"Let it be so now"-Sermon for Epiphany 1, Matthew 3:13-17
Mathew’s account of Jesus’ baptism that we heard read this morning includes a unique exchange between John and Jesus in the moments just before John baptizes Jesus in the River Jordan. As a reminder, Matthew writes, “Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then [John] consented [to baptize Jesus].” Now, this exchange has always made sense to me in a gut level sort of way. That is John’s hesitancy to baptize or even untie Jesus’ shoes…really to do just about anything for Jesus…has always resonated with me…maybe most especially as a priest in God’s church. For, I continue to believe that being an ordained person is a high calling that I have not always felt worthy of receiving…a fear, if you will, that I certainly don’t live with all the time…but that does raise its head from time to time…rooted in a sense that I am not good enough, smart enough, loving enough…not worthy, like John, to do just about anything for Jesus.
I remember at my ordination to the priesthood…the actual moment when I knelt before the bishop and he placed two hands on my head…then all the other priests present also gathered around me and all placed their hands on my shoulders as well. It was a goodly company of about 15 or so people. Though full of love and encouragement, I felt the weight of all those hands bearing down on me, and I began to weep. And, then I could hear my friend Jimmy, a priest serving in Jackson Hole, weeping, and then I heard others as well as tears openly flowed. And, though so much love, God’s own love, and so much joy, the very joy of the Lord, was present in that Spirit-suffused moment, I again also entirely felt the weight of my calling. The calling to be an expression of God’s love for the world and for the living, breathing people I would get to serve…the call to be salt and light…to serve and listen and heal and organize…to be Christ’s own heart and hands for the very life of the world. Thus, mingled with the joy and hope and excitement was the lingering question of my worthiness. Like John must have felt when standing face to face with his Lord and God along the waters of the River Jordan, the thought surely crossed my mind…who am I to serve you Lord…who am I to represent such beauty, such hope, such promise, such never-ending love? Me…with all my faults and foibles…my past mistakes and selfish behavior…and the mistakes I will surely continue to make in the years following ordination…for ordination makes no person less human. On this side of glory, we all remain both broken and breathtakingly beautiful. Yet, Jesus says to John’s own expressions of unworthiness, to my own feeling of self-doubt, to each of us as we struggle with our own universal feelings of shame and “not enough-ness”…Jesus says to all of us, “Let it be so now.”
Which I believe means…right now and in each moment that follows…we are worthy…we are made worthy…we fulfill all righteousness…when we choose in the now to live fully into that which God made us for…when we strive to be who God created us to be. John was called by God to baptize those who wanted a fresh start…to be cleansed of sin and, as importantly, be empowered by God’s own living and active Spirit to live a love-suffused life for the blessing and healing of others. In doing what and being who God called John to be…the baptizer…the voice crying out from the wilderness…the one who would mark the beginning of Jesus’ own ministry at his baptism…as John embraced and lived into his high calling…he was worthy…he was glorious…he was a fully alive human, which is the glory of God. And, in the same way, when we love well those entrusted to our care, when we strive for justice and peace for all people, when we lead and serve in the church, when we live into our own vocations and professions with integrity…respecting the dignity of those we work and serve alongside…we too are worthy…we are glorious…we become fully alive, which is the glory of God.
Yes, our past actions have future consequences. But, even when those consequences are the painful results of bad behavior or poor choices, if we strive to set things right, if we seek to make amends, if we enter into the good, hard work of reconciliation in the present…and Jesus would surely say to all of that good work let it be so now…when we enter that good and Godly soul work for others and for ourselves in the present…we are worthy…we are glorious…we become fully alive, which is the glory of God. Our past only defines the future when we let it cripple us…by wrongly believing we can never be something different…by wrongly believing we are past the point of redemption…by wrongly believing, as my mom would say, the lie from the pit of hell that we are not worthy of God’s never-ending love and God’s unique call on each of our lives.
For our worthiness was never based on our efforts, our good deeds, or our shortcoming and mistakes. We were worthy at our arrival for God made us in God’s own image. It is God’s never-ending love for us that has always been the very place that our worthiness finds its genesis. Thus, the question is not am I worthy? But, will I allow that worthiness, inherent in each child of God, to shine forth? Will I bring that worthiness to life by getting back up after I have fallen…and courageously begin again? Will I set things to rights making amends and seeking reconciliation when I should? Will I live the life that God made me for? Will we be the friend, parent, spouse, sibling, co-worker, minister of the Gospel that God has called us to be? For, we are worthy to do so. And, like to John, Jesus is saying to us, “Let it be so now.”
As the bishop concluded the prayers and blessing as I was ordained and removed his hands from my head and my colleagues did the same while remaining close, I remained on my knees. So, the bishop took me by my hands and helped me get back up to my feet. I then stood shoulder to shoulder with my bishop and with my fellow presbyters, and they began to offer me signs of peace and love and support and encouragement…hugs, handshakes, and sweet words of affirmation. And, I had the simple thought, with God’s help and with these people’s help, I can do this.
Friends, it is easy in this death-dealing, difficult world, in which much is asked of us and much weight is hoisted upon our heads and shoulders by others and sometimes by ourselves…it is easy to forget our worthiness. Thus, it is all of our jobs to help remind one another of it. Sometimes we need to take each other by the hand and lift each other back up on our feet. Sometimes we need to stand close to each other. And, sometimes we need to assure one another of our worthiness with signs of affection and sweet words of affirmation.
For, in that hopeful moment in which we remember our worthiness, we become fully alive, which is the glory of God…and anything and everything good becomes possible. We have all the power and potential needed to fully live into our own, for we each have one, high calling. Perhaps in this new year, we can resolve to enter into this good “reminding” work for and with each other. And, I can almost hear Jesus saying, “Let it be so now.” Amen.