Heart Change: Reviving Your Life 1-11-15

Our Daniel reading this morning was not one of the assigned readings for today. In fact there’s only one reading from the book of Daniel assigned in our lectionary for a regular Sunday every 3 years. For us it has become an obscure book in the Bible. For Jesus, however, it was an important book. There was no New Testament, of course, for Jesus or Paul, or any of the disciples. They were Jews and read the Hebrew Bible as their scripture. Jesus names Daniel as one of the prophets, respects Daniel’s understanding of the end times or the apocalypse, and calls himself by Daniel’s favorite designation of the Messiah: the Son of Man. John the Baptist is also clearly influenced by Daniel. My interest today is in our quest to follow Jesus, is how Jesus might have had a different understanding than John the Baptist.

Mark 1:4-11 And so John the Baptizer appeared in the desert, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to John and were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins. John was clothed in camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and he ate nothing but grasshoppers and wild honey. In the course of his preaching, John said, “One more powerful than I is to come after me.  I am not fit to stoop and untie his sandal straps. I have baptized you in water, but the One to come will baptize you in the Holy Spirit.” It was then that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan River by John. Immediately upon coming out of the water, Jesus saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. Then a voice came from the heavens:  “You are my Beloved, my Own.  On you my favor rests.”

January 11, 2014       

Heart Change: Reviving Your Life
Baptism of Jesus, Installation of Officers   

Joy. Heart change: reviving your life. As we begin the new year, many of us feel a tug on our hearts, a reminder that we are not exactly on the course that we sense God intends for our lives. Heart change: reviving our sense of purpose. During the season after Epiphany – from now until the beginning of Lent in mid-February, my sermon series is called “Heart Change.” We will be talking and thinking about ways the gospel message can change our lives and revive our communities.
Today, as I said, we will look at the figure of John the Baptist and how his interaction with Jesus can help us discern the ways we are called to follow the way of the Christ. John the Baptist, of course, was a teacher of Jesus, a person Jesus followed for at least part of his life. The gospels all report this relationship, though the gospels written later seem to be embarrassed by it.
John the Baptist, as far as we can tell was a fire and brimstone preacher, living ascetically, outside of town, challenging those who come out to him to change their lives. He dressed in the clothes of a hermit or an ascetic. He ate food from the land, depending on God for all his needs, expecting the end of time to come soon. He challenged his followers to be ready for the end times, by living frugal and focused lives.
In a book I just finished reading, Christ Actually, James Carroll, a former priest and columnist for the Boston Globe, suggests that Jesus must have been a follower of John the Baptist for some period of time, but broke with him as he started his own ministry. He wonders if maybe Jesus broke with John over a difference in interpretation of when the end times were coming.
Early Christians certainly had a growing sense that the end of the earth or the return of Christ, the Messiah, was not happening as quickly as they had at first expected. A shift in thinking  happened between John and Jesus, and between earlier and later Christians. Carroll names it as a shift from a focus on a future longed for toward a focus on a present to be responsible for. Jesus was more focused on a present to be responsible for than a future to long for.
We see this in the different ways they are portrayed. James Carroll says it this way, “If the gospels report anything reliably about these two figures, it is about the conflict between them, conflict played out presumably, every time Jesus donned a robe that was soft to the skin instead of a hair-shirt, or sat down to eat fruit and bread instead of honey and locusts; every time he gave his warm attention to sinners; and every time he refused the role of judging moralist.”
Jesus, in other words, was less anxious about the future, even as he faced his own end. His time with John the Baptist was important to him. He never lost his sense that the new realm of God was near at hand, that he and his followers were responsible for helping usher in this new season. In fact, he taught that we can live now as though the new realm of God has already come, and that our living in this new way helps to actualize it, to make it reality in the world.
I sometimes feel this same kind of tension within myself or experience it in the world – the tension between desperately longing for justice, for a world made whole immediately, vs. a need to live a life now that assumes and illustrates God’s presence. I feel this tension especially when I am close with someone experiencing an injustice.
Then I understand the impatience behind the call for immediate change. Sometimes I don’t think we are impatient enough. I am so impressed with people who are able to live like Jesus did – totally aware and conscious of injustice and at the same time open and compassionate.
Cathy and I went to Hawaii near to the time we were married 20 years ago. We had a great time on the island paradise of Kauai. One day we were invited to a house blessing performed by Rev. Kaleo Patterson. He was an indigenous Hawaiian who had been ordained. He did a beautiful ceremony that used singing and symbolism from their native culture. and also from Christian liturgy.
He talked to me afterwards about the struggle they have on the island, trying to maintain their culture in the face of tourism. He said,  “I am close to Hawaiians who struggle day in and day out with the unescapable reality of a dominant and greed driven industry.  I have counseled the prostitute, the desk clerk, the maid and the bartender.  I have been involved in hundreds of reburials of ancient Hawaiian grave sites because of a new resort development or existing resort renovations.  I have witnessed the desecration of our sacred places, cried over the senseless pollution of our reefs and rivers.  I have held picket signs in protest, given testimony at public hearings, even chased an obstinate tourist into the sanctuary of a local restaurant in an attempt to vent my anger in confrontation.  I have seen the oppression and exploitation of an out of control global industry that has no understanding of limits or concern for the host people of a land.”
Then, after telling all this to this obvious haole from the main land, he invited me to go canoeing with him in his outrigger canoe. I don’t remember why we were not able to go canoeing , but I do remember being impressed with his attitude, his ability to be quite focused and concerned about his church and his people and at the same time to easily make new friends and take time to relax and enjoy the beautiful world around him.

We are a people of the water, baptized into compassion, baptized into a mission, baptized into a calling. We are called to celebrate the beauty of God’s creation with joy, and to protect and care for God’s creation with our lives and our community. Today we remember the day Jesus was baptized by a scraggly prophet in a piddly river in Palestine. We recall our own baptism as a renewal of the Spirit of the Living God touching and inspiring our lives with compassion and joy.

Responsive hymn: 2107 Wade in the Water