Great Expectations

Delivered January 13, 2002 by Rev. George Antonakos.

Theme: Jesus’ baptism reveals 3 key characteristics of a transformed congregation (clear identity, identification with those in need, infusion with the Holy Spirit)

Sermon Text:
Luke 3:15-22
and Isaiah 42:1-7

Our New Testament lesson today is about the baptism of the lord. That’s what the liturgical calendar tells us that we are celebrating today, his appearance at the river Jordan. It’s appropriate and fitting that we had a baptism today. But it’s in an interesting context in Luke’s gospel and so listen to Luke, Chapter 3, Verses 15-22.

And the people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them. But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison. When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

The FAA, The Federal Aviation Administration once developed an experiment that would test the strength of windshields of airplanes. And so they developed this cannon-like device that would take a dead chicken, actually, and at the approximate speed of the plane, throw that dead bird into the windshield to see if it could simulate a real situation where a bird might hit a plane in flight. A British locomotive company heard about this device and this test. So they communicated with the FAA and they asked if they could borrow the device. They had just developed a train that had gone faster than any that they had created before, and they wanted to also do the same thing with their windshield. And so they followed all the steps of the experiment. They loaded the bird up and they shot it at the locomotive at the approximate speed. It went through the windshield, knocked over the back of the chair of the engineer and put a major dent in the cab of the locomotive. And so they wrote back to the FAA and asked if they could please check out all the things that we did. We don’t understand what happened. The FAA’s final report said you might want to try the test with thawed chicken. Now why did everyone assume a frozen chicken was not, I mean didn’t anybody sit there and think, should this be a frozen chicken or should this be not regular or crispy, should it be frozen or thawed. No one asked the most basic question of the experiment.

And we come to this place today and if there is any place where assumptions are made, it’s church. It’s among denominations, and among people of faith. I think about the assumptions that people make sometimes and theway that we fail to ask fundamental questions, and we just sort of broad sweep everything. We say things like, “all Baptist are fundamentalists, and all Catholics are brain-washed, and all Pentecostals are hysterical, and all Presbyterians, not Central Presbyterian, are kind of like that frozen chicken, they are just stiff.” But we don’t ask the most basic question. Can God touch my life? Can God thaw me out? Can He change me? And in many times we look at everybody else because we want to keep that question from being asked.

Here’s another one. Is Jesus Christ here today? And if He is, is He able to make a difference in my life? Or do we think along the lines of those who really don’t see where the experiment of faith will lead, but want a controlled outcome. Like the writer of these lines. I’d like to buy $5 worth of God, please. Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough of Him to make me love the outcasts or pick beets with a migrant. I want ectasy not transformation. I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $5 worth of God, please. If we come into this experiment of faith this morning, and this is the only day we will ever have or not. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow is not promised. Here we are and the question becomes, Can God touch my life today? If I come with this attitude of just wanting to control God, then my experiment with religion is doomed from the start. In the gospel text, people were waiting expectantly wondering if John the Baptizer was the Messiah. And he said, “you know what, your expectations aren’t great enough. I know that I am doing things to challenge the social order and I am doing things to change the religious order, but you have your sights way too low.” The Messiah when He comes is a life changer. In fact He will bring the Holy Spirit and fire and Luke and John were pointing to Pentecost when the Holy Spirit would come and fill the heart of everyone who trusted in Jesus. He says he can change you and make you totally new if you will just let Him. He said depending on this relationship with the Messiah He will be a fire of purification or another kind of fire. The real Messiah is a transforming, life changing Messiah.

It’s interesting that just before of baptism of Jesus as mentioned here in Luke and is explained, it’s all this information about John and how he gets put in to prison. It’s like the Holy Spirit wants to say, “No person is indispensable.” And so the gospel tell us that this one who they were expecting would be great and the answer is set aside to tell us that no person and no system is the answer. There is only one answer, Jesus Christ. You know sometimes it takes something being removed from our life, just like the people were disappointed about John the Baptist being removed. It takes sometimes something being removed from our life so that we will really be able to see God as he is. That’s what Isaiah said in Isaiah, Chapter 6, when he said in the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord. When everything else was stripped away, all forms of security, I saw the Lord. And so I ask the question today, what will be the signs if this transformer truly comes and touches our lives, what will be the evidence in our life? What will be the evidence in the congregation? Because a collective group of people who are touched gathered here. Well the answer is in Luke, Chapter 3, Verses 21 and 22. In these two short verses. I see three things that tell us what the evidence of a transformed life will look like or begin to look like, because I know we are all in the spectrum. But even if we just want the smallest of evidence, even if you want the smallest touch of God, even if you just want to touch the hem of His garment, these things I think will be evidence in some level in our lives. We will be growing into them.

Here’s the first one. It’s found at the end of Verse 22. It’s the voice from heaven. “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” The first evidence of a transformed life is a new identity. A new identity. You’re my beloved son, God says to his son and all who trust in him, or in Christ God says to us, you’re my beloved. I love you. At the top of the bulletin today, the lead verse is from Isaiah 43. Hear what the Lord says. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” You belong to me. And later in that text the Lord says to the people of Israel, “I love you and so I will protect you.” A transformed person or congregation is a group of people or persons that knows that they are loved by God. Now this is basic, and I was just thinking about it today. I mean here we have Mike and Tracy Pate’s family and friends gathered around them. They are taking up four rows of sanctuary, and we are glad that they are. And what are they doing? They are just saying that they love this little girl. We love her. We want to show her that we love her. We want to bring her into God’s family so that she will know that God loves her. We want her to know that she belongs to God. That’s the part of the identity she will grow into, just as all of us are trying to understand that more and more in our lives. More so when my kids were younger, but even now sometimes they will call me at the office and they will say, “I hope I am not bothering you or whatever.” And I stop them and I say, “You’re my kid, you can’t bother me.” Sometimes now that they are away, they call long distance. I really listen to what they want and sometimes I wonder what they want, but I say to myself, “Its them, I want to speak to them. They are mine”, naturally speaking. Growing, transformed people of God have a word deep within them, sometimes its faint, but it says, “I love you. You’re mine. I want to help you. You’re not a bother.” What’s the number one basic church song that we learn from when we are knee-high? What is it? Yeah, Jesus Loves Me this I know, come on. Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so. Yes, yes, yes. And so my identity in Christ tells me that I am loved, and it motivates me then to love others.

And that’s the second thing. Identification. In Verse 21, it says, “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too.” Now you have heard this before I’m sure, but why was Jesus baptized? John’s was a baptism under repentance and Jesus didn’t need to repent. Some peasant workers in Nicaragua were asked this question, Why was Jesus baptized? Listen to their answers. Maritha says, “to give us an example. He didn’t need baptism, but we did and He did it so we would.” Ultima says out of humility, “He was with his people, with his group, He wasn’t going to say I don’t need this, not Jesus, He goes along with others.” Alejandro says, “out of solidarity so He wouldn’t be separated from this group.” Arnesto, “He accepted his call.” At other times Jesus spoke of his death as a baptism or bath. He means that his true baptism would be that of his death, his blood bath. And this is what He accepted when He accepted his calling as the Messiah. Now we may quibble with some of that, but the bottom line is that Jesus came to be identified with those he would save. So not only do we have an identity, but the touch of God in our lives will then give us an identification with those in need. And isn’t it fascinating that Jesus was willing to be classified as a sinner in order to reach people that needed to be touched? What kind of reputation do we want as individuals or a church? We love the fact that we have such a beautiful facility and we have beautiful music and we have so many programs and these are good things, but that’s not our chief thing that we want to be identified or understood as. We want to be people who say, we need Jesus. We are sinners, we heard we are weak and we want to help you to understand how you can find him too. We are not coming from above, down below. We are coming from below up above and saying; let us lift you up so that you can understand this grace of God in your own life as well. That’s what we want to be known as, any church, as the Holy Spirit is guiding. And so my identification with Christ allows me to set aside the judgments of others and to serve those in need. That’s the second thing.

The third thing after my identity, knowing that Jesus loves me, God loves me, identification with those in need, we see a third emphasis of this text that points to signs of transformation. Verse 22. “The Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove.” We must know that God has a source of power, the Holy Spirit, the third person of the trinity who will come into the life of anybody who will trust Jesus Christ. You know Jesus himself said, “The works that I do, I am not doing them. The Father is doing them through me.” A growing Christian is one who humbly recognizes that anything that has any chance to create any kind of change happens because the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God is in it and works through them. So we needn’t hesitate to do mission, or to step out and risk because the Holy Spirit is the one who guides us. So He gives us strength and helps me to find my place in the world and in the body of Christ.

You know I think of times in my own life of different callings. I remember when I went out to California with Campus Crusade for Christ and I was deathly insecure. I mean I just didn’t know if I could do what I was being asked to do. And then I came back here and became the youth minister of this congregation for seven years and even when I started I remember, man I don’t even know what I am doing and I need God’s help and then this congregation so blessed us and sent us off to the seminary and we got through seminary and even when I was there I didn’t think I could do it. Then I went to be a pastor of a church in Pennsylvania and Ellen will tell you this, the first week before my first worship service I am lying in bed saying, “God I can’t do this.” And then I went out to do an interim in Butler, Pennsylvania and the first time I ever preached there was on Easter Sunday. I never saw them before in my life, except for a few. And I said, “I can’t do this.” But I did it. And then you all called me to be here, 18 months ago and the first Sunday I was sitting in that pew and my heart is beating a mile a minute and if I didn’t think that the Spirit of God was in any of that, I would have never done it. And thank God that that is true for all of us. No matter what we are afraid of, no matter what God is calling us to do, God will give us the power that we need to make a difference. So now we are back to the original question. Do you believe that God wants to touch you today?

Soren Kierkegaard tells a parable, maybe you have heard it before, but it applies. About a community of ducks, waddling off to duck church to hear the duck preacher. The duck preacher spoke eloquently about how God had given the ducks wings with which to fly and with these wings there was nowhere that the ducks could not go. There was no God given task that the ducks couldn’t accomplish. With those wings they could even soar into the presence of God himself and the duck congregation quacked, “Amen.” And at the conclusion of the service the ducks left commenting on what a wonderful message they had heard. And waddled all the way home.

Now too often would be worshippers waddled away from worship as they waddle in, unchallenged and unchanged. But God’s spirit today is saying through the power of the Holy Spirit that your life can be changed. Your life can make a difference. You too can know a personal relationship with God through his Son, Jesus Christ. So the text ends again with, “Son, I am pleased with you.” How is God pleased with us? With any of us? The same way we are pleased with our little children. The same way Mike and Tracy will be pleased with their children as they grow. That they will know they are loved, that they will develop a giving and loving spirit and that they will be humbly aware of the fact that its God that is in them doing whatever God calls them to do. Ask Him to do these things in your life and He will.

Let’s pray. Lord Jesus we thank you for your love and grace that caused you to come to this earth, to take on human form, to identify with those you came to save and to suffer on a cross. Lord we need your touch again today. We need to know this love. Its something that so foreign to some of us and yet forgotten by others. So even as we sing and pray, we ask that your Spirit would touch us again, revive us again today, so that we might serve you and do your will. For we ask it in Christ’s name. Amen.