Diving for our destiny. Baptism of Jesus

Luke 3:15-22

 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison.

 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 him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

As a writer, I love the reality of becoming totally immersed in what I am doing.  There is a point for every writer when you get beyond the struggle of getting going, beyond the place of awkward editing, of evaluating your work, to the place of immersion. It is at that point that the writing begins to flow and you feel yourself being written more than writing.

This sense of immersion lies at the root of the meaning of baptism. As twitchy as we mainline Protestants may be about the depth and quantity of water used in the sacrament, we have to acknowledge. To be baptised is to be immersed. To surrender to the flow.

As I read Luke’s gospel I become aware of two immersions. There is the immersion of Herod into constriction and darkness. Herod, who decided to take the low road and earned the derision and disgust of John the baptiser, then adds to the depth of his darkness and has John thrown in to prison, thence to later beheading.

In contrast there is the immersion of Jesus into the mission of the Father. Immersing himself into light and opening.

Listen to Luke, “Now when all the people were baptised, and when Jesus also had been baptised and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.”

Herod’s is an immersion into walled off imprisonment. He ends up every bit as confined as John whom he has locked up.

Jesus’ is an immersion into openness, heavens open, Spirit descends and voices speak.

We all know the power of our addictions to imprison us. To wall us in and ultimately make us lose our heads (or at least our minds). That is the Baptism of Herod

Yet every now and then, grace on grace, we are able to immerse ourselves into the Other.

To do what is required, to pray,  and like Jesus, to find ourselves opening up to light and heaven and to hear the flutter of Spirit wings. That is the baptism of Jesus.

That is the theme of this feast.

That is our surrender to all that is positive and transforming in the world.

Good News? Ouch that hurts! Luke 3:7-18 Advent 2 C

Luke 3:7-18

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

This has to be the most tongue in cheek ending to a scathing prophetic proclamation, “…with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.”! John has just made it clear that God is not a nepotist, that he axes trees of tradition, and that he burns all that is not fruitful from his presence, and Luke suggests that is good news?

Surely this must be wry Middle-eastern wit?  Either that or Luke knows something that we don’t.

The secret to understanding that these purifying and pruning practices could be good news, the gospel, comes from moving their reference from outer collective religious practice to the internal and personal realm of divine development.

It was Richard Rohr who woke me up to understanding that one of Jesus’ greatest contributions to our understanding of God was that he moved our location for God’s presence from the outer to the inner.  From temple to heart, from observance to lifestyle.  And, Rohr concludes, when I am the temple where God resides then the only sacrifice required is myself.

So Jesus, says John the Baptiser, does not disrespect culture, tradition, lineage, or any social register that is so important in our outer lives. Jesus doesn’t disrespect them, he ignores them.  They are irrelevant.

Who of us has not smarted or winced at some moment of humiliation in our journey. Just when we had made it.  Right after the ordained us, or called us Reverend (what the heck does that title mean anyway?) Just after we became Senior Pastor, or Superintendent, or wait for it Bishop; along came Jesus and called us by our birth name.  He called us what our parents and siblings called us, and then he told us to leave it all behind and follow him.

That is the axing, winnowing and burning John is talking about.  It is the threshing of our pride and ego.  It is the burning of our BS. (Yes, you KNOW what that stands for and I meant to use it like that)

There is just no escape from the confrontation with pride and arrogance if we are to follow the King of Love.

That great Lebanese soul Kahlil Gibran got it spot on when he wrote in The Prophet.
“For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning. Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun, So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth. Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself. He threshes you to make you naked. He sifts you to free you from your husks. He grinds you to whiteness. He kneads you until you are pliant; And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast. All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart. But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure, Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor, Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.”

Advent is not for the arrogant and powerful.  You and your ego, have to stoop low to enter the stall.

The word came to who? Luke 3:1-6 Advent 2C

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Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

Most scholars would agree that to try and pinpoint a date based on the list of power players that make up the first lines of this gospel passage is complicated. I will not go into the details here, I simply want to note that all these dates don’t quite line up.

That makes me wonder if the who’s who is included here for the purposes of locating Jesus in time? Could there be another reason.  Is this a biographical device or is there a deeper purpose for all these names?

The complexities of dating aside, the opening verse has a powerful irony to it.

Allow me to paraphrase: “ Despite Tiberius being Emperor of Rome, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Phillip and Lysanius being provincial governors, and despite Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, God chose to speak to a nobody named John living in the desert.”

To have lived for over five decades on the planet means that I, like many of you, will have witnessed the parade of powerful, professional, pontifical people pass into obscurity. They have held the headlines, transformed the tabloids been called news makers. The question I ask myself is, “Have they received and shared the word of God?”. My answer is, “Seldom.” The same would be true for preachers and pastors who have paraded themselves in the same arenas, as did Annas and Caiaphas.  Seldom does the word of God enter history through the flashy and powerful religious industry.

Once I realised the irony of this passage, I could more clearly see the impact of John as the fore-runner for the Incarnation.

The God who is going to appear as a vulnerable baby in a stable, doesn’t need the validation of a palace or a priest for that matter.

Come to think of it, in the same five decades I have been alive, the word of God has come to me through the people whom history would not remember, and whom editors would deem to be “not newsworthy”.

Grandmothers and God mothers, friends and family, workers and wild people. People like John. Wilderness voices.  They receive the truth of God and transmit it.

So instead of expecting the word of God to come on CNN or even in church, this advent I am going to attend to the little people in the daily conversations.

In the lines at the mall, the burbles of the coffee shop and maybe even the person who shares my roof is where I think the word of God may be whispering.

Finding a place to stand and watch. Luke 21:25-36 Advent 1c

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Luke 21:25-36

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

The opening lines of this gospel sound like a generic TV news report on any given day and on any given channel.  It is that which links the two paragraphs of this scripture for me.

As I see it Jesus is warning the disciples against missing the signs because they are either too frightened or alternatively too forgetful. Possibly both.  There is after all only so much stimulation the brain can absorb before it begins to filter the input.  It goes numb and dumb.  As an ex-serviceman I have witnessed first hand what the American GI’s termed “the thousand yard stare”.  That almost catatonic state where the mind self medicates and anesthetizes itself against the horrors witnessed.

The opposite is often also true.  We are so numbed by our boring routines that we go in search of something to fear. Some imaginary phantom or foible to scare us into feeling something.
I remember a very sad alcoholic I knew years ago who would spend her days watching the Crime channel.  The horror and violence she saw there evoked at least some feeling in the fog of her existence.
Jesus is suggesting that neither perspective is helpful. Neither, numbing and dumbing nor freaking and flipping are the place of discerning wisdom.

Instead Jesus suggests a careful almost contemplative consideration of whatever phenomena may arise.  Not being fearful nor forgetful like neurotics or drunks but rather alert and observing what is really going on with the eyes of faith.
I have to admit here that I probably learnt more useful techniques in this regard from my Buddhist and Hindu friends than from Christians.  Not that there are no neurotic Buddhists or Hindus! Au Contraire you can be too precious in any religion!

The point though is that the Eastern practices cultivate mindfulness and awareness of what arises in the mind.  This is most helpful. Another angle would be to say that in this passage Jesus encourages exactly this grounded prayerful approach to all of life that finds a ground of being that does not get swayed by outside information and experiences.

It would seem that even in this information saturated age, Jesus encourages us to be grounded in the changeless, the unchaotic, the non-warring, non-judging, non-divided place.  That place is the domain of God’s reality and presence. It is found at a manger, at a cross, at an empty tomb.

It can also be found in the alert and faithful heart.