Becoming Human

A sermon on Matthew 3:13-17 preached on January 12, 2014.

Sermon audio

Where can I find a bottle of water in this town?

The chemical leak into the water supply in Charlestown has affected a surprising amount of counties throughout West Virginia. It has come close enough to affecting us that on Friday morning, I listened closely to the radio to find our whether or not the shower I just took may have been the end of me.

It is in these situations when we’re forced to stop using something as important as water that we realize how much need it, how essential it is for us, how we rely upon it for most of everything we do.

Water is life, and when a resource usually given to us in abundance is suddenly taken away from us—from hundreds of 1,000’s of people throughout the state, we are reminded again of how necessary and vital a resource like water is.

It takes a situation as pressing as this one to remind us all how we are creatures who rely upon so many natural resources. In almost every aspect of life, we are sustained and regenerated by water.

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The waters of the Jordan ran strong and deep through the northern parts of the Judean territories. This is the river in which John was baptizing 1,000’s of people. Jews and gentiles alike were coming to him to be cleansed, washing away old things and starting a new journey with God.

In some places, the rushing waters of the Jordan River knocked you off of your feet. In other places, the river ran slower. It was in those slower places that people bathed, washed their clothes by beating them against the smooth, wet rocks just at the surface of the water. People walked miles with their empty pails to gather water for their families. Water to drink and cook with.

The waters of the Jordan River gave life to the Judean people in many ways. And it was in this river that John was baptizing people to new life. Water used by God to cleanse and renew us.

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Jesus had not yet begun his ministry. He traveled the 50 miles from Nazareth to the Jordan River. Curiously, Jesus uses John’s baptism to kick off his earthly ministry.

Why chose baptism? It’s water and a few words. It’s surprisingly ordinary. Baptism seems all too human a thing for the Son of God.

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In the movie City of Angels, Nicklaus Cage is an angel named Seth who comes to earth to help a woman who has lost her way. Maggie, Meg Ryan’s character, is lonely and stuck in her career.

After making several visits to patients at the hospital she works in, the angel Seth begins falling in love with Maggie. And as he falls in love with her, his eyes open up to the beauty of the world too.

Maggie explains to Seth that beauty is so much wrapped up with the small things like the tastes of certain foods, good books, a gentle touch from a loved one. Seth begins to wonder what a piece of cake tastes like, what it’s like to breathe in oxygen, to feel a feeling, or to hold somebody close. These are things that angels know nothing about.

After talking to many of his fellow celestial beings, Seth decides to become a fallen angel, which in the imagination of this movie means ending his life as an angel so that he can become a human being.

As a new human being, Seth is fascinated by all the basic human things we all take for granted. He notices the crunch of ground beneath his feet with every step he takes. He cuts his finger with a knife while slicing peppers for dinner and he loves that his finger begins to bleed. Being human, he thinks, is perfect! Even with its struggles and ambiguity (or maybe because of them) life as a human being is wonderful.

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To be human is to be physical. To have senses and to be sensed by others.  We are substance and body—flesh, bone and sinew. Fully embodied creatures that God has created in God’s perfect image. And although none of us are perfect, and although our bodies do fail us, we are exactly who God has created us to be.

Through Jesus, God knows what it feels like to breathe in oxygen, to know the struggles as well as the glories of the human body. To chew food, to bleed when cut. To cry out in pain when we’re hurting. Through Jesus, God experienced the ordinariness of our lives and came to share in it with us.

In order to understand baptism, we first have to understand that God was gracious enough to become one of us. God had to know what it was like to feel water against skin.

It is through the incarnation—God taking on flesh and coming to us—that we understand what baptism really is about. It’s about God becoming human.

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There are some who believe that we’re all just souls temporarily housed in these bodies. That it’s the soul that is Godly and our body that is sinful and must one day be discarded. We’ve all heard this idea before. Like we’re really made of two parts—that one part of us is from the earth and the other part is from heaven. That we’re souls trapped in cages made of flesh and bone. And one day the real us, the part of us that’s important to God, will be released from this earthly prison that is our body. In Jesus Christ, God says none of that is the right way to see ourselves. In Jesus Christ, God says that by being completely human, we are completely God’s. We are made just like we’re supposed to be. That we are made to be whole creations blessed by the One who came to be one of us.

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John the Baptist almost refused to baptize Jesus. John thought there wasn’t any need to. John was right in a way. Jesus had no sin that needed to be cleansed. There was no separation between he and God that need to be reconciled through the waters of baptism. But Jesus insisted to John that he needed to be baptized.

It was through his baptism that Jesus showed the world that God’s Word was now living among us. Jesus’ baptism shows us that God’s Word was now tangible, touchable. That God’s Word now had skin that was able to get wet. God’s Word now had breath to hold inside of his lungs. Eyes that close as John dunked him under the waters of the Jordan. Jesus’ baptism showed us that God had indeed become one of us. Jesus was God’s big “Yes” to how good it is to be human—to have an existence even within the limitations of our bodies.

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I think becoming human is a process. We’re not all that humane, after all. There is brokenness and hurt throughout the world, and most of it we inflict upon each other. I don’t think we have to look far to see where most of the evil in the world comes from. We human beings fall short of God’s desires for us, and whenever we hurt or minimize another, we’re basically saying to that person that we refuse to see what we have in common. The most evil acts in history have occurred when someone was able to overlook the humanity of another, and whenever one of us is able to do that, violence happens. Sometimes we shake our heads at how inhumane we humans can be towards one another. How inhumane we can be towards all of creation.

Really, I think that we are a people who, with God’s help, are becoming human. It is through acts of compassion and kindness that we see glimpses, just glimpses, of our humanity.

In this world, so bent towards hatred and separation and violence, it takes some effort to find how we are human.

I think God asks each of us to become fully human, to step forward on a journey to becoming human beings.

Perhaps that’s God’s image for us.

Perhaps that is what incarnation is—to one day be fully human beings and be the creatures our Creator intends for us to be.

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It is through the waters of baptism that Christ shares in our humanity.

Washed in the waters, God declares Jesus fully human—a son dearly loved—one of us.

It is through the waters of baptism that God joins us with Christ and incorporates us into the family of God, calling each of us a dearly loved child of God. It is through the waters of baptism that God claimed Jesus as His own. And it is through the same waters that God has adopted us and challenges us to be a truly human family of God.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful. Amen.

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