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January 8, 2017 sermon

That Boy’s Gonna Need Some Help

Today we celebrate the baptism of Jesus. In a moment, we’ll also renew our own baptismal vows. Jesus comes down to the Jordan river along with everyone else to be baptized by John.
John’s a wild man. He lives out in the wilderness, preaching God’s wrath. The people need to repent. They need to change their lives. Get in line with God … or else! Confess your sins and be baptized.
And Jesus steps into the muddy waters of the Jordan river to be baptized by John.
Which raises an interesting question. Why did Jesus need to be baptized? John is confused. He objects to baptizing Jesus. “I’m the one who needs to be baptized,” he says, “not you!”
But Jesus insists. “It is proper for us to do this. This is how we fulfill all righteousness.” Matthew is the only gospel who relates this vignette. “Righteousness” is an important word for Matthew. God’s righteousness reveals itself in a promise to love and hold us close.
John thinks of baptism as a remedy for sin. We wash the dirt off our souls. We get clean. We get right with God. Many people today think the same way about baptism.
But for Jesus, this is something else. For Jesus, this is not about his own righteousness. By being baptized, Jesus fulfills God’s righteousness. By being baptized, Jesus aligns himself with God’s purposes in the world.
Jesus’ whole life and ministry is about showing God’s faithful love in the world. By being baptized, Jesus fulfills God’s intention to heal and restore the world and all its creatures. By being baptized, Jesus engages in his ministry of living out God’s love in everything he says and does.
By being baptized, Jesus fulfills God’s work of putting things right in the world. By being baptized, Jesus stands in solidarity with all who struggle to experience God in their lives. By being baptized, Jesus is one with us as we seek to be transformed by God’s love.
And John baptizes Jesus.
And Jesus sees God’s Spirit, which looks like a dove, descending and landing on him. The voice of God speaks, “Oh, you’re my boy. You are the delight of my life. You are chosen and marked by my love now and forever.”
Let me suggest that John the Baptist was wrong. Baptism is not so much a remedy for sin. Baptism has a little to do with washing and being cleansed, but it is so much more than that.
Matthew helps us see that baptism marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. God embraces Jesus—and us—in love, transforms us and strengthens us to live out our ministry in the world.
Fred Craddock, one of the pre–eminent preachers of the past generation, tells about a time he was invited to preach at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King, Jr. used to preach. He says,
“It came time for me to preach, so I got up and Joe Roberts, the pastor, sat down on the stage behind me. Just as I began to speak, he started singing. “Glory hallelujah, I feel so much better since I laid my burden down.” Then the associates started singing, and the musicians went to their instruments, the piano and the organ and the drums and the electric guitar, and the people started singing.
“And I’m standing up there with my Bible open, waiting.
“Then I suddenly realized, I’m the one up front, I’m the leader of this, so I started clapping my hands and singing. Everybody stood up and started clapping their hands and swinging and singing, and it was just marvelous. At a certain point, Joe put his hand out, it got quiet, they sat down and I started preaching. I could’ve preached all day.
“Afterwards I said to Joe, “Well, that kind of shocked me a little bit. You didn’t tell me you were going to do that.” He said, “Well, I didn’t plan it.” “Then why did you do it?” And he said, “Well, when you stood up there, one of my associates leaned over to me and said, ‘That boy’s gonna need some help.’”
“That boy’s gonna need some help.”
Let’s use our imaginations here a little bit. I can imagine God and the Spirit looking down from heaven, watching John the Baptist do his revival thing down by the Jordan. And here comes Jesus, determined to get started on his mission, full of vim, vigour and bright ideas. And the Spirit turns to God and says, “That boy’s gonna need some help.”
And God thinks about it a few minutes. God looks out over the horizon and into the future and sees the trials and tribulations, the sadness and sorrow, the great adulation mixed with frequent rejection and failure. And God nods sadly and says to the Spirit, “I believe you’re right. That boy is going to need some help.” And then a slow smile spread across God’s face. “Guess what, Spirit. You’re it!”
And what happened was that just as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens split open and God’s holy Spirit came down in the form of a dove and alit on Jesus’ shoulder. A mighty voice boomed, “There’s my boy. I delight in him. I’ll give him all the help he’s gonna need.”
And then the heavens closed and the bird flew off and only a few heard a faint voice whisper, “There; that oughta do it.”
“That boy’s gonna need some help.” Jesus needed all the help he could get to do what he was about to start.
He needed the help of his parents. Mary had to be willing to say “Yes” to God; Joseph had to be willing to raise him as his own child. He needed the help of his cousin John the Baptist, to “prepare the way”, to get people ready to hear about things like repentance and forgiveness and the coming kingdom of God.
On this day of his baptism, he needed the help that only God could give—the power of holy Spirit. He needed God’s sacred touch. He needed to hear the powerful, creative voice from heaven to name him and claim him. “That boy needed some help.” And God sent it.
He needed the help of his disciples, and the women whose names we have forgotten, as he lived out his ministry, preaching and teaching and healing.
We all need help as we seek to follow the Light of the World. We want to give ourselves completely to the mission of God in the world. We long to be faithful in all we do. And like Jesus, this boy’s gonna need some help, this girl’s gonna need some help.
God comes to help us. God fills us with holy Spirit. God claims us as chosen and beloved people. God gives us a community of supporters called the church who will bear with us and treat us like family even though we’re not. We all, every last one of us, have received the help we need to live as God’s faithful people in the world.
We are surrounded by a world full of people who need help. Some of them are our friends. Some of them may be outsiders. Some of them may be addicted—alcoholics, drug addicts, workaholics. Some of them may be pretending that everything is hunky–dory and that they’ve got it all together. Some of them may be wandering in confusion and despair.
God sends us out into that world. We are the church. We are the touch of God’s holy Spirit on the shoulder. We are God’s voice proclaiming love and acceptance and grace and compassion to all who need to hear a word of hope.
Thanks be to God.

Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt​
Matthew 3: 13–17
Acts 10: 34–43
Isaiah 42: 1–9
1st Sunday after Epiphany
​Baptism of the Lord