Rev. EricA Sermon by Eric Dillenbeck
Sunday, January 9, 2011
Fairmount Presbyterian Church

Matthew 3:13-17

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.
14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.
17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

“Given as a Covenant”

I am going to be a little risky this morning and gamble a little bit.  I would like everyone to close their eyes.  That’s right, the preacher is giving you permission to close your eyes, but as you do so, I want to put your mind’s eye to work. 

Imagine with me, a city that has known better days; it’s buildings are dilapidated and ruined; it’s people have all left or been carried away to place their lot in better economic circumstances.  The city’s prospects are dim and fading as generations pass by. 

Word comes to the descendents of this city who are spread out among the larger, more prosperous cities, letting them know that there is someone who has come to restore justice to the world, someone who has come to right the fate of the city. 

Ok, now open your eyes.  What were you imagining? 

Did you see Khartoum?  Did you see Gaza?  Did you see Jerusalem?

Or did you see Cleveland?

I think there are some similarities between ancient Jerusalem and modern Cleveland;

thousands of people who once called Cleveland home have left looking for greener pastures – The Hebrew people also left Jerusalem, either by force or choice after the Babylonians conquered Israel;

Some of these folks have been gone for so long they do not remember the amazing benefits of living in their respective hometowns. 

When the Prophet Isaiah addressed the Hebrews living in exile he was talking to Hebrews who did not know where their roots were grounded.  He was speaking to the descendents of those who had been carried away from Jerusalem after the Babylonian empire conquered Israel.  These were descendants who had heard the stories of Jerusalem, but had never laid eyes on their ancestral homeland. 

This new generation was relatively safe, very comfortable, well off even; they were free to worship as they chose, and living in a fertile and cultured country. 

They had no desire to leave the place of their birth to return to Jerusalem which was still a wreck of a city surrounded by a landscape that left little opportunity for anyone to make a living.   It is to these reluctant descendants and to us that the Prophet Isaiah addresses the first of the “servant songs,” poems about the one who is to come and act on God’s behalf, the one who will bring about peace and justice for God’s people.

Let us listen for God’s word for us this day from the 42nd chapter of the Prophet Isaiah, verses 1-9. 

Isaiah 42:1-9
Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.
2He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street;
3a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.
4He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
5Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it:
6I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations,
7to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.
8I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols.
9See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.

The Word of The Lord              Thanks be to God

We find ourselves wanting to know, who is this servant that Isaiah sings about? 

Isaiah tells us the servant is the one upheld by God, the chosen one who delights God’s very soul. 

But what is most striking about the Isaiah passage is that it is not caught up in the identity of the Servant, but rather in the work that God enables the Servant to accomplish. 

I am not sure how many times I have said this in my time here (I fear I am beginning to sound like a broken record), but my seminary professors always admonished us to pay attention to words that are repeated over and over again.  It is usually the author’s ways of screaming at us to pay attention. 

Ok, so in the first four verses of this passage, which are used to introduce the Servant, Isaiah repeats the same word three times which begs us to ask a different question.  The text wants us to ask, “What is this servant coming to do?” The Servant is coming to “bring forth JUSTICE.”

The servant is coming because God has a desire to do “new things” and these new things will bring forth justice to those who are weak, fragile and in jeopardy.  This servant will deal gently with them. These new things will bring light to the blind, and freedom to those in captivity. 

Matthew helps us link the work of this gentle servant to the person of Jesus Christ when we hear the voice from heaven declare, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  It is a natural link because “both passages focus on the one who is adored by God, inspired by the divine spirit, and sent into the world for its redemption[i].” 

So Jesus came to bring forth justice to those who are weak, fragile and in jeopardy.  But wait, something bigger happens here in Matthew.  We are witnesses to Jesus’ baptism. 

Jesus submits to the ministry of John and receives baptism and when he rises from those cold waters of the Jordon he is new, he is refreshed, he is named and claimed by God. 

In the same way, we too emerge from the waters of baptism as beloved sons and daughters of God, whose new life, in the pattern of Christ, is one of servant-hood. 

In Jesus’ baptism we find that this Servant Song in Isaiah is no longer about a single, solitary figure, but about all of us, God’s beloved children – God’s servants, who are set loose into the world to bring about God’s justice by our actions, to fan the flames for those whose passion has dimmed, to mend the bruises and bumps of those who have been run over by the empires of the world. 

May we remember our baptism and in those cool clear waters may we see who we are, the servants of God, who have been given as a covenant; and then, may we have the courage and wisdom to forgo the safety and security of all we know to trust in the future God has in store for us.  May it be so.  Amen. 

[i] Christine Roy Yoder, Associate Professor of Old Testament