Many years ago, while serving as the Associate Pastor of the East Longmeadow United Methodist Church, I had the opportunity to overcome my natural uneasiness and accept and live out my call to ministry. Now it might seem strange how long it had taken me to do what, in fact, I had been called to do and, yes, it was strange. My only defense was my inexperience. I was very uncertain as to how to live out the call God had placed on my heart. And, as I remember, the surroundings were not especially conducive to what I was being asked to do; at least, I didn’t think so at the time. I remember I wanted to protest and internally, I guess I was arguing a bit with both God and with the persistent Spirit-nudge I was experiencing. God and Spirit were not giving in, so, finally I did.
The occasion began quite normally. I was making a home visit to one of the members of the church who, due to age and health, could no longer attend worship. In the unfortunate church vernacular, Isabel was a “shut in” and my specific role as the associate pastor was to visit “shut ins” and other elderly members. This was a first visit to Isabel’s apartment for me. When I arrived, I rang the bell and was ushered in by the housekeeper, a feisty, slightly overweight woman with graying hair who immediately went back to cleaning the kitchen counters and cabinets creating just enough noise to make conversing with Isabel a challenge. But, we both pushed on raising our voices so we could hear one another.
It was uncomfortable to say the least, to try and hold a private conversation in the presence of third person and I knew it wasn’t my place to ask Isabel’s aide to leave the room though I hoped Isabel might. She didn’t. So, somehow, uncomfortable as it was, we talked and what I found out that day was Isabel had not received communion in quite a long time. She wasn’t sure she wanted communion or that she “deserved” communion -her words not mine – but she mentioned it more than once in our conversation.
Now frankly, I wasn’t prepared to give Isabel communion. I didn’t have a liturgy to follow, no grape juice and no bread, so I kept trying to change the subject. But after every effort and a few choice sentences to shift the attention from the topic of communion, Isabel would inevitably mention it again. By now, I was downright uncomfortable. I knew what I needed to do…serve Isabel communion…but, I also knew I didn’t have the proper tools to do it and as an associate pastor of a church, I really hadn’t done a proper service yet so I wasn’t even sure I knew how to offer communion. My inner protests went unheard. God wanted me to serve Isabel communion so after a comedy of errors, which included our suspicious and somewhat put-upon home care aide reluctantly providing me with a – get this – plastic cereal bowl of tap water – there was no juice of any kind in the house and some very stale crackers, salted as I remember, because there was no bread, I stumbled my way through a brief liturgy making it up as I went and Isabel and I shared Communion. I did have the “smarts” to ask Isabel’s aide to join us and was surprised when she said, “Yes, she would.”
So as I was reading through Mark’s recording of Jesus’ baptism and John’s uneasiness to be the vehicle through which this baptism would be accomplished, understandably John’s discomfort reminded me of mine. John was being asked to live out his call, the purpose for which he had been brought into this world. This was the moment that one moment in time when we are called upon to put our complete trust in God and follow. In this case and in my case, John the Baptist and the Reverend Henrietta Aiello were both being asked to follow the leading of the Spirit of God. And like me, John hesitates long enough to protest saying “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” What follows is the crux of our scripture this morning. It is Jesus’ response, which alerts us to our role and our call. “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus, the very human Jesus claims his humanity by stepping humbly into the water to receive forgiveness, redemption on our behalf. It is not his divinity, which causes him to respond, but his humanity, his willingness to share our humanity so that he will fully live out the call on his life. What happens next is God’s spirit speaks not to Jesus the human being but to the One who is to be called God’s Son, the Beloved. Christ has done what is necessary…a first step on a road, which ultimately will lead him to the act of giving his life. For our sakes, this too will be necessary.
It is a New Year and with it comes a time to examine our lives both in the church and beyond the church. How are we live out the call of God on our hearts? What are we called to do, to be and what is necessary to fulfill the plan and hope, the vision and dream God has for each of us in our lives? Within the community of church, family and friends, how are we being invited to serve and whom are we being asked to seek out? I often hear people in the church say they are tired and burned out. They’ve done enough and they just want a break. To tell you the truth, I’ve found myself giving into those same feelings and when I do, I feel guilty about it. But then I remember, even Jesus gave in to his exhaustion and would step back for a time. He would go off by himself to pray. He would cross the Sea of Galilee to escape, even for a short while, the crowds who were seeking his healing touch. He would fall asleep in a boat in the middle of a storm. He would let himself be human just as we must. But, again and again, until he breathed his last earthly breath, Jesus lived out his call to serve the God of love and compassion and so must we. Jesus would seek out a place of renewal, a way to replenish his energy in order to continue to, in his words, “fulfill all righteousness.”
In this coming year, I challenge myself and I challenge you to ask what God requests from you. How might you and I best live into the claim placed on your lives? I challenge myself and I challenge you to seek out ways to replenish and refresh the God given spirit within through prayer, reading scripture and other works of inspiration and by connecting in fellowship and study with others through one or more of the Christian education offerings the church will make available through the year. This is a new year and a new year always invites a baptism of sorts. It offers opportunity to each of us to experience the refreshing waters of forgiveness and renewal and to get better connected to the God who reminds us daily… “You are my beloved child with whom I am well pleased.” Amen.