Toorak Uniting Church

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The race we run

Matthew 3: 13 – 17
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
9am, 9 January 2005

Baptism as a three legged race. I must say that at first the idea did not appeal to me at all. I’ve always found it difficult to find a partner that would have the same length legs as me and about the same length stride as well. So I invariably lost whenever I participated in these races and quite often ended up falling over and hurting myself when taking part in one. Only once I remember it as an exhilarating and wonderful experience and that was when my father, when I was still a little girl loosely tied one of my legs to his thigh and carried me all the way to the finish.
I didn’t feel the relationship with God needs to be one where walking awkwardly, falling over regularly and getting hurt is what happens most of the time. But when I thought a little bit further I began to see some similarities.

Isn’t it wonderful to think of God as attaching himself to us in such a way that He is sharing every step we take?
Isn’t it true that if we fail to walk in step with God we fall and tend to do ourselves harm?
And if we try to go in a completely different direction as to what God wants there are two possibilities aren’t there: either everything falls in a heap or we break away and continue without him, then running a completely different race?
And if you really manage to get into the same rhythm of your buddy it can be quite an exhilarating feeling. As is running with God if you grow close to Him.

I don’t think God carries us like my father did that one time, although I think He would be quite capable of doing it and it sometimes feels like He is. My experience is that God much prefers us to finish the race using our own legs and walk with him in tandem, adjusting our way of walking to His, growing better and better at it through the years.

In our story this morning Jesus is baptised in the river Jordan. And when he emerges out of the water the Holy Spirit, in the shape of a dove attaches himself to him. The heavens open and for a moment we witness the words of a proud father introducing a son he loves: This is my Son, my beloved……. There are echoes here of the stories of Noah and the dove that left the ark looking for dry ground after the big flood and not coming back when it had found a place to settle. Here it is Jesus who is the dry ground in a world drowning in darkness, a place for the Holy Spirit to settle.
There are echoes too of the prophecies from the book of Isaiah and other places in scripture: This is Gods servant the world has waited for. There are echoes of the stories of Israel coming out of Egypt going through the waters of the red sea at the beginning of the journey to the Promised Land.

Jesus is where the Holy Spirit finds a place to settle, the servant King Isaiah waited for, the new Moses leading his people through danger and wilderness to the land of God’s promises. Here is the man after God’s heart, practicing righteousness, living a life of justice and peace.

But that is not all:
By going down to the Jordan and asking for Baptism Jesus shows he is with his people even where guilt and failure have crept into their lives. Not only does God come as a vulnerable and fragile child in circumstances that are less than ideal, not only does this child grow up to be a man that lives a life of righteousness, an example to us all. This man suffers what his people suffer in every aspect of life. Descending with them into the river of repentance and staying with them when their shortcomings are brought to the surface and into the light of Gods scrutiny. This man, who lives a life of righteousness and is beyond reproach.

This man runs the race of life with God in a way that nobody has ever done before or will ever be able to do again. They are so attached that there is no telling where the one begins and the other ends. God is Jesus and Jesus is God. And together they run the race of faithfulness, of righteousness, of healing and the creation of new life.

It is this team, glued together by the Holy Spirit that invites us to join. To follow them into the river Jordan and turn our lives around. To go with them, through a world where we sometimes find ourselves drowning in difficulty and heartbreak to a world where the Holy Spirit can settle and we can find a place to be that is safe, full of peace and radiating with justice and love.

In a world where people drown in difficulty and hardship, where guilt is an enemy that is very hard to beat once it has taken up residence in our hearts, and where we sometimes feel that there is scarcely ground under our feet to keep us from drowning, in that world there is a God that is in there with us, that seeks to support us when we come to wash ourselves clean of what went wrong, that seeks to help us through whatever is difficult in our lives and calls us to live towards another world and another existence, personally and collectively. As if there was no guilt, as if there was no threat, as if there was nothing other than to live for God in righteousness, sharing of his love, giving of his peace, trusting in his power to hold us and keep us, whatever happens in our lives. Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2005


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