I was scrolling around Disney+ the other day and was checking out the National Geographic section. Aside from “The World According to Jeff Goldblum” (that guy is so awesome), I haven’t watched anything from that section so I decided to give a spin. I came across their “Brain Games” series, which teaches a lot about the brain and how we learn and perceive the world. It’s pretty interesting and I’d recommend watching it after you finish all the Marvel movies and tv shows, also on Disney+.
The first episode of Brain Games was about our eyes and how they dictate a lot of how we understand the world, or how it changes our understanding of reality. There was some mind blowing stuff, but watch this example and you’ll see what I mean:
Isn’t that crazy? That our brains will actually change what we hear just because it doesn’t agree with what we already know of the world. In this case, we couldn’t hear “ba” because we know when someone says “ba”, they close their lips first. But once we take away that visual cue by closing our eyes, it was totally obvious that she was saying “ba”.
And that leads me to wonder then, what else in our world do we misinterpret because the surrounding contexts suggest something else? What do we misunderstand because our visual cues don’t line up with common sense? What other games do our brains play on us when trying to make sense of things that perhaps don’t make sense?
I’m thinking about how often we might make snap judgements on others because we want someone to blame. Or those times we look down on others because we’ve been told by people our whole lives that we’re just inherently better than them. Or the opposite when we look down on ourselves because we’ve been told that everyone else is better than us?
And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we’re all totally misunderstanding everything because of this funny thing our brains do with interpreting the world, but I do think that maybe we’re all conditioned to believe something before we even believe it, that we might think from the lens of our experience before hard evidence and fact.
We see another example of this in our gospel lesson for today. Today, which is Baptism of Our Lord Sunday, we get the story of… well… the baptism of our Lord. And we often, much like John the baptizer, wonder why Jesus gets baptized, or at least, why he gets baptized by John. Because in our experience, we think baptism is about repentance, or about forgiveness, or at very least, some sort of initiation into this religion we call Christianity.
So if that is the case, wouldn’t Jesus, the one whom this “Christianity” is named after, be excluded from such rituals and traditions? Our paradigms tell us that Jesus is without sin, because Jesus is God, and so shouldn’t that mean that Jesus doesn’t need forgiveness? Our experience tells us that Jesus is wildly better than we are, and we are to look up to and aspire to be like him, so why does he have to stoop to our level and be baptized like us?
All of these are valid questions, all of these are questions that have been asked over the millennia, all of these are questions I quite honestly ask myself all the time.
Also because these questions are what we have learned will help make sense of the world and our understanding of it, as well as our faith and what we believe.
But what if I were to tell you that the answers to these questions actually don’t change anything about our Christian faith and the promises we receive from God? What if I were to tell you that these questions might actually distract us from what is really going on? What if I were to tell you that these kinds of questions don’t help us to understand the fullness of God’s grace, God’s mercy, and God’s love so generously given to us?
Well, if I were to tell you that, you’d probably tell me to get lost, because that doesn’t make any sense. At least, so our experience, our paradigms, our already settled in beliefs tell us.
But you know what, God is constantly doing new things. God keeps on turning things around, so we can see the world through a new and different lens. God declares the first to be last and the last to be first and a bunch of other confusing things just so we can see that our beliefs and our faith goes beyond what we normally understand to make sense.
Even God being gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love, and the fact that God shows no partiality, doesn’t really make sense to us. Because our world tells us that any one in power needs to be ruthless, cutthroat, and scary, it’s like we can’t fathom a God who isn’t. So while our world tells us that there is a hierarchy of who is better and who is worse, there is a grading system that highlights our achievements and frowns upon our failures, there are checks and balances put in place to measure our value and worth when compared to our neighbour, God with a graciousness that is beyond comprehension says, “hey, you are worthy. You are loved. You are enough.”
So Jesus’ baptism wasn’t a way to make him good enough for God, but rather it was because he is a child of God. In the same way our baptisms aren’t to make us good enough for God but it is done because we are children of God. And baptism in general isn’t about getting forgiveness or cleansed or anything like that, but it is about reminding us, all of us, those who are baptised, those who are watching the baptism, and even those who aren’t in any way interested in baptism, that we are wholly, completely, and thoroughly loved.
So those paradigms we had before of who is better and who is worse? They become moot in the eyes of God. That while we might be working really hard to prove to others how we are spiritually better than them, or adversely we might be working really hard to hide from others the fact that we feel spiritually worse than them, God says that there is no such thing, there is no hierarchy or grading system, there is no partiality in that we are all equally worthy, equally valued, equally loved as brothers and sisters, living in God’s kingdom, and enabled to serve, to minister, and to love and be dearly beloved, with whom God is well pleased.
And I know, sometimes it is hard for us to get this given our upbringing and existing paradigms, like how it is hard to hear someone saying “ba” when they are mouthing “ga”, but when we see God active in the world, when we hear the testimony of others and of the saints of all times, when we feel God’s very real presence in our lives, we can trust and have faith that this is most certainly true, that God indeed shows no partiality and loves us all with a love that created the heavens and earth.
So this season after the Epiphany, may we see our brother Jesus among us, lifting up those who are weak and encouraging those who are strong, and revealing to all the amazing and equalizing love of God, graciously given to us all. Thanks be to God. Amen.