Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
So there has been a lot of talk about this wall going up on the border between the US and Mexico, and there are more than a few people out there that just think this is completely ridiculous. To that more than a few people, there are like a million and one reasons as to why this is a dumb idea, and very very few reasons as to why it is a good idea. But the more this is debated by those for and against, the more I see that there really isn’t any point in debating facts and reason, as quite honestly it seems like those who are for this wall don’t come from a place of facts and reason. Now, if there is anyone in this room that is for the wall, I’m not saying that you’re wrong. It’s just from my experience that the facts and reason in my mind don’t seem to translate to facts and reason in the minds of others, particularly those who are for the wall. This leads me to believe that those who are for the wall come from a different place. And truth be told, should circumstance be a bit different for those who are against, they could have been coming from the same place as well. This place, which I think many of us are familiar with, is a place of fear. And we all have that to a certain extent. Fear of the unknown, fear of the known, fear of change, fear of things staying the same, and fear of having what is believed to be rightfully ours taken away from us.
And so trying to speak rationally to someone who is coming from a place of fear doesn’t always make that much sense. If I am deathly afraid of spiders like I know some of you in this room are, just showing me a picture of spiders would be too much. And those are just a compilation of coloured microdots on a page composed to look like a spider, not an actual one. Those who know what I mean, know what I mean.
Fear and reason very rarely mix. If you are afraid, you are running on adrenaline and that “fight or flight” mentality. If you are afraid, reason makes little sense because with your mind going a mile a minute it is hard to stop and understand all points of view. If you are afraid, we sometimes grasp for what we think is reason, but it isn’t rational as it seems like we grasp only for what could quell our fears right then and right there.
So what can we do? How do we deal with this fear both in others and in us? Earlier this week Christian author, leader, and activist Shane Claiborne tweeted this:
Fear is the enemy of love.
They cannot co-exist.
When fear rather than love drives our policies, we do terrible things to people.
We must choose… love or fear?
I choose love. How about you?
"There is no fear in love. But perfect love casts out fear." -1 John 4:18
— Shane Claiborne (@ShaneClaiborne) January 9, 2019
Hm, love. I don’t know if I would have thought of that. But it makes sense, not only does it say so in our bibles but if we think about it love does seem to conquer pretty much everything. So now we can chalk fear up on that list as well.
And so I think about what kinds of fears do we have? Where in our lives are we perhaps afraid and going without reason and maybe without love? Who knows, maybe some of us are afraid of those who are different, those with a different colour skin, those who speak a different language, or those who hold different loyalties. Maybe we are afraid of those who believe in a different God, hold to different scriptures or a different interpretation of the same scriptures, or support the things in the world that we see as truly evil.
One thing that I found myself to be very afraid of growing up was being wrong. It was hard for me to admit that I didn’t know something or something that I did know to be true was in fact not. It was hard to admit my mistakes and faults. I was afraid that I would be rejected, excluded, or unloved because I wasn’t perfect. Good thing I don’t have to worry about that anymore…
Seriously, it took a lot of time for me to get over that. And honestly I think sometimes I still am afraid of it. I mean, I’m not going to go and start building a wall around me or anything, but there are times it creeps up and I just… get scared.
So after all that self-therapy, you might be wondering what fear and reason and love have to do with today, the Baptism of our Lord Sunday. Well if you remember from a month or so ago, we talked about John the baptizer and how the brood of vipers came to him out of fear to be baptized. They were afraid of being on God’s bad side, they were afraid of what might end up to be eternal damnation, they were afraid that their multitude of wrongdoings and sins would forfeit them as God’s people. And today’s gospel story is a continuation of that. Well, it is more like the same exact story with two lines added to it. But it is important to note the air of fear around people, how John called them out on it, and then in the midst of all that, Jesus comes to be baptized as well, just like everyone else. And for many, this is problematic.
I mean, many people think that baptism is for repentance, and perhaps rightfully so as John exactly describes it as that. Many people think baptism is for forgiveness, which also makes sense because that is part 2 of repentance, otherwise there won’t be a need to repent. And so many people think that baptism is for salvation, to be welcomed into God’s eternal kingdom, to finally and everlastingly be called God’s beloved child.
And that is why it is problematic.
Jesus isn’t like us. Jesus isn’t a sinner like we are. Jesus doesn’t need to repent or be forgiven, because there is nothing to repent or be forgiven from. So why did he get baptized like these folk who were baptized out of fear?
Well, the thing is I think the fear that the people felt caused them to misunderstand the rationale behind baptism. I think the fear of eternal damnation created an irrational desperation to do everything and anything to be saved. I think the fear was actually a fear of rejection, being excluded and unloved and the hope was that baptism would be the solution to all of that.
And this misunderstanding around what baptism is for cause problems around why Jesus was baptised. At the risk of sound presumptuous, I wonder if that is the reason why 3 out of 4 of the gospel writers actually gloss over Jesus’ baptism! All but Matthew barely even talk about it, and John pretty much excludes it altogether. It is almost like even the gospel writers couldn’t make sense of why Jesus was baptized, so instead of dealing with it they just didn’t dwell on it.
So what then? How do we make sense of it? What do we do with this? While we might not have personally been baptized because we were afraid, I think this definition of baptism for repentance and forgiveness and to be loved by God does come from a place of fear.
The thing is, God doesn’t need us to be baptized in order to forgive us. God isn’t powerless to save those who aren’t baptized. God doesn’t decide to love us if and only after we are baptized. Rather, God already saves us, God already forgives us, God already loves us before we were even born. Actually, I should just say that God already loves us. God has chosen to love us. God has been loving us since before creation which is why I believe that God even created to begin with.
And it is through this love that God saves. It is because of this love that God forgives. It is by this love that God invites, welcomes, and redeems.
Baptism is just our response to that love. It is us (or our parents, depending on when we were baptized) recognizing that we are loved, we are welcomed and included, we are declared as God’s children. And it is by this love and regard that God forgives.
So Jesus’ baptism wasn’t around forgiveness, but it is about declaring who Jesus is as God’s beloved. Our baptism isn’t about us being initiated into this kingdom and community, but it is about recognising what God has done and is doing in our lives. Baptism in general isn’t about fear, but it is about that perfect love that drives out all fear.
So while Jesus doesn’t need to be forgiven because there is nothing to forgive, Jesus was most definitely identified as God’s beloved Son. While we don’t need baptism in order to satisfy some sort of requirement set out by God, we are still lifted up pointed out that God is well pleased with us. While baptism isn’t something to quell our fears of rejection, exclusion, and being unloved, it is through baptism that we are reminded of just how accepted, included, and loved we are.
For we can be baptized just like Jesus. Jesus was baptized just like us. We are all invited, welcomed, and included in God’s wide broad arms of love.
So I wonder how well this wall would fair if those who are for it realise that those on the other side of the wall are just as regarded as God’s beloved children as they are. I wonder how frequently threats of violence and war would be thrown around if the aggressors and defenders both learn how much God loves both sides in spite of their difference and disagreement. I wonder how often any one of us would have unreasonable thoughts and conclusions that sometimes come from fear, whether they be about ourselves or others, causing us to act irresponsibly, impetuously, and irrationally, if we would see the perfect love given to us by God, casting out all fear, welcoming us all and calling us beloved.
In this season after the Epiphany, this season in which we see how Christ walks among us as one of us, this season where we learn more about God and Jesus’ role in the world in our midst, may we remember the gifts of the water of baptism, the bread and cup of communion, and the perfect love that casts out all fear to all people, now and forever. Thanks be to God. Amen.