“What Are You Doing Here?”
Reverend Jeff Wakeley
January 12, 2020
I am sure that all you have had the experience of seeing someone you didn’t expect to see. Several weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprise to see the Rev. Paul Kottke. Paul is the District Superintendent of the Denver Metro Area. He was my DS when I was serving very part-time at Merritt Memorial. It was he who recommended me to the cabinet for an appointment in the Conference and so he is partly responsible for me coming to serve you here in Great Falls. My first question to him after I said it was great to see him was “What are you doing here?”
You can imagine the surprise on John the Baptist’s face when he saw Jesus standing in line to be baptized. I am sure, that since they were cousins, John was happy to see Jesus. I am pretty sure the first question John would have asked Jesus was, “What are you doing here?”. “What are you doing standing in line with all these people who need to be baptized?”
John would have asked that question because he had been preaching to people to repent and prepare themselves for the coming of the Messiah. So, the people who were coming to John needed to be baptized. But Jesus? Jesus was the last person John would have expected to need to be baptized. It was only after Jesus came closer and John was able to look into his eyes that he realized for the first time who his cousin really was. Jesus was the Messiah that John had been preaching about. Jesus was the Messiah that people were getting baptized for.
One of the enduring theological questions through the centuries is why Jesus came to John to be baptized in the first place. If Jesus was the son of God then he was sinless and therefore he didn’t need to be baptized. One of the disagreements in the church is the baptism of infants. Evangelicals argue that a baby can’t consciously repent of their sin. We as United Methodist’s believe that Baptism is a sacrament i.e. a holy act in which God grace is first and foremost bestowed on the child or person. The water that is place upon the child signifies the life that God gives to all persons. It is later, when the child grows up and becomes aware of God’s grace and love for them, that they respond and accept that grace and love through a profession of faith in Christ.
With all that being said, I think the simplest explanation for Jesus coming to John to baptized, was that he didn’t come to be baptized at all. I think he came first of all to show John and everyone who was in that line who and what this Messiah was that John was preaching about. John had been preaching about a Messiah that should be feared. A Messiah who would judge the righteous and punish wrong doers.
Jesus wanted to them that he was a different kind of Messiah. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to stand in line with people who you are supposed to judge and punish does it. Instead he would be a Messiah who willing to be with people and to stand with whatever they were going through. You can imagine the kind of people that Jesus was standing next too. People who were suffering for what they had done. People full of guilt and shame. People who didn’t feel like God loved them. People who had no hope. Jesus by standing in line was showing them that God was with them to help them and was willing to go so far as to experience what they experience. Even to be baptized.
After Jesus was baptized, the text tells us that the Holy Spirit could be seen to fall upon him. That was God’s way of confirming that Jesus would be a different kind of Messiah. A Messiah whos judgement is love and whose punishment is grace. I can’t think of a more powerful way to be judged than with love and then punished by grace. It makes you think about what you are doing with your life and the blessings that God has given you.
One of the great examples of this in literature is Victor Hugo’s Le Miserable when the paroled prisoner Jean Valjean repays the kindness of the Priest who took him and fed him by stealing from the church. When he is arrested, and brought before the Priest, the Priest tells the police that he gave Valjean the items he had allegedly stole and that Valjean should be released. The judgement for what Valjean did was love, his punishment is grace. That experience changed Valjean life and purpose. From only serving himself to serving others.
The people who stood in line waiting for John to baptize them did so because they were trying to save themselves. Jesus standing in line changed all that. His standing in line showed them that God was with them and to take down any wall that separated them from God and one another. If God is will to stand with us and be with what right do we have to put up a wall between us and those who are different than us.
By standing in that line and wanting to be with people, Jesus changed the meaning of Baptism from saving ours selves and being washed of our sins to one of serving others on behalf of God and God’s Kingdom. Water is a sign of life. When we are baptized by water it is God giving us life. And we carry that water mark of life with us always and share it with others. And so that sign and means of life get spread around and as it is spread around to others a new community is built and empowered.
Finally, like all scriptures, this one in particular invites to be like John and those people standing in line and imagine what it would be like if Jesus was standing next to us. It’s like the story I read lately about a group of tourists in Hollywood touring celebrity home, when a driver came up to them and rolled down his window and asked “I guess you are on a celebrity tour. Have seen any celebrities? The man who rolled down the window was Tom Hanks. I think after I finished freaking out, I would be asking the question “What are you doing here.”
I think that if I asked Jesus that question, he would say “I am here for you. I am here to help you with what you are going through. It might be after something we have done that we regret doing. It might be after when something has happened to us. It might be after struggling with deciding what to do or handle a situation. Instances where all of a suddenly we feel God’s presence in our lives we are bothered by guilt or anxiety or fear. And then I think he would follow that up with “I am also here to help you love and serve your neighbor.”
When you get to heart of it, that is what the water that was poured on you means. God love you and is with you no matter what the circumstance to help you and to free you so that you can love and serve one another and created a new kind of community of faith. A community of love and service.