When Things Don’t Go as Planned
When Things Don’t Go as Planned
The first Sunday in Epiphany finds us at the Jordan River with John and Jesus. Jesus has come to be baptized, a momentous occassion. However, that doesn’t mean that everything goes as planned.
Scripture: Matthew 3: 13-17
When Things Don't Go as Planned
When things don’t go as planned, well maybe that becomes the new plan. I think that is what things must have been like that day down on the Jordan river. John had probably dreamed of and imagined the day Jesus would come to visit him. On that day John would fall before the feet of Jesus, praise him as Messiah and ask for the blessing of a baptism.
Sure enough Jesus arrives, John greets his cousin and says “Cousin, so good to see you! Would you bestow the great honour of baptising me?”
Jesus replies, “Cousin, it is I who needs to be baptised by you!”
Finally, John consents. After all, he does know who he is arguing with and knows he won’t win the debate!
But, things don’t go the way John expected them to. We have to wonder if the story plays out the way the original audience of Matthew’s Gospel expected it to. Think about it, Matthew opens his gospel with the ‘begats’ which is the name we give Matthew 1:1-16 because of the KJV translation. It reads, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren…” (Matthew 1:1-2 KJV)
It’s a grand way to open the gospels, though it perhaps makes for a difficult and boring read. Next is the birth announcement, birth, visit of the Magi, the flight to Egypt and return. Matthew has set the stage for a grand tale, we might almost expect a legion of angels to be on hand for the baptism narrative. Instead, it looks like a rather routine affair. Sure the sky opens up, a dove descends and a voice from heaven declares “This is my Son, who I love, in him I am well pleased.” But Matthew doesn’t tell us how anyone else reacts to this rather miraculous event. Instead, we move instantly to Jesus being tested in the wilderness. I’m not sure the baptism of Jesus went how anyone was expecting.
John himself must have been disappointed! Afterall, he’s been out in the desert preaching fire and brimstone! Finally, his cousin, the Messiah shows up and it’s a fairly routine afternoon. We, like John, would maybe prefer a Jesus who looks less humble and more proudly powerful; less vulnerable and more self-assuredly victorious. We know how the story ends, we know that Jesus ‘wins’ he could at least act like it. I imagine the original readers of Matthew’s gospel might have also scratched their heads and asked the question “That’s it? There isn’t more to this baptism thing that Jesus received?”
Scott Hoezee writes, “It is fully possible, based on Matthew’s account at least, that Jesus’ baptism was one of dozens that long ago day at the Jordan River. It’s fully possible that few if any noticed anything unusual about that particular baptism. But isn’t that how we view all the baptisms we witness? The parents bring the baby to the font or an adult steps down into the baptismal tub and in any given congregation, we’ve seen such a sight scores of times before. We don’t expect anything unusual to happen, and to our watching eyes and listening ears, nothing does happen, either—nothing beyond what we expected anyway.
“Yet in the silence of the sacrament and even in its ordinary exercise, the triune fullness of God is present. The heavens are opened again so that we can get at God and God can get at us. The Spirit of peace and wholeness descends to make a little one holy. And the Father’s voice issues the decree of adoption into the divine family. At church we don’t typically see much razzle-dazzle glitz and power as the world reckons things. Stones don’t turn to bread nor do angels flutter above our heads. But that hardly means nothing is going on!” (reference).
And all of that is true. We invite God into our presence every week when we worship. We do that I think because we are polite and it seems proper. However, the reality is that each week when we come to worship, we enter into God’s presence. When we pray, sing, read scripture it may seems as though nothing is happening, but things are happening. Our hearts and minds are opened to God’s wondrous possibility! We are invited to change, to become more Christ-like, to do the work of God’s kingdom. Loving and healing this world that God called good and all the people that are in it.
When we worship, just as in baptism we witness the manifest glory of God. “On this First Sunday after Epiphany, the world-wide church celebrates the baptism of Jesus because that event was the first manifestation of the glory of God in the adult ministry of Jesus.” (Stan Mast). It might not have seemed like much happened that day, it may not have gone according to plan for John but on that day the public ministry of Jesus began.
Prof. Stephanie Crowder writes, “Now in Matthew’s narrative, almost thirty years after his sojourn in Egypt, Jesus meets John in the wilderness. Matthew situates Jesus as the literary embodiment, theological fulfillment, and messianic answer to his primarily Jewish audience’s needs. The New Moses has come to deliver God’s people.” (Working Preacher).
If we were to plan out how things would look when the Messiah arrives, I’m sure that like John we would be terribly disappointed. Jesus doesn’t live up to anyone’s expectations of what the Messiah should be like. On that note Jesus is a terrible failure, Israel was dissatisfied in the Messiah that they received. However, when we set aside our expectations and look at what Jesus achieved both through his public ministry and through the cross we realize that our expectations were misplaced.
Looking at Isaiah 42 gives us a sense of what our expectations should have been like. Stan Mast writes, “Isaiah 42 reminds us that God isn’t done saving until he restores justice to this world, until he makes all things right. In a word, the mission of our Servant Savior was to restore Shalom to the whole world, so that everything that was made wrong by sin would be put right by the work of the Servant.” (Stan Mast)
We are so used to spectacle. Everything is a show, everything needs light and sound to capture our attention that we lose the ability to recognize glimpses of glory. Our attention is drawn to charisma, glamour, and affluence and we lose the ability to see the divine in the ordinary. When things fall apart, don’t go as planned and disappoint us we forget to search for the spark that is God’s presence within that event. Not because God wished to disappoint us, but because within every moment God is present with us.
In this moment and the next. One of the things that the gospel narratives make clear is that there is a place for angels, glory and hallelujahs. But more often than not in the gospels people were surprised by Jesus. People were caught off guard by Jesus. Things did not go the way that people expected them to when they met Jesus. It happens when the Pharisees and Sadducees encounter Jesus. It happened with Marty and Martha, when Jesus raised Lazarus. It happened with Pilate.
When we invite Jesus into our lives. When we say we want to follow in the Way of Jesus, we shouldn’t expect things to go a certain way. Part of saying, “I will follow you” is a giving up of control. We don’t always get to control the narrative and as frightening as that can be, it is also freeing. When life has you wondering what is going on, when the ‘plan’ is not longer going as expected ask yourself where God is at with things. Be open to the answer. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.