Behold, I am doing a new thing

Behold, I am doing a new thing

January 12, 2014
Stina Pope


The Baptism of Jesus is one of the major feasts of the church, it is a “white” day, when we have the special white vestments and hangings out. Remember, “green” is everyday color, the other colors tell us something special is going on, and white is the most special! So what is going on here?

Something new, there is something very new going on. These three readings tell us, something new is going on.

We start with Isaiah, where the vision of what God’s anointed will look like. God’s servant will be one who looks after and lifts up the downtrodden, and then, look at the change in the language. It goes from “he” will do this and that, to “you” will do this and that. The “you” is the people of God. Very simply, if we are going to be the people of God, this is what we should be about. Then the last word: God declares this as a new thing. This is the new blessing that God gives. It is not like the old things that people are used to. It is new, and it comes from God.

Then we move on to Acts, the story of the very early church, starting with the acts of the apostles. A little bit of context: Peter has been having a hard time with all of the new followers of Jesus. Why? Because they are not Jews. In their religious practice, there were Jews, the chosen people, and then there was everyone else. The Jews had survived great odds by being clearly different, by demanding that their people set themselves apart. The biggest challenge to the Jesus movement came right away, when so many non-Jews wanted to follow the way of Jesus. They weren’t called Christians yet. The question was whether they had to become Jews first. Peter has his famous dream, and our text this morning is the sermon he gives as a result of that dream. Look at what he says: I know understand that God shows no partiality. For a Jew, this is anathema, this is denying being “chosen people.” This is an absolutely outrageous statement for a Jew to make. God shows no partiality. It is actually an appalling statement for any of us to make, isn’t it? We were all taught that God loves our kind the best. That is the normal human way. But it is not the way that Jesus taught us.

So let us look at what Jesus does: he gets baptized. What’s the big deal with that? The big deal is that he is the master! John has been baptizing people who have come from Jerusalem. The big shots from Jerusalem have come down to see what’s going on, and he yells at them, why are you here? Let people know by your actions that you are in alignment with God – and then he says, don’t think that just because you are Jews that God loves you – do you see the pattern here? The next thing that happens is our passage for today, John is busy baptizing people, and suddenly there is Jesus in front of him.

Oh no, John says, I’m not baptizing you, you are a master, you are the master, you should baptize me! And Jesus says, yes, you will baptize me because that’s what is called for now. And maybe John gets it and maybe he doesn’t, but then what happens after the baptism is that God puts the sign of approval on the head of Jesus. God says – to the people, I am pleased with you. This is the official start of the ministry of Jesus. He “lowers” himself, like the servant that is described in the book of Isaiah, and God says “yes!”

Here is the deal: if we are going to be the body of Christ, then we have to look at what that means for us today. We can use our history to give us a guide, just as the early church looked to Isaiah. But we look to our history not as “this is what we should do” but rather “this is how we should do” things. It is not that we should throw out traditional things, but it does mean that we are not controlled by them either. There is a time for everything.

Here we are, sitting in new places. It is not easy, it is not comfortable. But it does give us a new perspective, a new way of seeing things. Do not worry, it is not going to stay like this. However, it is well established that if you want to think new things, it is much easier to do if you put your body in a new place. I think it is significant that Jesus taught in the synagogues, but he also taught out on the hillsides. When the Church of England was totally hide-bound and tied to the upper classes, John Wesley went out to the miners and preached the good news out in the fields. And they responded like mad. What are we called to? What is our new thing? Are we willing to “be baptized” that is, to step forward to do a new thing? How will we share the good news, now?