Way Leads to Way – January 9

A sermon based on Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on January 9, 2022

by Rev. Scott Elliott

Baptism of Christ Sunday rolls around on the church calendar the first Sunday after Epiphany and it kicks off both the New Year and the Epiphany Season.  Our lesson is one of the four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism which started his ministry. We consider it now as we start our new year and segue into the Epiphany season, both are times of transition for us, just as Jesus’ Baptism was a time of transition for him.

We know now too that Jesus’ baptism and ministry led to a cosmic transition – beginning a new Way to salvation from our lesser ways of being.   In the words of one of our Advent and Christmas stories, Jesus’ Way leads to peace on earth good will to all.

Although it was a new way back then, Christians trace it back to the promise God made to Abraham who was on his own way. Genesis 12 (3) indicates that through Abraham God will make a great nation and . .. AND… “all families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Tradition has long held that Jesus’ transition to creating His Way. started through John the Baptist. John’s own way invited people to come out to the wilderness, cross into the Jordan River and be baptized as a means of repenting sins and mediating a connection with the Holy.

Scholars think John’s efforts and way included an element of protest  reenacting Joshua’s crossing the Jordan River to occupy the Promised Land. The protest symbolically took back the Promised Land from the      occupying Roman forces and their crony Temple elite.  In the original Joshua story God parted the river so Joshua – on his own way– could lead God’s people through it.

Our lesson is usually heard as focusing on John, then shifting focus to Jesus.  We tend to think of Jesus in isolation out there in the river with John, but as Luke actually points out, John baptized Jesus with “all the people.”  So, there was a bit of a gathering, not for a new year,  but for new beginnings all the same. The gathered were repenting–turning away– from their old ways and looking hopefully toward a new holy way that John’s baptism offered. This was a gathering of people on broken paths, people wanting to repair the broken-ness. And Jesus was not afraid to join them.

Out there with John at the Jordan it was a time and place of transition for everybody, not just on a cosmic scale with the birth of Jesus’ ministry and Way,  but on each individual’s birth of new ways of being for them.  But, for sure, the collective memory of the early Jesus’ Followers was that Jesus’ ministry started when he was baptized with  a mass of people in various states of disrepair.  We tend to lose sight of the fact that in this story Jesus mingled with all those people, stood in line with them, shared the same water and religious leader and, of course, the same God and Jewish faith.  And like all those others who gathered,  Jesus let the water of the Jordan River wash over him as John parted the river by dipping Jesus below the currents of those Sacred baptism waters. The waters of the very river parted centuries ago by Joshua when the Hebrews crossed into the Promised Land seeking refuge and well-being for their weary nation.

In stark contrast to Joshua’s story, the entire river, of course, doesn’t part in our story today, just a few liters part as bodies are submerged. But something else much bigger does miraculously part, heaven. Heaven. Parts!

We know now that heaven’s parting was a piece of the beginning of Jesus’ Way of refuge and well-being for more than just a weary nation.  Out of the parting of heaven a part of heaven came to earth to fulfill the promise of peace on earth good will to all. That part of heaven is the part of God we call the Holy Spirit. It arrived in the form of a peace dove which has ever since been found with Jesus, – who’s now also known as a part of God.

After the Spirit dove landed on Jesus the Creator’s approving voice peeled forth from heaven blessing Jesus. What happened that day that pleased the Creator.  The way the story is told in Luke Jesus did something different than others being baptized. The others’ response was to wondered if John was the Messiah.  Not Jesus.  His response was to pray. He communicated with God.  Communicating with God is a big deal in Luke and Jesus does it a lot. God’s response to Jesus’ baptism and prayer caused heaven itself to part and send to earth God’s  Spirit in the form of a dove– a universal sign of peace.

A simple message for us all is that baptism and prayer can lead to peace on earth– and the praise of God.  That’s a great and true message! It’s interesting to also juxtapose Luke’s story of Jesus at the Jordan with Joshua’s story at the Jordan.  God helped Joshua show the Hebrews a way to the Promised Land.  Joshua prayerfully learned from God that if Holy men carried the Ark of the Covenant housing the Torah into the Jordan, the river would part– which it did.  The priests got the Ark to the middle and stopped. Then all the people walked on dry land between the parted water to the Promised Land– giving the Hebrew’s much needed refuge.

In Jesus’ baptism story God helped John prayerfully learn that Jesus was the Messiah. And God sent that Holy man, John, to stand in the middle of the Jordan River, not with Tora, but with Jesus. The whole river did not part and make way for a specific people to gain refuge.  Another miracle happened. Heaven parted to make way for all people to gain refuge, to have peace, heaven on earth.  That way to heaven on earth began through a man upon whom the Holy Spirit could be found, Jesus.

What makes this even more interesting is that although the names Joshua and Jesus appear to be different in our Bibles they are literally translations of the same Hebrew name, Yeshua– and both are progeny of Abraham.  Under Joshua, the first Yeshua, the way God provided was Tora, which at the Jordan, led to a geographic refuge for the well-being of Hebrews on earth.  Under Jesus, the new Yeshua for Christians,  the way God provided is Jesus who leads a heavenly refuge of well-being on earth for everyone.

It is good to find a home, a nation, as a promised land for refuge, protection and peace, what we can call well-being. The Hebrew people needed it in Joshua’s time.  Jesus followers understand Jesus, a Jewish rabbi,  came along to emphasize a way of refuge for all by providing an epiphany to anyone who has ears and will listen. The epiphany is that all people need and deserve well-being all the time, which is, if we think about it, heaven on earth. It is both a Jewish and a Christian goal, summed up in the supreme Old and New Testament command to love others. That command is found in both Tora and in Jesus’ words. Jesus’ Way is a continuation of God’s promise to Abraham that through him “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” May we continue to help bring that blessing about.   AMEN