Preached on the Baptism of Our Lord by Pastor Sally Ankerfelt
Dear friends in Christ, may the light of Christ shine on you
this day and in this new year! AMEN
We’re not at the end of a presidential election season this
year, but I think back to the inaugurations of previous presidents and how cold
it sometimes is! It’s always that picture on the grounds of the US Capitol that
comes to my mind, with the backdrop of the White House that offers us an idea
of where the newly-elected president will reside.
But, did you know that not all presidents had their
swearing-in ceremony at the US Capitol?
Chester Arthur took the oath of office quickly after
President James Garfield died of gunshot wounds. He was in the parlor of his
apartment. The apartment is still there with an Indian supermarket on the
ground floor. And, of course, who could forget the assassination of President
John F. Kennedy? With the grieving Jackie Kennedy by his side, Lyndon Johnson
was sworn in as president - in the tiny cabin (it was tiny back then) of Air
Force One at Love Field. (http://www.history.com/news/a-tour-of-lesser-known-presidential-inaugural-sites)
Just this past Tuesday, the new mayor of St. Paul, Melvin
Carter III assumed office. Carter is the first African
American mayor of St. Paul and he is a son of St. Paul. He had his swearing-in ceremony at Central High
School in the Rondo neighborhood in which he grew up.
Certain situations dictated a different location. And in
some ways, an apartment building in the middle of a bustling US city is more
appropriate than the steps of the US Capitol. It’s not set apart on top of a
hill, but in the midst of the daily life of the human beings the president will
The cramped cabin of Air Force One makes more sense, too,
because it’s in a place that represents the fast-paced, progressive world in
which we live. The president was sworn in while on the move and while responding to tradegy.
And having a ceremony in a high school in a neighborhood of
St. Paul, in the middle of pain and promise, makes a huge statement for the new
mayor. He came from them and he will serve them. He knows and he’s going to
speak for them. The Star Tribune says, “In his speech, Carter acknowledged the
challenges that await him, and nodded to those he has already overcome. He
talked about his family’s history in St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood, which was
torn apart by the construction of Interstate 94. He mentioned the nation’s
legacy of slavery and racial segregation and the aftershocks that reverberate
today. His voice rose and fell, and the crowd responded with murmurs of “yes,”
as if he were a preacher.“I am humbled by the work ahead and ready
to stand shoulder to shoulder with you to guide this city forward,” Carter
said. “We the people will build a city that works for all of us. We the people
are the ones we’ve been waiting for. And we the people ain’t gonna let nobody
turn us around.” And then the crowd jumped to its feet, filling the gym with
Can you see how important location is when it comes to leadership? The location of where people take on new roles holds a great deal of meaning. The location can either connect leaders with the people or distance them from the people.
So, where was Jesus sworn in, so-to-speak? His baptism was
quite the event that included a confirmation from God, a Spirit that descended
on him like a dove, and the curtain of the temple torn in two. This was a huge deal – and it
still is, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
When Jesus was baptized, was he in the temple, surrounded by
an ornate structure and a holy space to show his power and majesty? Was he in a building on a hill, set off away from the pain and promise of the people?
No, Jesus’ inauguration for his work on earth
took place in the wilderness.
Can you see how important place is? The wilderness, in
biblical times, often represented the place where people struggle to live and
serve. To this day, we still use this term sometimes. I have heard people say
that they feel like they are wandering in the wilderness – a sense of feeling
lost and alone and scared. Or I have heard, “the wilderness of our lives” meaning
kind-of the same thing. It’s the time of life where people are wrestling with
meaning and their life is difficult.
Friends in Christ, the wilderness is where Jesus was confirmed as the
Son of God. In the middle of the mess, in the midst of the wondering and wandering,
in the place where we as humans spend a lot of our time.
If we questioned whether the baby in the manger was indeed
God’s Son, we now have full knowledge that Christ is the Son of God. Seeing Jesus' baptism take place in the
wilderness, we have knowledge that the Son of God is going to roll up his
sleeves and be with us on our journey. He’s not going to do his ministry behind
closed doors or only in the temple; he is going to be “out there” with the
I find this to be important information. Because so much of
our life is - as I mentioned - hard work, difficult experiences, and troubles
that may cause us to question whether we truly do have a God who cares or
notices our struggles. Are you with us,
God? Where are you?
In Jesus’ baptism, God says, “I am here. Believe me; I am
here. My son is with you on the journey, creating a way in the wilderness and a
light for your path.”
This leads me to think of all of us here, many of us who
have been baptized in Christ Jesus either as infants, young people or adults.
We are baptized into the ministry that Christ offered. It’s a ministry that
goes out from the confines of church buildings into the lives of the
neighborhood. It’s a ministry that walks with people in their wilderness so
that they will know that God IS with them and that they are not alone. It’s a
life that offers a glimpse of hope, a taste of healing, and a promise of
Just as Christ was sent into the wilderness, into the lives
and experiences of real people, we too are sent out.
What does that mean for you and me?
Well, I believe it requires a shift in thinking. Where do
people see us standing as we are commissioned to serve? Off high up on a hill with a fortress to protect us, detached from everyday life?
Instead of thinking of
the church building as a place to enter and protect us, we are to think of the
church building as a place that stands in the midst of the wilderness, a place where
we receive strength to go out and serve.
Instead of looking at our faith from our point of view, we look at it
from those who are wandering and wondering. Are we traveling with them? Are our
arms open to them? Instead of operating
from our own perspective, we seek to stand alongside another and look at life
from their perspective.
In other words, we are on the move. We join with
others, walk with others, in the wilderness of life. We cry with others and
rejoice with others. We point the way to this God who so loved the world that God’s
only Son was given for it.
This is the journey of Christ. It began in a manger, was
affirmed, confirmed, commissioned in the wilderness, and culminated on the cross.
Praise be to God for standing with