The Reflection for this week focuses on the integrity for leadership found in Jesus’ Baptism. It is the core of what #PopeFrancis #RickWarren are about. We ought to be about it too. #MySpiritualAdvisor #MSAWordfortheDay #Integrity #Leadership #Baptism
For listener supported MySpiritualAdvisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 1/11/2015 The Baptism of the Lord Sunday.
Please pause this audio and read Mark 1:4-11.
Have you noticed where bishops are living these days? The new Roman Catholic Archbishop of Chicago did not move into the Victorian, plush and well healed apostolic mansion near the lake. No, instead he moved into the rectory of the Cathedral in the midst of downtown to live amongst other priests. The new Roman Catholic bishop of Gary, IN just moved into the rectory of the cathedral in Gary. When I was a pastor in Gary, IN, I did not live in the white toney suburbs of Gary. I lived in the neighborhood where my people lived because a leader in my denomination at the time did the same. Every good pastor sets the example and lives a life according to their principles, not according to the wealth and prestige of the world.
The other day, a Presbyterian friend of mine said, “That Pope Francis, he is the real deal.” My response was, “every pastor should behave like Francis.” Why? Because Francis, Rick Warren, Billy Graham, Denise Leslie (the pastor who encouraged me to become a pastor), the Rev. Pat Gaza (long time pastor in Gary, IN); all of these people behave like they do because they behave like Jesus Christ.
Good pastors behave in a way that serves the people, not in a way that serves them. Why? Because that is the way Jesus Christ acted. His whole life is representative of the servant leadership that is craved by humanity. In the birth of Christ, which we celebrate at Christmas, we have an all knowing and powerful God who humbles himself to become one of his own creation. This is a sign that good leaders have great humility. Francis has humility. Rick Warren has humility. All good pastors have humility. We should all have humility and be willing to submit ourselves to the necessary tasks that advance what is good for everyone.
Jesus Christ is declared the “Son of God” by the Father in Heaven in this reading. This is significant because the person who hears it in this story is Christ alone. You and I hear it because we are reading the passage. St. Mark evidently wants you and me to know this at the very beginning of this Gospel. He is going to lay out who this Son of God is by what he does. All leaders in the Bible have these kinds of “spoken from heaven” moments. Abraham has a flaming smoking pot cross over between a sacrifice: God is confirming his acceptance of his covenant between Abraham and himself. Moses has the burning bush confirm his calling. Jacob has a dream and wrestles with God to be renamed “Israel” as a sign of his favor. You name the person and there is some contact by God to affirm their status as a prophet, priest, or king in Scripture. Here, we get to see God speaking down from heaven to confirm that Jesus Christ is indeed the only begotten Son. This is a quote from Psalm 2. We hear this same thing echoed in the Nicene Creed, “eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,…of one being with the Father.” It is this person, Jesus, who is claimed by God to be his representative on earth.
Then, in a great twist by the Lord, he takes this declaration of the divine for Jesus and ties it to Isaiah 42, “with whom I am well pleased.” This is significant because this passage from Isaiah 42 talks of servant hood:
Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my Spirit; He shall bring forth justice to the nations…
This Jesus is the one whom God will use to bring justice to the nations.
So, here we have Jesus, who is the sinless divine one, coming in human form, born in a manger, servant of God, coming to the crazy man, John the Baptizer, at the Jordan to be baptized when he has no sin. Why? The creed says, “For us…” and “For our sake…” God, who everyone likes to run from in every age, who is depicted as this great oppressive, domineering force in the universe by his critics and as a pathetic crutch by those who want to discredit him, this God comes down from heaven in the form of man and is baptized because we need baptism. His baptism is not for him, it is for us. We need baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We need the gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism to do great things.
The Baptism of the Lord is considered to be a commissioning of the ministry of Jesus Christ. He is now ready to go into Palestine to heal the sick, raise the dead, comfort the afflicted, give sight to the blind, proclaim the day of the Lord, call everyone to repentance, and die on the cross so that when we believe in our hearts and confess with our lips, we too shall be saved.
There are so many ways we can go with this. The one I have chosen this year is this: our leadership needs to be in solidarity with those who are considered the “lowliest” of us. They need to do it, not just say it. In this skeptical and cynical world, we don’t need another person in our lives that we need to do what they say because they don’t do what they say. Jesus is the example of a God who lowers himself to live our lives so that he can lead us to heaven.
What this Gospel Lesson points out more than anything is that Baptism is the entry point of service, not just privilege. Sure, when Jesus is baptized, he is revealed to be the Son of God. Yet, that is not what he proclaims. He does not go around saying, “Hey, everyone! I am the Messiah. Bow to me!” He takes on the hypocrites in authority and the hypocrites who refuse to repent of their sin. He turns the tables on those who seek profit from the Lord’s work, not just a living wage. He gives, gives, and gives.
The Baptismal ritual of the Methodist Church has the people saying the following in response to a baptism:
We renew our covenant faithfully to participate in the ministries of the Church by our prayers, our presence, our gifts and our service, that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.
The Roman Catholic Church used to say in the closing prayer for Baptisms in its former Sacramentary, but the spirit is the same today,
May the power of this sacrament give us courage to proclaim it also in our lives.
So, there is a wealth of history in the Church that Baptism is the entry point for ministry for everyone. All followers of Jesus Christ are expected to emulate him—in leadership in the Church or not. It should be pointed out that those who sit in the Churches are supposed to lead the world in service to the world.
A few weeks ago, I entered a facebook page of good people who called themselves “Believers who don’t go to church.” There was a lot of good will, but there was also a lot of anger and resentment. As I read the posts of the 773 people of the page, I realized that their angst, they think, is against religion. I don’t believe that for a minute. As I read their angst, they are right, we are in a period when it feels as if there is not one church that is following the servant model of leadership of Christ represented by the event of his baptism. This is why the leadership of Francis is so refreshing.
It should cause all Christians, all people who say they are spiritual, to ask the question about whether or not our lives are representative of what is happening in Jesus’ baptism. We have tons of rights: the right to be outraged, the right to not have our taxes used a certain way, the right to condemn people who are not living the way they should, the right to be hurt, the right to demand forgiveness, whatever… The fact of the matter is that Jesus Christ never demanded any rights to anything after his baptism. He was not here to serve himself. He was a servant of the Father in heaven.
Does this mean his needs weren’t met or that he worked a second job? No, it does not. He took care of himself by going away quietly to pray when he needed to pray. He spent time with his friends in laughter when he needed that. Yet, at the heart of the existence of the one who condescended in a good way to allow a crazy dude to baptize him in the desert, at the heart of his existence, was service to humanity. That, too, ought to be the clarion call for each and every local church. It is the call for the priest and the parishioner, the pastor and the congregant. It is the call for spiritual and religious. It is your call too. Amen.
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