The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s168g07 Baptism of Jesus 7/1/2007 St Barnabas Orange East
'with you I am well pleased' Luke 3.22
I find it interesting that here we have a divine affirmation of Jesus, but Jesus had done nothing whatsoever to deserve it! Luke gives us the story of Jesus' birth, his presentation in the Temple soon after his birth, and then at aged 12 the visit of his family to the Temple when he stayed behind after the rest had left. We know nothing about what Jesus said or did for the following 18 years, until we now read that he comes to John to be baptised. Indeed Luke tells us that he was about 30 years old when he began his work implying that nothing of significance had happened earlier.
So the heavenly voice commends Jesus when he had actually not said or done anything!
I suppose we can get out of this problem by saying, well Jesus must have been doing little things all along which are not recorded, or that God knew that Jesus was going to do what God wanted anyway, so God thought he'd get in early!
But I want to suggest that rather than this being a recognition of things that Jesus had done or was going to do, it is a paradigm of how God treats us all. God looks at us and sees the good in us, and tells us so. God is deliberately profligate with blessings.
So Matthew records Jesus saying that God 'makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.' Matthew 5.45
God does not discriminate between people - to bless some and not others. We often talk about the story of the prodigal son, but the first person who is prodigal is the father of the two boys. He blesses each uncritically. He blesses the ungrateful elder son who wants to keep everything to himself as well as the younger son who spends his inheritance. If the younger son spends his wealth unwisely, he is only following in his father's footsteps who does the same.
So God telling Jesus that he is 'well pleased' with him is not because he had done some meritorious things already of which we know nothing, or that God realised all the good he would do in the future, but simply because this is what God does all the time bless people.
God lavishes on us and on others blessings seemingly oblivious to how these blessings might be used or hoarded. And I was wondering why.
And of course the reason is that God has nothing to lose by this generosity. It is humanity who looses if one hoards blessings to oneself.
The rub comes because not only does God bless indiscriminately, but calls us to do likewise. The words I quoted earlier, in context, make this quite plain: 'I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? Matthew 5.44-46
God cannot ask us to do more that God does already. There is no way we can be more merciful than God. There is no way that God needs us to convince him or her to be compassionate on other people, before he or she will be so. The whole thrust of the gospel is for us to imitate God in inclusiveness and generosity.
God loves his or her enemies; God loves those who do not love him or her. Therefore God loves those who worship him or her by another name who may be mistaken but are certainly not enemies of God. So the devout Moslem who loves Allah and his or her neighbour as him or herself as the Koran teaches is as blessed as the Christian who does likewise.
So the devout Buddhist who loves the Buddha and his or her neighbour as him or herself as the Buddha teaches is as blessed as the Christian who does likewise.
So the devout Jew who loves the Lord and his or her neighbour as him or herself as the Torah teaches is as blessed as the Christian who does likewise.
So the devout gay or lesbian person who loves God and his or her neighbour as him or herself is as blessed as the straight person who does likewise.
So the devout Catholic who loves God and his or her neighbour as him or herself is as blessed as the Anglican who does likewise, and vise versa.
So the devout Evangelical who loves Jesus and his or her neighbour as him or herself is as blessed as the Anglican who does likewise, and vise versa.
So the devout Pentecostal who loves the Spirit and his or her neighbour as him or herself is as blessed as the Anglican who does likewise, and vise versa.
And if some are offended by the above, I draw your attention to the words of C.S. Lewis in the final 'Chronicle of Narnia' 'The Last Battle' when Emeth meets Aslan through the Stable Door, he confesses that he has served Tash rather than Aslan all his life, to which Aslan replies: 'Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me .. then he breathed upon me and took away the trembling from my limbs and caused me to stand upon my feet ..' (p 154,5 the year:1956!)
God blesses people. God loves to bless people. One of my favourite passages from Romans is chapter 12, verse 8 'We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith.. the compassionate, in cheerfulness. The word here for cheerfulness is actually 'hilaritas': hilarity. So when God is compassionate, when God shows mercy, when God forgives us - God does this, not begrudgingly but with hilarity because God simply wants to encourage us to do likewise.
And so we come to the Holy Communion. The forgiveness and the blessing that we receive at this Altar is meant not just for us as Anglicans, or for us as Christians, but as a sign for the whole world. If we go around proclaiming our status as Anglicans or our status as Christians, we have lost the plot entirely and we misuse the very gift given so generously. We are called to give of ourselves to others as Jesus has given of himself for us and for others especially those who worship in different ways to ourselves.
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