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Sermon for 13 Jan. 2013

January 17, 2013

What is the setting behind today’s gospel?
The Romans controlled Israel for about a century, but did not have a governor until about the year 6 A.D. The emperor Augustus died in 16 A.D. and was replaced by TIberius. Tiberius was the first in a series of the most vicious emperors the empire had known. Tiberius, even before becoming emperor, considered himself to be a god, and some of the people in the eastern parts of the empire held the same opinion.
Herod the Great had two sons Herod Antipas and Philip. They were ruling Israel under somewhat shaky ground, but they ruled under Roman permission in the northern country. However Rome had complete control in the southern part of the country. Therefore, many Jews did not consider Herod Antipas and Philip as “real” rulers and this created the setting for today’s text.
The rule of Herod Antipas and Philip was looked at as a self-made royal house. That is to say that they did not have the respect of the people they ruled. They ruled the same way Rome did with “fear and oppression.”
Does that sound familiar?
We can see that the same thing has repeated itself throughout history. For a people to always be afraid and oppressed is not a a way to live, and many of the first century Jews did not consider themselves as living, I am sure. There were pockets of resistance throughout the ages, but Rome would put these pockets down with extreme brutality and force.
The Jewish people knew things had to change. They longed for a new word from God. They were losing hope. Hope that God would renew the age old covenant, and bring Israel out of slavery once again into new freedom. The old prophets had spoken of a time of renewal, and that God would come back to them. Then a firey young prophet appeared in the Judean wilderness traveling around the towns and cities telling people that the time had come. THe people were ready to hear this.
But did they listen?
John was baptizing the masses in the Jordan River.
This was a very important symbol for the people. A sign of renewal. A symbol connecting the past with the present and what we would consider the future.This image was like the first passover. The children of Israel were brought out of Egypt through the Red Sea – the wilderness of Sinai, then through the Jordan to the promised land. The Jews desired that new exodus to bring to their own land. This means freedom from Rome’s oppressions. Echoes of the prophets “Return to me, and I will return to you.” John’s call to Israel to repent. John was preparing the way for God. The people of this time had to face the reality of the moral quagmire they were in. The return to God was because God brings rescue and salvation because God is the Holy and faithful God, and God was and is keeping the covenant with God’s people.
But the people that heard John were questioning if John was the Messiah, the Christ. We probably would have wondered the same thing. John quickly let everyone know that he was not the Messiah. The people wanted so badly to be from under oppressive Roman rule. Herod Antipas was the Roman puppet, and he considered himself the “King of the Jews.” Herod Antipas was rebuilding the Temple. Trying hard to live into that role. But as I previously said his rule was on very shaky ground. John describes the Messiah as the one being God’s justice into the world, and the messiah would involve naming and dealing with evil. John describes the messiah in the terms of a farmer working with a winnowing fork and with fire.
The Messiah, the Christ, Jesus in this illustration, is hard for many Western Christians to take. We may not like this picture, but unless we are to step outside of the canonical books . . . we have to understand this illustration. We must bear good fruits and share what we have with others, otherwise we will be winnowed out like the chaff.
In the last part of our lesson today, Jesus was also baptized and was praying . . . and the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the bodily form of a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.” Jesus accepted his role as the Son of God. Have we accepted our roles as children of the same God? May each day we hear the voice from heaven telling each of us that we are Daughters and Sons of God and God is well pleased with us. May each of us feel the Holy Spirit move us forward in the Kingdom of God and share God’s love to all we meet. And maybe, just maybe, we will see God’s love in return.


From → jimmyahornjr

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