Monday, January 12, 2009

Baptism of Jesus

A Little Touch of God

Why did John baptize Jesus?

Biblical scholars will tell you all kinds of things about prophecies, and messiahs, and fulfillment.
I’m asking from a more basic, simpler perspective. Why? Here are these two guys, preachers in their own right, who for some reason seem to get themselves interconnected. Why? And for that matter, what does it have to do with us?

It is a very short story, there are in fact only two main facts that we know – John is supposedly Jesus’ cousin. And Jesus chooses to begin his ministry by having John baptize him. I guess when you read through the whole Bible you find out a few other things; John had followers before Jesus, he wanted people to turn their lives around, he baptized them when they did; and he got Herod mad enough to kill him.

All of this is important because in one way or another, Jesus chose to follow in John’s footsteps. He adopted some of his disciples, and he took over preaching to his followers after John died. There was certainly a relationship there.

Have you ever stopped to think about the relationships in your life? Have you ever stopped to think what it is that connects us to people; how we share values and ideals, and why we know some people and not others?

Most of us have this amazing web that connects us to the people around us. We have children, we have parents, we have cousins and uncles, friends and relations, colleagues at work, church goers, and acquaintances from the gym, bowling buddies, and service clubs...

You know the actor Kevin Bacon? He has had a long career and made a phenomenal amount of movies as a supporting actor, and at one point someone developed a parlour game called 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon. The idea being that within 6 steps you could connect Kevin bacon to anyone in Hollywood.

Just in case you are curious it actually goes back to a conjecture made in 1929 by Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy, who said there was a chain link to between any person. Then in the 60’s Michael Gurevich conducted a study in social networks for MIT. Finally, American psychologist Stanley Milgram continued Gurevich's experiments in acquaintanceship networks at Harvard University, publishing a “small world theory” in 1978.

You don’t need to know all that; I am just pointing out that this goes further than a Kevin Bacon parlour trick.

Here is an example, I know Lois Wilson, who used to be moderator, who is now a Senator and knows Stephen Harper, who knows George Bush, who knows Vladimir Putin. So I am only four people away from the Prime Minister of Russia.

You could supposedly pick any person on the planet and within 6 people; you would be back to yourself.

Think about that. There are 6.7 billion people, give or take, on the planet. And yet, despite everyone saying they are individuals, we form ourselves into communities and groups that are so overlapped that we are no more than 6 steps away from each other.

Connection is a big thing.

The first thing that happens when a baby is born is that it is put on the mother’s chest. When a toddler falls and hurts their knee they instinctively want to be picked up and held. When we greet someone or are introduced to someone we shake their hand. At the end of church, many people want to give me a hug.... it is instinctive to want contact with another person.

In fact, people who have a disease which makes it harder to be touched, or that people are afraid of; burn victims or AIDS victims, will tell you that having someone willing to touch them is very healing.

It does not surprise me in any way that Jesus recognized something that I often miss – the need not only to rely on connection, but to deepen connection.

Are you thinking about connection? Considering all the ways that you interact with people? Good. Because one of the main points about Jesus getting baptized is that it is a beginning. In fact, a new beginning; and here we are at the beginning of another year, our 50th as a church, and I guess I am trying to start out asking the same basic question I have about Jesus choice.


Why are you here? Why do you choose to renew your faith and come back to church one more time?

Let me suggest that we are here for the same reason that Jesus got baptized; connection.

The connections we have here in church make life more meaningful.

I see it all the time; I see someone hug someone who is in pain in our midst; I see people truly listening to each other over coffee; I see people joking and teasing each other. All of which are deep, deep signs of connection. They are signs of love.

But it is a choice, just like the choice Jesus had. If you really stop and think about it, Jesus did not need John’s touch. He could have stayed at home and trained in his father’s trade. He could have went off alone to become a charismatic prophet without any help from anyone, or he could form a religious community of people he cared about who worked together for God’s kingdom.

Jesus, however, recognized that there is something holy at work in the relationships we have with other people.

This decision to be submerged in the waters of the Jordan helped everyone to see that God rarely works though anyone alone, in fact, in the very real, very physical contact of one loving touch to another, God is there.

So here is where I can connect back to those theologians and scholars and tell you in a very simple way what the theology behind this story is:

There is a little touch of God in this act, and if you can find your way to giving someone a smile, a handshake, a pat on the back, or even a hug, there will be a little touch of God in that as well.

Where do you see God?

I am nervous every time I encounter another person – do you hold the door open or not, do you shake hands, do you hug, what is the person thinking, are the mad at me, do they care, how are they going to interpret me, who is watching, what did I miss, am I playing favourites... the list that runs through my mind is huge; and it is tempered with a whole set of rules, both written and societal.... Don’t flirt with members of the opposite sex, don’t get too close, maintain professional boundaries, keep a safe distance... all of these things get in the way every time we try and establish a deep and rich connection.

Then something happens. There is this moment of recognizing the person standing in front of you, and seeing, truly seeing them, and knowing their need, their pain, and their joy. And it just seems right to reach out.

That’s when that inner voice speaks softly; “this is my beloved child; I am well pleased.”

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