Baptism as Resistance

Baptism CoverSunday, January 13, 2013
Baptism of the Lord Sunday
“Baptism as Resistance”
Text: Luke 3:15-18, 21-22

Throughout Europe during World War II the Resistance Movement worked to change the course of history in response to the German invasion.  Resistance typically involves a wide range of activities against an occupying army, from the traditional guerrilla tactics of harassment, sabotage, and ambushes, to the writing, printing, and distribution of underground propaganda.  Although the term is associated commonly with the activities of WW II groups, acts of resistance have been recorded throughout history.  Jewish zealots resisted Roman rule in the first and second centuries.  Jesus walks into the midst of this occupation and resistance.

The text I read to you this morning is what the Lectionary suggests for today…It is Luke’s version of the Baptism of Jesus.  What is interesting is that the Lectionary specifically excludes verses 19-20.  We read only verses 15-18, then verses 21 & 22.  It is not unusual for the Lectionary to present readings that skip over verses in the middle of a section when the intent is to focus on a particular story and remove what might be distractions.  Today’s omission may be different.  Listen again to the text…[Read Luke 3:15-18, 21-22]  Now hear what was omitted…[Read Luke 3:19-20]  These two verses change the whole mood of the story.

We are accustomed to hearing the story of Jesus’ baptism as a celebratory tale…John the Baptizer is preaching at the Jordan River and telling everyone that someone greater than he is coming soon…Then along comes Jesus, John baptizes him, and the heavens open up with the voice of God.  This is a happy story.

This morning, however, we bring in the darker side of the story when we are reminded of the oppression of Roman occupation and what that means to the people who resist Roman rule.  In this version of the story John is arrested and hauled off to jail before Jesus is baptized.  Luke reminds us there is a price to be paid by those who proclaim the Good News…John’s arrest foreshadows Jesus’ arrest later in the gospel.

Even though Luke’s full account challenges what we have come to know as the story of Jesus’ baptism – it suggests that John did not actually baptize Jesus personally, but that one of John’s followers may have done this after his arrest…Luke wants us to understand our baptism and our life as resistance to the occupying forces that surround us…He wants us to realize the price we must pay.  We may not face arrest and imprisonment for our beliefs, but there are places in this world where being a Christian is cause for arrest and even execution.  For us the price may simply be misunderstanding or ridicule for our faith…But we must be willing to pay that price.

Another significant element of Luke’s gospel is his emphasis on prayer…In today’s story we hear that it was while Jesus was praying that the heavens were opened.  Luke talks about Jesus praying throughout his gospel…He prays before he calls the Disciples…He prays before asking them who he is…He prays at the Transfiguration…Jesus prays before he teaches the Disciples how to pray…He prays before his arrest and during his execution.

For Luke, Jesus finds the strength to resist the status quo by going to his Father in prayer…This characteristic of Jesus should also be characteristic of his church.  What is begun in baptism is lived out through the practice of prayer by which we receive the Holy Spirit.  Just as Jesus was empowered for and guided in his ministry through prayer, we are also given power and direction through our prayers.  Our baptism is a powerful moment of resistance to the forces that seek to keep us down and prevent us from realizing our identity as children of God.  Our constant prayer enables us to keep strengthening our resistance against those people and powers who would keep us away from Jesus.  Ultimately, the Resistance Movement was critical to winning WWII…With God’s help, our “resistance movement” will win the battle we are fighting for the Kingdom of God.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.