Monday, January 13, 2014

Righteousness Beyond Expectations

This sermon was preached in the midst of affirming  the Wesley Covenant Service for the new year. 

Matthew 3:13-17
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
Chatfield United Methodist Church
January 12, 2014

I love envisioning this scene by the Jordan River. I love picturing the two cousins, John and Jesus meeting along the riverbanks. We know nothing about their personal encounters until this moment. I’m sure John grew up hearing about the way Jesus came into this world. How he leaped in his mother’s womb when she, Elizabeth, greeted Mary. How his father Zacharias had been struck dumb until he named his first-born son, John. Not a family name. But a way of saying, I believe this son of mine is God’s child. Is appointed by God for something great.
Both John and Jesus must have been raised with an understanding of their unique births, their unique destinies.
For whatever reason, John had moved into his own public ministry earlier than cousin Jesus. But John never assumed that his ministry was to supersede the ministry of Jesus. John, like all the Hebrew prophets, preached a gospel of repentance and preparedness for the coming of the kingdom of God. “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” “Repent of your sins, be baptized, for there is one coming who is greater than I, he will be the righteous one, the one who will save us. Repent, turn around. Righteousness is at hand.”

So when Jesus met John at the banks of the Jordan River and asked to be baptized it would only be normal and expected that John would stand back and say, “What? Me baptize you? I don’t think so.”

It is what any prophet of God who was waiting for the Messiah would do.

Jesus looked into the eyes of his cousin John and answered: “Allow me to be baptized now. This is necessary to fulfill all righteousness.”

Do you know what these words are? Other than thought provoking and difficult to understand; and full of promise and possibility? And radical enough to change the way we will understand everything?

These are the first words Jesus says in the gospel of Matthew. “Allow me to be baptized. This is necessary to fulfill all righteousness.” As with all of the gospels, the first words of Jesus are pivotal in understanding the ministry of Jesus in each particular gospel. In Matthew a lot of what Jesus will be teaching and doing will be about righteousness. It will be about fulfilling ALL righteousness.

He is going to be showing us, his followers, how to live as people of God. How to be righteous. And it isn’t going to be at all how we expect it to be. It’s Jesus; we shouldn’t expect it to be how we imagine it to be.

This righteousness isn’t going to be anything like what we expected.
The blind are going to see, the lame are going to walk, the deaf are going to be singing God’s praises.
The people who are the least: the fishermen, the tax collectors, the single women, the women with too many husbands, the ordinary people are going to become the leaders in God’s kingdom.

This righteousness isn’t going to be anything like what we expected.
Sinners are going to be invited to the table of God. Religious leaders are going to be asked, no commanded to clean up their acts. Jesus is going to say to those who think they know the law and the way to righteousness inside and out: “you say do this, but I say take it a step further, go way beyond what is expected, way beyond what is normal and blow the socks off your enemies with love and kindness, and good will and neighborliness and compassion and charity. Go way beyond what you think is righteousness to what really is righteous.

Go way beyond what you think is righteousness to what really is righteous.  

When you live in this community of people called the kingdom of God, count yourself as last
and the least among you as first.
Do everything with humility. Even when people treat you like you are dirt.
Don’t trust everyone who says they are of God. But treat them as children of God.
Expect that not everyone will respond to you with love. Yet love them anyway.
Give the shirt off your back. Even if it means you will be cold. And out of fashion. And look like a fool for doing it.

Then, when you do all of that, you are just beginning to fulfill all righteousness.

When you get to this point you will be standing on the edge, balancing precariously on the edge.
Will you take the next step?
Will you come with me, Jesus asks. Will you join me in fulfilling all righteousness?
Will you tumble with me into the depths of hell, into the dark places in the world?
Will you step off the edge with me into the places where the dragons dwell and walk with me through the shadow of death?

Will you fulfill all righteous with me?

It won’t be what you expected. Fulfilling all righteousness will lead to a cross. It is hard for this world to live with someone who fulfills all righteousness all the time. It just isn’t what anyone expects.

It will lead to a cross. A deep place of death and destruction. And it will feel as if there is no righteousness anywhere, in any place, for anyone. That is was all a myth. All for naught.

But I promise, I promise, just as I will rise from these waters of the Jordan River, I promise that righteousness will rise from the depths of hell itself. Remember? This righteousness isn’t anything like what you expected. This righteousness will rise from the depth of hell and destroy all power of unrighteousness.
This righteousness will destroy all power of unrighteousness.

This is not the righteousness that you expect.

Allow me to be baptized. So that we can, together with all who come after us, fulfill righteousness like it has never been done before.