A sermon preached on Sunday, January 8, 2017 for the Baptism of our Lord; Matthew 3:13-17, Isaiah 42:1-9, Acts 10-34-43
"What is the question, that if you had the answer, it would set you free?" Organizational guru, Peter Block asks this question in the book, The Answer to How is Yes. Block writes,
It’s the mother of all of questions—it’s a question that can only be meditated upon. Each time you answer it, you begin a different conversation… It is like a laser beam into what matters. It brings the question of our freedom front and center.
"What is the question, that if you had the answer, it would set you free?" I suppose the question and the answer depend on what we need to be freed from. It might be different for each of us. What freedom would change your life? From what do you need to be freed so that you might more completely, fulfill the purpose God has for your life? Is it anxiety about the future or worry about those you love? Fear of failing or self-laothing? Fear of getting older, becoming incapacitated, or dying? Being unloved or alone? Controlling everyone and everything around you so that you can feel ok?
For me right now, I need to be freed from anxiety about the future. Dan and I are both working as Interim Pastors; he is at 2 churches part-time and I’m at a church in Florissant. All 3 of our contracts end on August 31st of this year, the same month our youngest child goes off to college. What’s next? We have no idea, but living in anxiety about it does not add to the quality of our life, the productivity of our days, or our faithfulness to the work we have right now. Yet, the question looms large.
I wonder if this mother of all questions is also in the background at Jesus’ Baptism in our Gospel reading today. What is the question, if Jesus had the answer, it would set him free--free to fulfill his mission from God to save us, to bring in God’s kingdom, and to fulfill all righteousness? What does Jesus need to begin his mission and ministry?
Jesus no doubt understood his mission in light of the message of the prophets. Our Isaiah passage identifies the servant of the Lord as one who will "faithfully bring forth justice…God has sent him to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness." Jesus’ mission includes reaching out to the poor and oppressed, healing those who are outcast, binding up the brokenhearted, and loving those who are rejected by society. Jesus’ mission will embody the values Peter preaches in Acts—that God shows no partiality regarding nation, culture, ethnicity or background but comes to save all people.
And if all of that weren’t difficult enough, there will be plenty of obstacles. People from his own home town will deride his authority. The religious leaders will be threatened by his teaching and his followers. Even the disciples will misunderstand the mission and try to derail Jesus from blessing children, feeding hungry people, spending time in prayer, and being faithful to his mission, even to death on a cross. His closest friends will compete for the top spots at his right and left, they will deny, abandon, and betray him.
So what is the question, that if Jesus had the answer, it would set him free to fulfill this purpose, to be ALL-IN, to completely commit himself to God’s mission for him in the world? Maybe the question is something like, Who am I? Am I in this alone? Can I really take this on? Is this really what God wants me to do? Whatever the question was, God’s voice boomed from the heaven after his baptism, giving Jesus the answer he needed to set him free: "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." Or a better translation would be, “This is my Son the beloved, I have chosen him.”
Jesus, who is the Gospel for us, had the Gospel preached to him by God at the beginning of his ministry! You are my child. I love you. I have chosen you. I am always with you. God announces Jesus’ identity, affirms that he is precious in God’s sight and loved dearly, and is chosen for this mission in the world. There is no doubt about God’s presence with him as the Spirit of God alights upon him in the form of a dove. Jesus doesn’t have to earn God’s love by fulfilling the mission, Jesus receives God’s grace at the beginning in order to carry out the mission. It’s the answer to the question that sets him free.
It’s a pretty good answer! You are my child. I love you. I have chosen you. I am always with you. It’s an answer that enabled Jesus to remain faithful to God’s mission of healing, teaching, touching and transforming. It’s an answer that kept him strong despite all obstacles, even when they put him to death by hanging him on a tree. It’s an answer that "raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear to those who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead," as Acts says. Jesus was set free to fulfill his mission because he didn’t have to worry about WHO he was or WHOSE he was or if he was loved or if he mattered. The answer was always YES, so he was freed to say, “yes” to God—yes to God in the faces of the hungry and outcast, yes to God in tax collectors and sinners, yes to God in the Samaritan woman at the well, yes to God in healing those with leprosy, demons and blindness, yes to God in all who needed the same Gospel preached to them that God gave to Jesus: You are my child. I love you. I have chosen you. I am always with you.
It’s a pretty amazing answer. It’s an answer that will work for my question about our unknown future, and for your question, whatever that might be. It’s an answer that sets us free, no matter what our question is. God says, You are my child. I love you. I have chosen you. I am always with you.” It’s an answer that sets us free to fulfill our purpose as God’s people in our daily life. We don’t have to worry about WHO we are or WHOSE we are or if we are loved or if we matter, or if God has a purpose for us. The answer is always YES! So we are freed to say, "yes" to God in sharing our gifts and resources so others hear the Gospel of grace. Even in the midst of obstacles and an unknown future, we can trust in God’s presence and power for us everyday.
No matter our questions, through Jesus Christ, God sets us free to love and serve in the mission of the Gospel. Hold fast to God’s promise to Jesus and to us: You are my child. I love you. I have chosen you. I am always with you. It’s the answer that always sets us free to say YES to God.
Image: Baptism of Jesus by He Qi http://www.heqiart.com/