Stage Fright and Jordan Wading: When Jesus Needs a Hand
What a strange and humble way for Jesus to start his ministry.
Rather than beginning with lights and fireworks, descending from on high, or even with a simple miracle like walking on water or healing a sick person, Jesus quietly joins the crowd being baptized by John.
We can learn so much from Jesus in this moment, the first thing being that ministry takes preparation.
Jesus didn’t just plunge in full blast.
He took part in a ceremony, a marking of a profound change in his life.
Jesus didn’t need to be cleansed of sin in his baptism, he lived without sin. But he did need to mark this pivotal moment with a spiritual sign. His baptism clearly separates the first thirty years of his life, his private life, if you will, from the start of his public life and ministry.
It’s also a signal within a family.
Jesus and John were cousins, and we don’t know much about them as children. We can only imagine their childhood natures from what we know of them as adults.
I picture Mary and Elizabeth carefully and quietly teaching them that they were preparing for very great roles in the salvation of their people.
I bet John was raring to go from day one.
He just seems like the type of person who could never sit still in class and was the loudest and the most enthusiastic about everything.
Jesus, on the other hand, seems to have carefully restrained his power throughout his childhood.
I picture him as a very thoughtful child, always wondering and pondering in his mind and heart what his Heavenly Father was calling him to do. We get a glimpse of his thirst for spiritual knowledge in the story of him staying in the temple at age twelve when his parents leave Jerusalem.
So John and Jesus meet for probably the first time in a long time at this moment.
John has been active in ministry for some time, calling the people of Israel to repent of their sins and prepare the way for the coming Lamb of God.
As we see from his reaction during his prison stint—are you the one, or are we to look for another?—patience is not John’s strong suit.
He was probably wondering when Jesus would get around to announcing himself.
Thirty years old was quite an advanced age in those times.
Most men had been married for fifteen years or more, had tons of kids, and were well established in their work and life.
It continues to fascinate me that it took him that long to be ready to take the plunge.
Maybe he knew that once he came out onto the stage, so to speak, his time there would be all too brief, in fact would be the beginning of the end of his life because he knew he had to die to save us all.
Maybe his human side waited as long as possible, hanging onto this beautiful earthy life for just a few more months, a few more weeks, a few more days, before committing himself to begin the journey that would end in the cross.
Or maybe he feared failure in his human mind and heart.
There is big difference between believing in your head that you can probably do something and then actually executing it in public.
I think that if the stars aligned I could probably do a cartwheel, but I’m not about to try it here in church in front of everyone.
When John proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God,” Jesus was taking a big risk by saying, “Yes, that’s me.”
People were going to want to see evidence.
What if the healing power of love that he felt thrumming through him with such energy refused to come out when he needed it to help some suffering person?
What if the thoughts and reflections and parables that he had been building in his mind all this time fell flat in front of the crowds, or made him stammer and stumble and lose track of what he was saying?
What if he couldn’t live up to the potential God the Father had placed within him?
I think we all struggle with that question.
What if I can’t live up to the potential God the Father has placed within me?
What if I am a failure, a disappointment?
What if I’m not good enough?
But we forget that John and Jesus and the crowds are not the only people in this story.
God is there too, and God shows up in a big way.
“And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.””
What a beautiful moment, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all in harmony in the water and the sunlight.
But how often do we plunge into some new task we feel apprehensive about without remembering that God is always present to us to bless us?
I do it all the time.
How often are we looking to the heavens to be opened to us?
Not often enough.
Perhaps it is our legacy as individualistic Americans who live by the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” creed.
But we can see from this story that God cannot wait to reach out and show us how treasured and beloved we are, to show us that our efforts are noticed by God and cherished by God.
And let’s go back to John for a moment.
He is hesitant at first to baptize Jesus.
He knows that he is but a humble prophet standing before the Son of the Living God. Who is he to baptize Jesus?
“But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.””
Jesus needs John in this moment. He cannot baptize himself.
John plays a critical role in Jesus’ ministry by doing what Jesus needs him to do, by helping Jesus when Jesus asks for help.
Are we paying attention to what Jesus needs us to do?
Are we helping Jesus accomplish the building of God’s kingdom?
Jesus can’t do it all himself.
Remember the slogan that our diocese used for a time, that has been used at this church, “No hands, no feet but ours.”
So often we are asking Jesus to help us, and that’s good and appropriate, but perhaps we need to ask him a little more often how he needs us to help him.
So after Jesus is baptized, he is immediately driven out into the wilderness by the Spirit.
That’s another familiar experience to us.
We all know that the high of the mountaintop spiritual experience is almost immediately followed by the plunge back into mediocre reality and sometimes even outright depression.
But that is exactly what God’s blessing was for in the baptismal moment.
“And a voice from heaven said, “This is my child, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.””
God is not just saying that to Jesus, God is saying that to us as we renew our baptismal vows this morning.
It is fuel for the journey.
It is something to treasure in our hearts and bring out to ponder and celebrate once we’re out in the lonely wilderness, once we’re out in the thick of active ministry with hardly time to think.
God wants us to know that God is well pleased with us before we actually accomplish anything.
This is such a key point. God is saying, well done, I’m so proud of you, before any ministry has happened.
God loves us to our core no matter what happens when we actually get out there and try to build something, try to do something new and bold for the kingdom.
That is what gives us the courage to try it and take the risk.
Jesus comes to the Jordan River ready to commit, to say, “Here I am, Father. Anoint me for the work of building your kingdom.”
Each time we say the words of the Baptismal Covenant, we are wading out into the Jordan, opening ourselves up to be sent out to do God’s work, strengthened by God’s blessing.
I’m so glad we’re doing it together.