Gospel: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” … 21Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Are you a details person? Do you like to know how things work? Do you crave the whole story?
Thursday afternoon, we had devotions over at Superior Rehab (which used to be St. Francis), and we were speaking of what would be included audibly in the prayers. One concern we discussed was Jayme Closs, and I reminded the people that she hadn’t been found yet. Of course we prayed for her, and for what family was left for her, and for her safe return. We did not know at that two hours later, 911 would receive a call to come to help Jayme get back home, that she had escaped from her captivity, and was sheltered in a neighbor’s house with three adults and at least one dog, and a blanket wrapped around her to deal with the chills through which she’d walked that winter day.
The next day came the Facebook wars, people wanting to share what they knew or thought or believed. There were conspiracy theories including the perpetrators parents, and confusing him with his brother.
Friday’s Superior Telegram must have already gone to print, because it still ran the article about the planned news conference January 15, with no mention of Jayme’s return. The Duluth News Tribune, on the other hand, had a short article Friday acknowledging that she had been found alive, and Saturday’s paper had much more extensive coverage with two full pages dedicated to the story.
Still, there are not enough details for many who want to know everything, who are certain that someone other than the one guy must be guilty of something in the case. Today’s news says they will be working on Jayme’s time, not pushing, doing their best not to add to the trauma she’s already experienced. It will take time to discover the remaining details, and some may never be known.
Of course, in planning the message today, I did not know that Jayme would return home this week. I did not know that when we prayed for her on Thursday. Maybe she had not yet even left the house where she’d been held. Maybe those details are not important for us to know.
My intention was to expose how few details Luke gives us on Jesus’ baptism. In fact, all Luke really says about the baptism itself is that “Jesus also had been baptized.” He doesn’t tell us that John did the baptizing. In fact, if we had read the few verses skipped over by our lectionary, we would have read that Herod compounded his own evil deeds by shutting John the Baptist up in prison.
As detailed as Luke’s gospel is in so many ways, for Jesus’s baptism we have very little. The main detail Luke give us is the Holy Spirit descending upon him in bodily form like a dove, coupled with the voice from heaven declaring him to be the beloved son.
Where are the details? Why does the one who records Mary’s song of hope during her visit with Elizabeth and Zechariah’s prophetic song at the birth of John the Baptist not tell us more? Why does the one who relates the words the angel shared with Mary and those shared with the shepherds in the fields not tell us more about the baptism?
Of course, we don’t know why. All we know is what we have, not why the author merely notes that Jesus also had been baptized and was praying.
Actually, that is a detail that none of the other gospels provide. Matthew and Mark tie the voice and the descent of the Spirit directly to the baptism, while Jesus is still in or just coming out of the water, they say nothing about Jesus praying. John details other prayers, but not at Jesus’ baptism.
Does it matter? It mattered to Luke, that the people would know that Jesus was praying, but isn’t that really just a normal thing? Isn’t that a defining point of the relationship with God: prayer?
Oh, I’m not requiring a particular kind of prayer, like folding your hands and speaking with reverence and dedication. I’m including in prayer what we might hear from God, in whatever way that hearing might happen. What happens when we read the Bible, or when we’re walking through the woods on a crisp morning? What happens when we discover a wandering soul looking for home? What happens when we see a need, and realize that we have what it takes to fulfill it?
Ms. Nutter, the woman who with her dog encountered Jayme on the road, credits her experience in child protection and her years as a social worker for directing her response to take Jayme to nearby neighbors rather than her own place that could not be as well protected. I propose it’s that and more, that more being the Spirit’s guidance in the moment. I believe God is active in the moment, and in the details that allowed Jayme to escape from that house and encounter someone helpful when she did. Yet, for the rest of us to know all of those details is not so important, even though we like a good story.
What might be more important for us is to learn to recognize how God is active in our lives today. We often emphasize how in baptism we are forgiven, just as dirt is washed away from the body when we bathe or shower. That is true, but it is not the whole of it, it is not the complete description of what happens in baptism.
Baptism marks our relationship with God, and I’ve already noted that that relationship is nourished in prayer. I’ve not noted the order, however. So often we believe that baptism makes us worthy for a relationship with God by washing away our sin. David Lose, a colleague of mine now serving as a pastor in Minneapolis, helped me to realize it’s actually more than that, better than that—backwards from that! It’s actually the relationship with God that comes first, making us worth the bath!
Because God loves us, we are invited into God’s family, just like Jesus. In baptism we are named and claimed—we might consider the forgiveness a welcome side-effect! In baptism, we are children of God. The details may vary, as some are dunked, some are sprinkled, water might be lavishly poured or carefully applied, yet we are equally children of God.
We are loved and claimed in the name of the Father, of the son, Jesus, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen