Growing from Grace, January 12

Growing from Grace

Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17

The Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill United Methodist Church; January 12, 2020

 

This is Jesus’ first appearance as an adult in the gospel of Matthew. It’s the very beginning of his public presence, and he comes to John, who is a phenomenon who has been pulling people from Jerusalem to the Jordan, calling them to repentance because he knows that one is coming who is greater than John himself. And Jesus comes. John recognizes him immediately – I should be baptized by you, he says! But Jesus wants to be baptized, to be washed and marked as clean as he begins whatever it is he is to be about. The heavens open and the Spirit descends and he hears a voice, the voice of God that shakes the cedars of Lebanon, God’s voice, saying, this is my beloved Son, with him I am well pleased.

 

You go, Jesus! With love and affirmation like that, you can do anything! You’ve heard the rest of the story; Peter tells it in today’s reading from Acts, and many others have told it over the generations. Jesus does go, taking that power of the Holy Spirit and proclaiming God’s kingdom throughout the land, healing the sick, opening the eyes of the blind, and declaring freedom for all those caught up in the snares of evil and sin, paying particular attention to the poor and the weak, the humble and the suffering. The powers that be can’t handle the power of his presence and the appreciation of his followers. They kill him. Which should have been the end of his story. But the power of love which held him all through his ministry doesn’t let him go; death cannot hold him down, and he rises from the grave. Jesus defeats death, and with it all that would keep him, and us, from life, full life, everlasting life.

 

It’s a good story, an excellent story of the power of God made manifest in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. But it isn’t just a good story, and it isn’t only Jesus’ story. His story is our story. He invites us to join him on the journey, and I trust you have said yes. I trust you know this story, that it has touched you and challenged you. We’ll take the opportunity today to re-affirm our own baptism, that mark of the promise that, like Jesus, we are each deeply loved by the God who made us. The foundational good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ begins with baptism, with the public declaration that you are a beloved child of God and that you belong here, in the community of God’s people, the church. If you’ve never been baptized, you are still utterly welcome among us. Our message and our way is love, the message and the way of Jesus. That’s who we are – we’re Christians, followers of Jesus.

 

  1. means we all start out loved, very loved, precious in the sight of God and claimed for full and abundant life in the name of Jesus Christ. Some of us know this at the very core of our being. And some of us forget, and then are wonderfully amazed when we are reminded of it. The world in which we live tries to tell us that we are only lovable and only worth anyone’s effort when we succeed – when we make it, when we have money and comfort and a good name in town. reminds us that we matter even when we don’t have it all together.

 

  1. you’re on an upswing, rejoice. Enjoy it. Give thanks to God for the blessings that sustain you, and remember that joy is doubled when it is shared, so let others in on the goodness you are experiencing. In today’s reading, Isaiah encourages the people to be a light to the nations, to let the presence and love of God that they experience shine through them to the rest of the world. Jesus calls his disciples, and the crowds who will gather to hear him, to be lights on a lampstand and cities set on a hill, so that all may see their good works and give glory to God who has blessed them. That shining with God’s love is part of our baptismal vows – Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil injustice and oppression in whatever form they present themselves? Do you promise to serve Christ as Lord in union with the church which Christ has opened to all ages, nations, and races? We will install lay persons into positions of leadership in the church, in conjunction with the reaffirmation of baptism, because their service to the church is an extension of those vows of service and love.

 

And there are times in our lives, and in the lives of many others, where shining is tough. There are many people who have heard the world tell them they aren’t good enough to matter in the world. There are neighbors who are struggling to find shelter and food and hope. There are brothers and sisters in Christ who have left their homes in search of safety for themselves and their families. They, too, are beloved of God. God asks us to extend our love to them in assistance and service and invitation to relationship. There are also many children of God whose struggles are not obvious, not public, but are real and painful nonetheless. There are friends who are grieving, who have lost a beloved, or a child, or a dear friend, who feel empty and alone. There are couples who struggle with infertility; there are couples who can’t stay together, and feel like failures as their marriage falls apart. There are neighbors who can’t quite let go of the narcotic they needed after their hip surgery, and they’re afraid and addicted now. Perhaps you have loved ones who are deeply depressed and can’t find a light in their darkness or a rope to hold onto. Maybe you know young people looking for a way in the world and finding little but despair. Some of these hurt people have hurt others. And all of them, each and every one is deeply loved. Remember Isaiah’s words about the one who comes, the one who is of God, “a bruised reed he will not break and a dimly burning wick he will not quench.” The world is filled with bruised reeds and dimly burning wicks, and they are remembered and beloved of God. Not because they have messed up or have missed a mark of some sort, but because they are precious, made in the image of the God who loves them. Some of them are loved by you – you know their pain and you care about them. Each of them is cherished by God, even the ones who have been forgotten by the rest of the world, even the one who have been pushed aside and deliberately ignored. Baptism names us, each of us and all of us, as beloved; no matter what happens to us along the way, no matter what we do or have done, God’s love does not leave us alone. It’s essential to declare that our worth does not lie in our success. We do what we can do because we are loved. Because we are held in the palm of the everlasting God who cherishes us, no matter what.

 

It isn’t that God doesn’t care what we do – God cares immensely what we do. Scripture asks us over and over and over again to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God’s hand held fast in our own. Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Resist evil. And we aren’t told to do these things to ‘be good.’ Instead, this is the way to life; this behavior is what brings us into the full and abundant life we’re given in Christ. Love because that’s what life is all about. We’re able to do all that, to fulfill those promises of the baptismal covenant, because we begin in grace, and we come back to the power of grace time after time.

 

Hear these words – you are loved and forgiven and filled with the power of God. Take them into your heart, make them your own. Let them fill you with power every day, to love and serve and forgive. Remember them when you encounter others. People who are unhappy or having a tough time in the world don’t need to prove their worth, to you or to anyone. They are beloved children of God. We live into our baptism, and into theirs, when we love them, when we feed them, when we care for them and forgive them.

 

Remember your baptism, friends, and be thankful.

 

Isaiah 42:1-9

42Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. 2He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

5Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: 6I 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, 7to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. 8I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. 9See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.

Psalm 29 (UMH 761)

1Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

2Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor.

3The voice of the Lord is over the waters;

the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters.

4The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

5The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.

6He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.

7The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.

8The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;

the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

9The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare;

and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

10The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.

11May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!

 

Acts 10:34-43

34Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Matthew 3:13-17

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”