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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
January 09, 2022
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Show of hands (at home, please put your answer in the chat) – do we agree that we live in a time when various groups of people are considered “other” for various reasons? It wasn’t any different when Jesus walked the earth. We know this. The Bible is filled with stories about groups of people that didn’t get along, and groups of people that the people of Yahweh were supposed to stay away from.
In the New Testament there are stories about Samaritans and Samaria, the place the Samaritans lived. Probably the best-known one is the parable of the Good Samaritan. And what we know is that Samaria was a place that Judeans tried to avoid going to.
But who the Samaritans are is important, so we’ll begin with a little bit of history. During an ancient Israeli war, most of the Jewish people living in Samaria were either killed or taken into exile. The ones who were left intermarried with other races and were considered half-breeds.
The Samaritan and Judean cultures developed differently and separately from each other. The Samaritans believed in God – Yahweh, but they didn’t look to Jerusalem as the place to worship God, and they interpreted the Torah differently.
All of these differences continued to build and became so divisive that many Jewish people living in Judea would go miles out of their way to avoid even walking through Samaritan territory.
And yet, in Acts, Samaria is on the list of places that Jesus commissions his disciples to go and witness to. Which is what Philip did in the verses leading up to today’s reading. He proclaimed the gospel to the Samaritans, he healed them, and he baptized them in Jesus’ name.
When the other apostles got word of that, they had to go and see it for themselves, so Peter and John went. And their act of praying that God give the Holy Spirit to the Samaritans who’d been baptized, and then laying hands on them, made them part of God’s family.
In that moment, the Samaritans went from being “other” to being part of “us.” The old divisions that had kept Samaritans and Judeans at odds with each other were undone in the family of God baptized into Jesus. The same baptism, the same Spirit, marked them all as God’s beloved children forever.
When we read about Jesus’ baptism, Luke’s gospel tells us that Jesus was with other people who’d also been baptized that day. We don’t know who they were, we aren’t told their names. But we can guess that they were there because of what John the Baptist had been saying.
That they were preparing for the new way of living that would come with the Messiah and searching for who that might be. And on the day Jesus was baptized, he stood with them in that river. Not separate from them, but together with them.
Theologian Debie Thomas describes it as a declaration of solidarity – of showing that God is one of us. That Jesus’ first public act is of radical and humble joining, and his first step in public ministry is one taken towards us.
And in taking that step, he joined us to himself. The same Spirit that descended on Jesus in his baptism and dwelled with him in his ministry, that was shared with all who were baptized in his name – including Samaritans, also dwells in us.
It’s the same Spirit that moved over the waters at creation and it creates a central link between us and Jesus.
Last week I talked about how Jesus is our common ground. Whatever differences we might have that separate us from one another, Jesus is our common ground.
Baptism – being joined to one another in Christ through this sacrament – takes that a step deeper. And it challenges us because we are bound together in Jesus with people we don’t like or always get along with. Which can make discipleship hard.
A few minutes ago, I asked if we agree that we live in a time when various groups of people are considered “other” for various reasons. And you all raised your hand. So, who are the people or groups we consider to be “other”? At home, please put your answer in the chat. In here, who are they?
Possibilities: people with different skin color, who speak a different language, who have a different immigration status, who have a different gender expression or identity, who like different sports teams, who like the color orange or who hate the color green, who have a different socioeconomic status, different political viewpoint, who are experiencing homelessness, etc.
The list is nearly endless. We can create groups of people who are “other” all day long.
These are the people we’re joined together with in Christ. The ones Jesus was baptized with and calls us to be in solidarity with. The ones that we’re called to work toward being in harmony, unity, commonality, and have camaraderie with. The ones we’re called to work towards having shared goals with.
All of that’s hard work even with people that we know and get along with, right? Being joined to one another in Christ calls us to that level of commitment. It takes time and intentionality. But as we do this work, we come to understand that we’re all in it together.
And that being baptized into Christ, acknowledging that we’re part of that story, means recognizing the truth that we are all united, interdependent, connected, and one. That our baptisms unite us to all of humanity not just in theory, but in the flesh.
So instead of working to exclude people, or only include people who are like us in whatever way we think is important, we focus on our relationship to one another in Christ and the ways that bring us together.
And we’re freed up to live into this now because we are already God’s beloved, and we always will be.
When we’re baptized, Jesus joins us to himself. The Spirit that moved over the waters at creation dwelled in him at his own baptism, and also dwells in us and makes us part of God’s family. Each one of us, whoever we happen to be.
Whatever we may think divides us, or makes us consider a person or group of people to be “other” is undone and we are simply “us.” The same baptism, the same Spirit, marks us all as God’s beloved children forever. Thanks be to God! Amen.