Sunday 12th January 2014
Isaiah 42:1-9 and Matthew 3:13-end
‘Might is right’ or the myth of redemptive violence, is often portrayed as the only way peace can be established. We see the narrative of the world and look aghast at how quickly might and violence is used to either ‘defend the good and defeat evil’ or bring peace. Yet to bring a lasting peace a deeper sense of justice and much deeper work needs to happen to us and to the issues that cause the violence and evil in the first place.
The words in Isaiah evoke a fresh way of seeing things. Israel has been self-preoccupied and its own identity has been self referential. “We are in a bleak place” “We can do nothing” “We are worthless”. This all changes in the words that God speaks. This self-absorption needs to change as the promises of a work and life are offered. Where people snuff our wicks and break bruised reeds - Israel is not to be like that. It is to live the vulnerable prophetic life that offers change and difference in a hostile world. They can only do that if their sense of identity is taken from outside of their existence. If they ‘de-centre’ themselves - they become centered on God.
They are to stand out like beacons of light in a dark place. They are called (v.6a) taken (v.6a), kept (v.6a) and given (v7b) - God has redefined who they are so they can redefine the world around them.
The baptism of Jesus, and in turn reflection on our own baptism, is a similar missional summons. Here Jesus identity as the Son is confirmed. Here the call is given to be the Son. Here he is taken and kept in the Father’s love. Here he is given to the world. This will all be tested in the following verses where the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness. This assurance of being called, taken and kept and given will be scrutinized and challenged by the devil.
Our own call to be given to the world, to be a blessing for it, to live a life that speaks of another way will be tested. For those sisters and brothers in Syria and Egypt, to be called and given in an environment where persecution and death are a reality, to know they are kept in the Father love’s and taken by the hand gives that courage which we in the West can only begin to imagine.
The sense of identity and therefore security is not rooted in the environment in which we find ourselves. It is in the love and call of God. Baptism is a de-centering of who we are and a centering on God. It is a missional sacrament that launches us on a journey of discovery and life.
Who or what is the centre on your life? “In baptism God calls us to new life. We die with Christ to all that destroys, and rise to live with him for ever” (Text from the experimental alternative service of baptism in the Church of England).
John is the Vicar of St Paul’s, Tupsley and St Andrews, Hampton Bishop in Hereford Diocese. He’s also currently doing Doctoral Studies at Kings College London.