ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH JANUARY 8, 2017
“DO YOU COME TO ME?”
Isaiah 42: 1 – 9; Matthew 3: 13 – 17
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
So, did you get everything you wanted for Christmas? Do you get everything you want from life? From God? As people we have many wants and needs. Advertising preys on our desires illustrating for us how wonderful life would be “if only…” and the more we have, the more we want. From the time we’re kids, writing out our wish list to Santa, we believe our wants can be magically fulfilled. That’s why politicians never win elections by promising cut-backs; they win by vowing to spend and we elect them because the government exists to give us what we want. Long gone are the days when we asked, “not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country.” Increasingly our culture tells us we’re entitled to have whatever we want. Motivational speakers like Jack Canfield tell us, “Everything you want is out there waiting for you to ask. Everything you want also wants you.” Books like The Secret give us the inside scoop – the universe is a great genie waiting to grant you your every wish. TV evangelists, like Joel Osteen, sell us a prosperity gospel, “God wants us to prosper financially, to have plenty of money, to fulfill the destiny He has laid out for us.” Even God exists to meet our wants.
Unfortunately, that’s not news to most of us. We believe God is there to serve us. When we pray, we expect results. That’s what God is for – to answer our prayers and give us our desires. If God can’t or won’t grant our requests then what good is he? What’s the point of praying? Why waste our time? This attitude was stated well by a woman who told me that for most of her life she thought of God as something akin to a 24 hour drive through. She assumed God would be available 24/7 to give her whatever she ordered. Because we share this outlook we don’t often ask: what God needs of us?
This Sunday is set apart in the lectionary to mark the baptism of Jesus. As we know, John the Baptizer was calling the common people to prepare for the Messiah by repenting of their sins and being cleansed through the rite of baptism. Jesus, though sinless, wanted to identify with the people he’d come to save so he went down to the Jordan and asked John to baptize him. John had a visceral response, we read, “John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’” (Matthew 3: 14) Two things strike me here: first, John with great respect for Jesus’ holiness, thinks that Jesus was reversing their roles. Who was John to baptize Jesus? The request should have been the other way around. John knew Jesus was the Messiah and by definition the Messiah had arrived to meet the needs of sin-stained humanity. So, like us, John saw the relationship as a one-way street. Jesus provides and we receive. Jesus gives and we take. Secondly, Jesus came because he had a need. As Jesus was God, we know he didn’t “need” things the way we do – with a words he could have had anything he wanted. But given God had chosen to confine himself to the limitations of our humanity, Jesus did share our human needs. He needed food and water, times of rest, and the fellowship of friends and followers. Moreover, in coming as an infant God, in Jesus, made himself vulnerable. He put himself into our care. He turned the table so mortals would meet his needs and give to him. On a spiritual level, God created us to live in a relationship with himself; a relationship of inter-dependence, of connectedness and of love in which God engages us in his desires and his dreams; his will, if you will. God wanted a communion in which God serves us and we serve God.
Throughout scripture we see God offering humanity the honour of meeting his needs. This relationship emerges in the creation stories in Genesis where God placed man and woman in the Garden of Eden where he walks and talks with them. God still wants to live in a personal, intimate relationship with us. God wants our love and no one, including God, wants an unrequited love. We are made to give back to God by sharing ourselves openly and hiding nothing from him.
God also needs our commitment and fidelity. If we look at the first 3 of The 10 Commandments, God expressed his will quite clearly: we are to put him first in our love and devotion; we are not to create idols or worship anyone other than him; we are not to speak ill or flippantly about him. (Exodus 20: 1 – 7). God isn’t ashamed of this need; he freely admitted, “For I … am a jealous God” (vs. 5). Like a passionate spouse, God promises wrath if he is scorned but undying devotion if he is first in our hearts.
Returning to Genesis, God created us to be stewards of his creation. He welcomed us to dig in the dirt and to experience the mysteries and marvels of life. He gave us gifts and invited us to use them to care for other living creatures. God entrusts us with many blessings in life – his creation, our intelligence, our gifts, our time, our bodies, our possessions, our money and our faith and he asks us to be good stewards of them all. God wants us to tend and share the blessings he pours out on us.
God desires our worship. When Jesus met with the woman at the well in Samaria he told her, “But the hour…is now here when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.” (vs. 23) God seeks people to worship him; he goes around looking for people who will praise, adore, thank and elevate him. This worship happens at certain times and places and also beyond those times and places. It has no limits. We worship God with our lives and our love. Worship is the spiritual experience which recreates the fellowship humanity had with God in the garden. Through worship we walk, talk, listen to and love God. God longs to have us close to him. And like any parent, the blessing of sending time with a child is multiplied when the family is together. Worship is good for us as well. It meets a need we have and may not realize we have. Worship helps us to remember there is a right order in the universe. God is God and we are not. God reigns and we are under his providential care and his sovereign rule. The Father seeks us to worship him, not because God is an egomaniac who needs constant attention, but because when we honour God it creates peace and harmony in our souls and in our world.
God needs us to work with him to serve others and create justice. Isaiah 42 gives us a description of the Messiah: he brings justice to the nations; encourages and nurtures those who are young, frail in body or emotional health and fragile in spirit or faith; he works tirelessly, he reveals God to all people, he heals and frees those who spirits are in darkness or imprisoned. God needs us to serve people and nations by bringing these same blessings into our world in whatever ways we’re able.
God needed Mary in order to come into the world as a human baby. Incarnation didn’t happen without a human being. Jesus was born through Mary’s labour. God needs us to bring him into the world today. Through our efforts Jesus is born in people’s lives so they can be reborn as children and heirs of God. We, the Church – the people who profess Jesus is Lord – are the hands, feet, eyes, ears, and mouth of Christ; we are the body of Christ. Through us God is once again given physicality to touch, feed, heal, and bless the world he so loves. As Jesus’ body was a physical sign which revealed the Father’s love, not only in his actions but also in his words, we’re called to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28: 19 & 20)
When John challenged Jesus request for baptism, Jesus insisted John was to fulfill his wish. By doing so together, Jesus and John “fulfilled all righteousness.” (vs. 19) When Jesus comes to us asking us to meet his needs, it may seem baffling, upside-down or just plain wrong. We may resent or resist him. Yet when we come through for him, we fulfill all righteousness and God sees us as he saw his Son, and declares us to be, “my servant…in whom my souls delights” (Isaiah 42: 1 & 2)
I want to end with a story. President Franklin Roosevelt’s closest adviser was a man named Harry Hopkins. Hopkins held no official government position, so his closeness to Roosevelt caused many to regard him as a shadowy, sinister figure. As a result he was a political liability to the President. When asked, “Why do you keep Hopkins so close to you? You surely realize that people distrust him and resent his influence,” Roosevelt replied, “Someday you may well be sitting in this office as President of the United States. And when you are, you’ll be looking at that door knowing that everybody who walks through it wants something of you. You’ll learn this is a lonely job and you’ll discover the need for somebody like Harry Hopkins, who asks for nothing except to serve you.”