Reverend Philip Stringer
LET US PRAY: We ask, O Lord, that the words which we hear this morning and the worship which we offer may bear fruit in our hearts and be acceptable in your sight, our strength and our redeemer. AMEN
The other day I finally saw the movie, “Forbidden Planet,” from start to finish. It is set in the future, of course, -- the 23rd century -- and is about a ship from earth traveling to a distant planet to rescue a colony of people who settled there 20 years earlier.
Most of the time, movies set in the future don’t jump far enough ahead, which can make them fun to watch when you see a movie from the sixties that assumes we’ll be flying around in jet packs by the 1990’s.
But Forbidden Planet was off the mark in the other direction. The movie was made in 1957-- and it begins with the narrator setting the scene: “Toward the end of the 21st century, human beings landed on the moon, and soon thereafter began to explore far-off worlds.”
In their wild imagination they dreamed that it would take 150 years for us to reach the moon. In reality, it only took 10 years.
We’re not very good at predicting the future. And we’re not that good at understanding our own time either. In many ways, our clocks are off.
Today, God’s Word meets us to remind us that regardless of our understanding of time, God is time-less. You and I move within time and think in terms of time, but God stands above time. God was and is and will be God. And at the right time, Christ was born and walked among us, died and was raised for us. At the right time. Today, the Word of God declares to us AGAIN that NOW is the right time!
Time is a funny thing.
before and after
Beginnings and endings.
Isaiah points his audience to the future as he portrays the “suffering servant.” “The former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.” Now is the time to look for the new things that God is doing. Your future will be different. The time of the prophets came to an end with the ministry of John the Baptist. John spoke of this himself
-- “the one coming after me is greater…” Matthew tells us that as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened to him. In the baptism of Jesus, a new time has begun -- the time of Jesus. The first time has ushered in the new time.
Sometimes the church seems to be living in the past. Christians sometimes act as if this is the time of the prophets-- that people need to focus on the Law and the words of the prophets who spoke of justice and judgment and coming righteousness. Sometimes, I think the church forgets that the time of the prophets ended when the time of Jesus began.
Jesus came as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. He came to battle evil and establish the kingdom of God.
But here’s another thing we often forget: The time of Jesus is over, too! I don’t mean to say that Jesus is irrelevant. Far be it! -- and the law and the prophets aren’t irrelevant, either.
But just as the gospels identify a time-change with the baptism of Jesus -- so also comes a time-change following his crucifixion and resurrection.
In our second reading today, Peter talks about this time-change. There was a time, he says, “AFTER the baptism that John announced,” when Jesus was the embodiment of the Word -- God’s message of healing and peace through Jesus. In those days -- at that time -- Jesus “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.”
But then Peter talks about the crucifixion and resurrection and says, “He commanded us to preach. . . and testify.” The time of Jesus is over. Now WE’RE the ones doing the walking around and preaching and healing.
Peter is talking about a third time-- the time of the Holy Spirit-- or the time of the church.
A time after the baptism that John announced. After.
It is a curious thing, but I think that sometimes we forget what time it is.
The time of the Law and the prophets ended with John.
That time was followed by the time of Jesus -- which ended with his death and resurrection.
That time was followed by the time of the church -- which began with Pentecost -- when Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into his followers and told them to go -- proclaim the good news and baptize in the name of Christ.
Three different eras -- each transitioning to the next with baptism -- one at the beginning of the time of Jesus, and one at the end. We have the baptism of John that ends the time of the prophets and begins the time of Jesus. And we have the baptism that Jesus commands at the end of the time of Jesus which begins the time of the church.
Jesus is in-between these baptisms. And here is the good news -- These are not the same baptism!
Here’s the good news -- Jesus did not have a Christian baptism!
Here is more good news -- You do!
Every Sunday we begin our worship with a celebration -- THANK GOD that we do not have the baptism of John!
John came “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
Many people came out to John to be baptized— and I am certain that many of them were quite sincere in their desire to repent. But there is a problem with repentance— we can’t do it! Not fully. In our Sunday confession we state that “we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.”
Many people came out to John and were baptized. But none of them had a dove descend upon them and rest.
None of them had a voice from heaven proclaim, “This is my son/daughter, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Only Jesus. No one else.
If all you and I had were the baptism of John -- we would simply have proof that we cannot reconcile with God through the strength of our resolve.
But thanks be to God! -- Jesus saves us from the baptism of John!
Jesus -- the one person who doesn’t need to repent -- submits himself to the baptism we cannot fulfill-- he does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. And then he turns to us and says, "you are mine, so I give to you what the father has given to me." The blessing that is spoken to Jesus, only -- is now shared with you. "This is my ...... Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." We are restored to our God -- we have a right relationship with God, not through our power, but through the power of God in Jesus.
Later, Paul wrote about it this way: “Do you not know that all of you who were baptized in Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore, we were buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life.”
That is what time it is.