, and this has some very important implications–some very important implications.  How so?

    Well, let’s think just a moment about what things might have looked like if God showed partiality.  Let’s think just a moment about what Jesus’ life might have looked like if God showered Him with favoritism as the Word became flesh and dwelled among us.

    Do you think Jesus would have been born in a stable?  Not hardly.

    Do you think Jesus would have been raised in a rather poor family and been taught the trade of carpentry–a trade considered very, very low on the social totem pole?  Probably not.

    Do you think Jesus would have lived for 30 years in relative obscurity with no one knowing much about Him?  Again, no.

    If God showed any sort of partiality, Jesus probably would have been born in a palace.  He would have had the best of wealth and privilege.  He would have eaten the finest foods, enjoyed the finest drink, gone to the finest schools and had the finest clothes.  He would have enjoyed all the best things the world had to offer and never had to deal with social outcasts and misfits.  Life would have always been grand and marvelous IF, IF God showed partiality to His Son.

    But God shows no partiality.  God shows no favoritism.  Even to His Son.

    And so Jesus was poor, like the vast majority of the world’s population.

    Jesus had to work, and His hands were calloused from the labor of carpentry–just like most people in the world have to work.

    Jesus was surrounded by ordinary people who did ordinary things and who eked out their living.  Jesus never had a place of wealth and privilege.  He was just like the vast majority of people who lived.

    And Jesus was not immune to suffering.  “God shows no partiality.”  If God showed favoritism, there wouldn’t have been a cross.  But there was.  There was a cross.  A horrible, bloody cross that Jesus hung upon.  Just as we suffer, Jesus suffered. 

    But there was more to Jesus’ suffering because He did not carry simply His own suffering.  It wasn’t just His pain He bore on the cross.  No.  “This is my Son,” God said at Jesus’ baptism, “with Him I am well pleased.”

    God’s Son sent to reconcile the world to God.  Jesus didn’t just hang on the cross experiencing His own suffering because He took upon Himself our suffering.  He took upon Himself our shame.  He took upon Himself our guilt.  He took upon Himself our sin.  He took upon Himself our pain. 

    For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but so that the world might be saved through Him.

    Just as God showed no partiality in how Jesus lived, suffered, and died, so God will show no partiality in salvation.  “Because He lives, we shall live also” and “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

    This is grace without partiality.  For you and for me and for all who call upon the name of Jesus.  And we are witnesses to this Grace.  We are witnesses to what God has done through Jesus Christ.  We are witnesses of how God did not even show favoritism to His own Son.  We are witnesses to the God who is not above suffering, but who suffered like us and who showed us what the final word will be.

    Is this news worth telling?  Is this grace worth sharing?  Do others need to hear about the God who suffers with them and promises them hope?  Is there any doubt about what we are called to do?  Live God’s Word Daily.  Be a witness.  Amen.

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