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Luke 5:7-11

January 8, 2021

So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him. Luke 5:7-11

Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” This is certainly not the response that we would expect to see. Everybody else – the crowds who followed Jesus to the shore, heard what he had to say, saw the miraculous catch of fish – ate it all up and wanted more. But Simon Peter was driven to his repentant knees.

But Simon Peter didn’t get what he asked for.

Jesus didn’t “go away” from Simon Peter. Jesus called him to follow him with the promise that his future would include influencing the lives of people, inviting them, as would Jesus, to new life in the kingdom of God.

As we continue our lives in the aftermath of the tragic events of these past days, months, even years, who will we be?

Will we continue to march with the crowd who wants what they want when they want it? The crowds clamoring for a free lunch, instant healing, and an inherited seat at the head table? The crowds who saw the good that came from Jesus but were blind to the reality of who and what he was?

Because here is the path those crowds would take – as soon as they realized that Jesus wouldn’t do for THEM what they thought he would do, how they thought he ought to do it – it was THEIR voices that cried for his crucifixion.

But Simon Peter’s reaction was different. He fell to his knees in repentance. This would not be the last time he would do so. Simon Peter was a guy like the rest of us. Today, he ought to be our model.

The path to following Jesus begins in submission. We receive the water of baptism. The new identity as a child of God is given to us. The path to following Jesus begins on our knees.

As I continue to listen to the voices now processing the events of this week, I continue to hear voices filled with resentment, voices committed to following conspiracy theories and lies, voices that continue to spin and manipulate and engage in the constant “whataboutism” that has plagued us for years.

But what I want to hear is this: I was wrong.

That is what repentance sounds like.

But Jesus wants far more both FOR us and FROM us than our own recognition of having been both deceived and complicit. There is a time to fall to our knees but we can’t follow from there. We have to get up. We have to get on board with Jesus’ agenda if we hope to realize the vison of new life that Jesus holds before us.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we confess that we have sinned and fallen short of your glory. We confess that we are sinful, broken, both in what we do and what we fail to do. Take away our fear. Call us from our knees with a fresh resolve to follow your path of faith, of hope, of love, of justice, of mercy, of peace, of being the people you have created us to be. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 5:1-6

January 7, 2021

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. Luke 5:1-6

Words matter. Words share thoughts, spread ideas. Words evoke feelings and emotions. Words drive people to act. For good, or for ill.

The crowds gathered around Jesus because they wanted to hear what he had to say. Jesus got into a boat to speak both to escape the crush of the crowds and because the water acted as a natural loudspeaker, projecting his words even to those standing in the back.

The story tells us how Jesus spoke to the crowds, but it doesn’t tell us exactly what he said. It doesn’t need to. We already know that Jesus would have spoken from a place of honesty and love about the kingdom of God.

But then the story goes one step farther. We get to see the actions that Jesus’ words inspire. A huge haul of fish which the fishermen didn’t think possible. Those fish meant food on the table for many people. The response to Jesus’ words was a blessing to the people.

Ironically, this text for today comes on the heels of a dark day in Washington, DC. The out-going President of the United States spoke for over an hour to a crowd of people gathered in the nation’s capital to protest his loss. Late last night, using YouTube, I listened to every word he said. A word salad of lies, grievances, delusions, and scurrilous attacks on anyone who doesn’t do his bidding. And yes, he told them, “After this we will move to the capital building” and that is what happened.

The response to his words? The crowd not only moved to the capital building, they wreaked havoc when they got there. They broke windows, ransacked offices, attacked law enforcement officials, sending many to the hospital. At least four people died. The crowd desecrated democracy. They showed their true colors – deranged members of a destructive personality cult. We ought not have been surprised.

Words matter. Listen to Jesus!

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, this morning we are the crowd standing by the lake, eager to hear what you have to say. We need hope. We need healing. Yesterday’s events were tragic but not unexpected. They were the culmination of years of dishonesty and stoking resentments. Send us back out into the waters, that we might be surprised by the bounty of your love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 4:42-44

January 6, 2021

At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.”

So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea. Luke 4:42-44

Once you become an adult, there are two times a day that you are pretty much control – when you go to bed and when you get out of bed. The glimpses that the gospels give us into the spirituality of Jesus show us that these were important prayer times for him. He went off by himself either early in the morning (as in this text), or at the end of the day. Why?

Why did Jesus need time for reflection, for prayer? For the same reasons we do.

Remember the first time someone told you there was a reason why God gave you two ears and only one mouth? That if you think you know everything then you can’t, or won’t, learn anything new? That the most important aspect of a healthy relationship is open and honest communication? That if you forget who you are, and what you stand for, plenty of other voices will jump in to answer those questions for you. All of this, and much more, is why prayer matters. For Jesus, and for us.

As soon as the crowds notice that Jesus is missing they head out in search of him. Why? Because they wanted what they wanted when they wanted it. Jesus had suddenly became their lottery ticket, their quick and easy answer. Like the selfish people who hoarded toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic, they didn’t want to be left out, left behind, left wanting.

But Jesus wasn’t anyone’s private property or personal lapdog. He still isn’t. He saw what they didn’t, couldn’t, refused to, see. His mission field was the entire broken creation.

You have heard the term “elevator speech” before, right? An elevator speech compresses an entire vision into a quick sound bite that can be delivered in a single ride up an elevator. You could say that Jesus’ elevator speech was ““I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God.” But the bigger question is, “What does THAT mean?”

Ask many Christians today what the Christian elevator speech is and they might say something like this: “God is perfect, merciful and just. We are sinners. Jesus died to forgive us but, in order to actually receive that forgiveness, we must believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord and ask for forgiveness personally. Then Jesus forgives us. And when we die, we get to go to heaven.”

My sense is that Jesus’ personal explanation of the “good news of the kingdom of God” would be a little different. In fact, he already gave it to us. Remember these words?

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Let us pray: Dear Lord, there is something in us that wants to keep you all to ourselves, something in us that is largely blind to the real world implications of your sense of what good news means in our world and in our lives. Only you can open our eyes that we might more clearly see ourselves. Only your Spirit can do that within us. Keep working on us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 4:38-41

January 5, 2021

After leaving the synagogue he entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked him about her. Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them.

As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them.

Demons also came out of many, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah. Luke 4:38-41

The currently raging coronavirus pandemic puts today’s reading in a new light. Just last week we had a funeral for another victim of Covid 19. It was livecast on the internet. The only people in the sanctuary were seven members of her immediate family. All in masks. No touching allowed. A story that has been repeated, as of today, over 354,000 times. The people who continue to argue that this is “no big deal” ought to be ashamed of themselves.

The gospels tell us little about the family lives of those who followed Jesus. Obviously, Simon was married as today we read about his mother-in-law, but this is a rare mention. For all the talk about the Bible as the source of “Christian family values”, very little is said about anybody’s marriage or family. But this story does tell us a bit about how Christian values reflect what Jesus values.

When he finds someone sick – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually – he wants them to be better. He rebukes the fever, and she is restored. Jesus values health and wholeness.

The word soon gets out that Jesus can help sick people. Soon the crowd gathers, like a celebrity signing autographs, and Jesus lays his hands on them, and cures them. Again, only the demons fully appreciate what is happening. Jesus values people.

When the mother-in-law is restored, she serves a meal. That’s another Christian value: Our response to God’s love in our lives is to serve others.

I can’t imagine the pain someone who has lost a loved one to Covid 19 would feel in reading this story. Why wasn’t MY mother saved? Even reading about Jesus touching someone in their healing is hard to hear when people aren’t able to visit, or to be visited, in the hospital. Video chats and phone calls have their place but nothing replaces holding hands or hugs.

And it seems to quick and easy! One word. One touch. And people get better.

I get that. Such emotional responses are inevitable. Two of our four children have gotten sick with Covid 19. In both cases, they were better in a week or two. Kelley and I felt the fear that came with the positive test. The worry and then, for us, the relief. We felt helpless.

The truth is, health and wholeness are fragile. When we get sick, we feel vulnerable, like our bodies have betrayed us. The best response is not either/or but both/and. It isn’t either Jesus heals us or Jesus is a figment of our imaginations. It is both, we know in our heart of hearts that Jesus values wellness and wholeness and we know that not everyone or everything gets better. That is the mystery of life.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we read about how you healed people and our prayers today go out to all who are sick and suffering, all pleading for your help. We pray for health care workers, that they find meaning and purpose in their work, and encouragement and rest when they feel overwhelmed. We pray for diligence in providing vaccines to as many people as possible. Give us hope, determination, and persistence. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 4:31-37

January 4, 2021

He went down to Capernaum, a city in Galilee, and was teaching them on the sabbath. They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority.

In the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, “Let us alone! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!”

When the demon had thrown him down before them, he came out of him without having done him any harm. They were all amazed and kept saying to one another, “What kind of utterance is this? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and out they come!” And a report about him began to reach every place in the region. Luke 4:31-37

After a nice long – and very weird – Christmas break, today it is time to get back to work. Jesus makes the same move. After being chased out of his hometown, Jesus also gets back to work. He heals a man possessed of an unclean demon. Three things about this first healing.

First, many of us are uncomfortable with talk about “unclean demons.” We seek more modern, sophisticated, explanations for such things. We want to talk about mental health or physical ailments like epilepsy. On the one hand, that is understandable. We have learned a lot since the old days of leeches and bloodletting. On the other hand, our desire for plausible explanations is also a sign of our need to control everything.

If we can explain something, we can explain it away. We run away from a mysterious, unknowable, and uncontrollable world back to the comfort of what we think we know. Because, if we know, we can control. But we really can’t control life, try as we might.

Second, we are always surprised when the demons immediately recognize Jesus for who Jesus is while everyone else, including, if not especially, the religious leaders, don’t. Why is that? In Mark’s gospel the argument seems to be that the true identity of Jesus won’t be fully known until the resurrection. Until then, his identity remains a secret. But that is a bit different for Luke.

Luke – also the author of Acts – seems much more attentive to what we could call the “spirit world.” The Holy Spirit drives the action in Luke’s writing. Perhaps the demons, also cast as characters in the spirit world, are thus more quick to identify the Holy Spirit working in and through Jesus.

What does that suggest for us? While we might be uncomfortable with talk about demons and unclean spirits, what is more important? That we be right with our theories or that the Holy Spirit be given free reign to make us right with ourselves and the world around us?

This morning I prayed for a woman who is facing surgery today. I believe my prayer, and the prayers of others, play a role in her healing. Why? Because I believe the spiritual world is as active and present as the physical world. Jesus did too. His healing work brings them together.

And finally, notice that Jesus found this possessed man in the synagogue. How about, as we enter this new year, we remind ourselves that faith communities are hospitals for the sick, not country clubs for the self-righteous? Maybe that little reminder will help us let down our defenses and be open to the healing that God wants to work in all of our lives.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, you are our Healer, our help is every time of trouble. As we move now into a new calendar year, help us be attentive to the spiritual realities of our lives. Both to our own brokenness and the power you have to bring healing. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 4:22-30

December 16, 2020

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”

 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”

When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. Luke 4:22-30

Christmas must be coming soon – I got an email this morning telling me that the presents that I ordered for our grandchildren will be arriving on Thursday. Pressure!!! I know that it is better to give than to receive but I feel a lot of pressure when it comes to what we give. We want them to like, appreciate, and use the gifts we give. The pressure comes because I know how people are – even kids have an innate sense of FAIRNESS.

FAIRNESS defined as “No one else better get a better deal than me or it’s not fair!”

At some point we all need to come to grips with the reality that, as God continues to create the world, “fairness” doesn’t seem to be a high priority. Diversity, yes. Abundance, yes. Interconnectedness, yes. Interdependence, yes. Fairness, no.

We don’t like that. We fight against it. We team up against one another. Someone buys up all the toilet paper. We decide some people, places, and things are better than others. Over against all of that, God calls us to work for justice, for equity (which is different than equality.) And if that means that Elijah was sent to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon, or that Naaman the Syrian would be cured of his leprosy, so be it.

That is what enraged the crowd. They didn’t want to hear that THEIR God did good things for THOSE people. Especially when they were all convinced that God ought to do more for THEM!

Somehow the message didn’t get through. The initial promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 couldn’t be more clear. They were blessed (which isn’t fair) so that, through them, all the nations of the world would be blessed (whether or not that’s fair.) But somehow along the way, that message got lost. Kind of like “All men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights” sounded great but, right off the bat, didn’t include Native Americans or enslaved people.

Along comes Jesus. He isn’t bringing something new but he is intent on bringing what he has to all people. ALL means ALL. His hometown was willing to shut him down right from the start, to throw him off a cliff. But there is another way to shut him down – and that is to co-opt his message. To change it. To soften it. To qualify it. To add lots of “but what about?’s” to it.

But that crowd couldn’t shut him down. We ought not either.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, the reach of your love knows no ending. The good news of your love is grounded in justice, in equity, in reconciliation, in peace. May we too be filled with the Spirit that guided and protected you as we continue to seek the world as you created it to be, each doing our little parts as we are willing and able. In Jesus’ name.

Luke 4:14-21

December 15, 2020

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.

The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:14-21

Jesus, fresh from the wilderness, heads home.

This movement – from wilderness back home – is a recurrent theme in the Hebrew scriptures. It is a reversal from the creation story where Adam and Eve were cast out of paradise into the wilderness. Abraham travels through the wilderness to a new home. The people journey through the wilderness from Egypt to the Promised Land. The refugees from Babylon begin the long walk home once freed by the victory of the Persians. In fact, most of the Hebrew scriptures were written before/during/after such tumultuous times. Especially, like the words that Jesus today recites from Isaiah, after the Babylonian Exile.

Jesus, digging deeply into the origins of this promise/hope, tells the people that “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus announces that the time for liberation has come. This is his purpose. This is his job description. If you want to know what Jesus was always about, start here.

What would constitute good news to the poor? How about enough food to eat, a place to live, clothes to wear, an education for their children, anything beyond the constant stress and worry about barely holding on to life.

Release to the captives? A legal system that goes beyond laws and reaches for justice for all.

Recovery of sight to the blind? A health care system available to everyone for the physically ill and an intellectual environment focused on facts, on truth, for those who refuse to see.

Let the oppressed go free? A shared life based on seeking the common good rather than protecting a privileged life dependent on the subservience of a poorly treated underclass.

The fulfillment that Jesus seeks is not a pie-in-the-sky spirituality unmoored from the daily lives of people. It is just the opposite. It is a new relationship among people who, together, covenant to live within the boundaries of the will of God for freedom, liberation, justice, and peace for all people.

Tomorrow we will find out how this vision goes over with the folks from Jesus’ hometown.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, you know that the wilderness is wherever people struggle to hold on to life. The wilderness within – hunger, homelessness, addiction, constant war, physical illness, hopelessness, despair – weighs upon us. We pray for continued vigilance and willingness to seek freedom for all. Guide us on the journey from the wilderness back home. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 4:1-13

December 14, 2020

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. Luke 4:1-13

Today is a big day as the first shipments for the coronavirus vaccine begin arriving around the country. We have a long way to go to get back to a new normal and that, we hope, begins today. 2020 has felt like life in the wilderness and no one has felt that more than those who continue to suffer, those who have lost loved ones, and those who live in fear of being the next one to go.

For far too long, the Christian faith has been marketed as the panacea for all bad things in life. Accept Jesus and your problems will go away. Walk in the Lord’s favor and you’ll get that promotion at work; you’ll achieve financial success and independence. Go see that faith healer holding the revival in that stadium and you will leave your crutches behind. I know I’m being a bit harsh here but I think you recognize some of this.

Few people are honest enough to tell you that the Christian faith might make your life more difficult. But that is what Jesus discovered as he left the Jordan river behind and found himself hungry and alone. Life got hard and the Tempter showed up with his promises.

The Tempter offered three things – you’ll get your material needs met, you’ll have power over others, and you’ll be assured of your personal security. Aren’t they the big ones that always seem to work?  

Jesus didn’t fight the temptations, he didn’t even fight with the Tempter, he met each temptation with faith. He stayed true to his center. He wasn’t looking for an easy way out. He didn’t seek to dominate others. He didn’t seek personal glory. He wasn’t peddling magic so he wasn’t swayed by magic. His trust in God was his pillars of fire and cloud.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, lead us not into temptation. Deliver us from evil. You have freed us to be response-able; may we face our responsibilities today with courage, faith, and perseverance. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 3:23-38

December 11, 2020

Jesus was the son (as was thought) of Joseph son of Heli, son of Matthat, son of Levi, son of Melchi, son of Jannai, son of Joseph, son of Mattathias, son of Amos, son of Nahum, son of Esli, son of Naggai, son of Maath, son of Mattathias, son of Semein, son of Josech, son of Joda, son of Joanan, son of Rhesa, son of Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, son of Neri, son of Melchi, son of Addi, son of Cosam, son of Elmadam, son of Er, son of Joshua, son of Eliezer, son of Jorim, son of Matthat, son of Levi, son of Simeon, son of Judah, son of Joseph, son of Jonam, son of Eliakim, son of Melea, son of Menna, son of Mattatha, son of Nathan, son of David, son of Jesse, son of Obed, son of Boaz, son of Sala, son of Nahshon, son of Amminadab, son of Admin, son of Arni, son of Hezron, son of Perez, son of Judah, son of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, son of Terah, son of Nahor, son of Serug, son of Reu, son of Peleg, son of Eber, son of Shelah, son of Cainan, son of Arphaxad, son of Shem, son of Noah, son of Lamech, son of Methuselah, son of Enoch, son of Jared, son of Mahalaleel, son of Cainan, son of Enos, son of Seth, son of Adam, son of God. Luke 3:23-38

Yes, today’s reading is Luke’s genealogy of Jesus.

Contrary to all claims otherwise – which usually sound like “I tried to read the Bible but I couldn’t get through all the endless lists of names” – the Bible is not dominated by lists like this. But there are some of them and they are there for the same reason that ancestry.com has sold millions of genetic testing kits. We’re all interested in learning more about where and who we came from.

Kelley and I both took one of those tests. She discovered that her Cherokee ancestry, mixed in with the rest of her European cocktail, was a myth. It turns out that her grandma wasn’t actually a Cherokee Native American, she just grew up in Cherokee, OK. That’s different.

And I was surprised that my supposed 50% pure-bred Norwegian side was actually 63% Norwegian, diluted by 24% Swedish and 13% England/Wales/NW Europe. I guess the Vikings got around a bit.

What does Jesus’ genealogy tell us?

First, let’s note that Matthew includes a very different tracing of Jesus’ heritage. Luke begins (as was thought) with Joseph, Mary’s betrothed, and he traces Jesus all the way back to God. Matthew begins with Abraham and works his way forward to Jesus. Matthew also includes some scandalous names, including women, and wraps it up in a numerology bow with a series of three 14 generation periods. Luke does none of that.

Second, let’s also note that both of these genealogies were constructed by the authors in order to fit their purposes for writing. It isn’t just that they “made them up”, it is that they were each carefully crafted. For both writers, their purpose wasn’t to get the genealogy of Jesus “right”, it was to tell the Jesus story in such a way as to get US right.

Matthew wanted to establish Jesus’ Jewish bona fides; Luke wants his Gentile audience to know that Jesus’ roots reached back to God, to the very beginning of time, not just the beginning of the people of Israel. Jesus’ universal roots reinforce his universal reach.

All of this is yet another nail in the coffin of the very modern “literalist” way of reading and understanding the Bible. There is neither a need to argue that either Matthew or Luke are “right” or that there would be some value in homogenizing the lists. They are what they are. Both are arguments meant to establish that Jesus is who he is.

The good news isn’t just how far back the family line of Jesus extends but how far forward – you and I can rejoice that our names have been grafted onto his family tree, that we might assume our responsibility in honoring and furthering our family legacy.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, all of us “come from” different people, places, and times yet we can trace our lineage back to creation itself and forward to life with you forever. Thank you for our ancestors and bless us in keeping and furthering life for the sake of those yet to come. In Jesus’ name. Amen.  

Luke 3:21-23a

December 10, 2020

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and 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.” Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work. Luke 3:21-23a

Before offering some thoughts on how Luke tells us the story of Jesus’ baptism, it is interesting to look at how Mark and Matthew do it.

Look at these verses.

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:9-11

Clearly here the focus is on John actually baptizing Jesus. The affirmation that Jesus hears seems to be for “his ears only.” Mark has already told us in the title of his book that Jesus is the Son of God; his baptism is the next step toward that reality being revealed to the world.

Now look at what Matthew does with the story:

Then 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 he consented. 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.” Matthew 3:13-17

Matthew adds a new line, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” This fits with Matthew’s intention to tell the Jesus story with special attention to what the faith will look like in the absence of the Torah, temple, and synagogue. Jesus becomes the new Moses.

Then we go back to Luke and what do we see? Just like everybody else, Jesus was baptized. Unlike the other synoptic gospels, where the focus is clearly on Jesus actually being baptized by John, Luke’s telling of the story comes across almost as an off-hand remark. What do we make of that?

Jesus was baptized just like everybody else. To Luke’s big question, “What about the Gentiles?” the baptism of Jesus becomes the entry point for Christian discipleship, freely available and open to anyone.

One other quick word: This is the passage that tells us that Jesus was 30 years old when he first began his public ministry. While that fits with Luke’s intention to write an orderly account, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Jesus was actually 30 years old. It could just be a way to connect Jesus to Joseph (Genesis. 41-46), the priesthood (Numbers 4:3), David (2 Samuel 5:4), and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:1) – all of whom began their godly work at 30 years of age.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, with water and your Word you continue to claim us and name us your own. By our baptisms, we are reborn into your story and given our place as witnesses to your presence in the world. May our lives bear witness to your love for all. In Jesus’ name. Amen.