Called in Righteousness
Isaiah 42:1-9, Matthew 3:13-17 and Excerpts from the writings of Martin Luther
As you are so moved, I invite you to join me in a spirit of prayer.
Psalm 19:14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.
It is so good to be back among you this morning! Don’t get me wrong, I delighted in having some time to read and be with my family and dear friends without worrying about needing to respond to something or to create content for something. It is a gift to have a vacation and every time I do, I find myself thinking of all of the people who don’t get one, those for whom rest is rare. Rest gives us renewal, perspective, pause in a hurried and worried time. And I find that rest makes me more patient, less rushed, more aware of what is good, more grateful for what is. Isn’t life easier with gratitude?
If you are among those who actually read what is written in our email newsletter each week, you saw that I am reflecting on and celebrating that we have marked one year of ministry together. Woo hoo! I love the number 8 so I started on January 8th of last year and I am recalling the highlights and the hard times alike.
Among clergy there is wide disagreement and ongoing conversation about how much change one should make in her first year of ministry in a new setting. Side note: the grace one is allowed for moving outside established norms varies with gender, age and other categories…
Some say change should be implemented right away during the honeymoon when there is still openness- perhaps before anyone has had time to disappoint anyone else.
Others say, change nothing maybe ever to avoid conflict, but at least for a while don’t change much until things settle. Still others say if there is no change, then one ministry is always carrying the baggage of previous eras. Even the good stuff can get heavy if the group is never free to ask how God might be speaking now.
I repeated often this year that I would change very little for the first twelve months. I wanted to observe, listen, learn more about who you are, what you love, where you have been and what ways the Spirit is moving in this place right here and now, among all of us.
And I also wanted you to know first and foremost that I see you as you are, just as you are. And I wanted you to have a chance to see me too…
Being seen is a tricky thing because it means at some level there has been a chance to move beyond a curated version of ourselves. It means we have been real enough to make a connection beyond the surface. And it also means we have let others in enough to reveal who we truly are. This has happened this year as we have shown up for one another to disagree kindly to figure out how to figure out the presence of a new monitor in this sanctuary. We have seen one another with ugly cries at memorials and vigils, when we lost some of the ones we loved. We saw one another by showing up for the crappy jobs, when the sidewalk was icy or the playground slide is broken or the labyrinth needs weeding, when the coffee needed making or the bread need baking or the bulletin needed printing. Letting ourselves be seen and showing up with rides and meals and prayers, with graduations and parties and baby showers and weddings and retirements and longshot dreams, and annoying negotiations with BVSD about solar panels. Being seen happens when we labor, love and live side by side. And to dare to be seen is to be willing to say yes to what is, to the imperfect, it is being willing to move forward into honest, difficult conversations that are increasingly rare in our culture.
Being seen can be hard. And it is also how we build trust and trust is the special sauce for when and how and where Holy Spirit movement happens, that is when the Spirit dances in us, among us and between us, because love grows and multiplies when we are vulnerable, when we are real. In The Gift of Imperfection, Brene Brown writes, “We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.” She writes, “Never underestimate the power of being seen.”
That is part of how I understand this core story in the Christian tradition. Baptism is many things, ritually, historically, theologically, and I think it is also just might be as perfect and simple as this: God is letting Jesus know that he is seen.
You are beloved! I am pleased you are here!
It is a life-altering, game changing, magic-making blessing from the Cosmos: I see you. You are loved as you are.
Imagine what that would mean if every human being on the planet could wake up in the morning and know this from the deepest depths of our hearts: I am seen. I am loved as I am.
To be sure, this doesn’t mean that we are without fault or that we aren’t meant to change and grow, no it means that our expression of DNA, who we are is special, this combination of cells will never happen again, whoever we are and however you showed up here, you are seen and loved and part of something vast, something beautiful.
This life-altering, game changing, magic-making blessing is the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It starts here, with the Higher Power reminding him that whatever happens from this moment, remember this: I see you; you are loved as you are…
From the waters of the River Jordan, the Gospel writers are drawing upon and mirroring the words in the Hebrew Bible in the Book of Genesis. As scholar Steven D. Driver writes, “Genesis records that in the beginning, the Spirit hovered over the waters. The Word of God was present from the beginning and created the world. What the Word created was good. In Matthew, the Spirit hovered over the waters, and once again the Word of God speaks.”
Water is life; it is a beginning and a blessing. Remember this combination will never happen again, whoever you and however you showed up here, you are seen and loved and part of something bigger and now how will you respond? Being seen, knowing we are loved, invites us to say yes to the Universe with all that we are.
Because Jesus is saying yes to a call, and he is choosing to be baptized by John to fulfill all righteousness, echoing the words we heard from the Prophet Isaiah, “I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you;”
Righteousness is a high value throughout our sacred texts and its primary meaning relates to ethical conduct. To be right and righteous, to fulfill righteousness and to be called in righteousness is to be just and do right.
I suspect many Christians see baptism as ritual evidence that they are right in the sense of believing the CORRECT things, but what if baptism is: A blessing, a beginning and a call? What if it is a call to fulfill all righteousness, an ongoing, ever-evolving commitment to live in righteousness, a beckoning from both here and beyond to say yes to God, to all creation and those who will come after- a promise in water, the symbol of the gift of life, to aim for what is right, even when it seems out of fashion or out of reach, when it is costly or countercultural, we are summoned to give our time and treasure to what is just. We are called in righteousness.
And God says: Whatever happens from this moment, remember this: I see you; you are loved as you are, right where you are…
But here’s the thing. Living a righteous life and being seen and loved as we are, right where we are, doesn’t mean we should stay where we are, it means we are being called beyond comfort.
We celebrate that we will always evolve. We wade into the waters that are uncertain, knowing we are bound together in trust, spreading love, following the Spirit that is ever leading us onward.
As Martin Luther wrote, “This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness…, not being but becoming… We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road…”
I love this road we are on together, this call that we have accepted together, to grow, to become, where we risk seeing and being seen and we aim for what is right and we build what is just, following the Spirit-led movement at the pace of prayer and trust. May it be so.