1-13-13 Beyond Good Guys and Bad Guys: Get in Line

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 As the people were in expectation, all of them questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether perhaps he were the Christ, John answered them all, ‘I baptize you with water; but the one who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; that one will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  With winnowing fork in hand, that one will clear the threshing floor, and gather the wheat into the granary, but will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire.’ 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 Jesus in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Child; with you I am well pleased.’

 Sunday, Jan 13 • 2013    Beyond Good Guys and Bad Guys: Get in Line

How would you like to have a name like Tatgenhorst? The name Tatgenhorst has always been for me a badge of honor, curiosity, and wonder. I can tell you stories about the many misspellings – Fatgenhorst, Tacklebox; I’ve seen a lot of them. As unusual as my name is though, I suspect everybody has some issue with their name — a common one being, where it puts you in the order of things.

A name beginning with T always put me near the end of the line. My friend Dale Zollar, of course, had no sympathy for me. He was always and forever at the very end of the line. I was never far away from him. And we did lobby from time to time for a reversal of the social order – where Z’s went to the front of the line and Alexander and Bohot, Borum, and Brautigam went to the back. It didn’t happen very often. (I talked to my buddy Jamie Alexander this week and he said he was always first in line until Fernando Abanto joined out class.)

I don’t think there was any serious psychological trauma done from always being near the back of the line. I doubt that people banished to the back turned out to be more likely to be psycho-killers or anything,  Nonetheless, it was a little annoying at times.

Don’t you wonder what does turn people into psycho-killers? There’s been some pop psychology and speculation over the last three weeks about what what could have turned a seemingly innocent though disturbed young man like Adam Lanza into a mass murderer. Was he a bad person? Innately destined to take the lives of twenty schoolchildren? Or did he get deeply hurt along the way somehow and become predisposed to violence?

Wayne LaPierre, vice president of the NRA, said after the killing of the 20 children in Newtown that “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” He wants to see John Wayne armed guards in every school in the country. He represents the gun manufacturers, so  of course he wants guns in every school, and of course he promotes a philosophy/theology of good guys against bad guys.

In this sermon series I plan to think about this theology of good guys and bad guys – this basic way of dividing the world. I want to think about how accurate it is, how widespread it is, and what our Christian alternative is to this over-simplification. The more I’ve been thinking about it over the last couple of weeks, the more complicated it gets, so I hope you will help me out. Sounds interesting doesn’t it?


We’ll talk more about the simplifications in the next couple of weeks, as we think together about what is accurate about them and how we could do better. For today, I just want to look at our reading from Luke, which gives us a hint at how Jesus might have thought about these questions.

All four gospels report the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. All of them show some signs of discomfort that John baptized Jesus.  Luke in the part that gets left out of our lectionary reading for today even suggests that John the Baptist was in jail when Jesus was baptized. Luke just says, “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened,” He doesn’t say who did the baptizing, because it was embarrassing for the early Christians to say that Jesus had been baptized.

If Jesus was divine and perfect, why would he need to be baptized? Why would he go out into the wilderness and stand in line with all the other “brood of vipers,” sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes and lawyers, to be cleansed in the waters of the Jordan?

Jesus, the ultimate good guy, does not claim goodness, but humbles himself to be baptized with everyone else. He even seems to be at the end of the line, the last to be baptized. We might expect John the Baptist pushing everyone else aside to make room for the Messiah, “the One who comes after me,” but the gospel says, “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened,” and God’s voice comes from heaven to say, “This is my Beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”

Jesus, by standing in line for baptism, shows his desire for all people to know themselves as God’s Beloved, for all people to give up their mistaken impression that they are God’s perfect creations, and to stand with all of God’s other imperfect people to know themselves as beloved and to act like God’s beloved.

When we start acting like we are the good guys and people in the city are the bad guys, or Muslims are the bad guys, or gay people, or Republicans, or Democrats, or people with guns, or people who want stricter gun laws. When we think that we are the good guys and they are the bad guys, we are not living out our baptism. We are forgetting what it means to be God’s Beloved Child. Jesus calls us to treat everyone as God’s beloved. We know we will not be able to; that we will forget, that we will misstep, that we will be sorry to welcome some people that God in Christ is able to love, but God calls us to get in line. Get in line, no better, no worse than the other people in line. Get in line.

Remember your baptism and be thankful.  Remember your baptism and love God and your neighbor. Remember your baptism and claim who you are and whose you are. Remember your baptism and know that God has called you by name. God calls you by name no matter what that name is, no matter where you are in line, no matter who you are or what you have done or who have been. God claims your life. You are God’s Beloved.

This is God’s good news.  Amen.

Responsive hymn: 2212 You Are Mine