As a people of faith who say we believe in God, and who are at least trying to follow Christ – we long to know that who we are, and what we are doing, is actually somehow God’s will, or that we are at least pleasing God! Is that true for you? Have you ever really thought about that? How would we know when we are in fact pleasing God?
I love the raw honesty of that famous prayer of Thomas Merton’s where he confesses how difficult it is for him to know God’s will[i].
But I suspect that we are not always quite as ignorant about God’s will as we like to pretend.
I suspect that most of us DO actually have some very real sense of what God wants of us – what our ‘good & Godly living’ probably looks like… It’s a life where we get to care a little less about ourselves and a little more about others! It’s a life where we know our God-given task is to draw closer to God by looking both inward and then reaching outwards: looking inwards by caring for ourselves & one another, and outwards by caring for all people and all creation, especially the most hurting and marginalised…
In a recent blog post Brian McLaren describes God’s will for us. He writes how, in our faith communities, we know we need people who are trained in, validated for, and encouraged to do all sorts of KNOWN things: to make home and hospital visits; to do hospice work and jail ministry; support immigrants and refugees; help with soup kitchens or food pantries; offer counselling couples before, during, and after marriage; share child development resources with families; offer ministries of emotional, sexual, and relational healing; help with financial counseling; helping to build low-cost housing; take care of the elderly; running thrift centers…
All of that we know is God’s good work through us – but what we don’t always know is whether it is what God wants US to be doing. How do we know when it’s something given to US to do and not just a good idea?
And so we revisit our reading from Matthew…
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.
Remember what John the Baptist was doing at that time? He was entirely consumed by pointing to Christ and by preparing people to acknowledge and receive him. And so that’s where we are told Jesus chose to reveal himself! By identifying himself with John’s good work Jesus was signalling his most profound approval – the alignment of himself – with what John was doing. Asking to be baptized was his endorsement of what John was doing. I think He still does that. Whenever, wherever people are doing things that reflect Christ’s character – acts of loving justice, mercy compassion, care – they are pointing to Christ – and is where Christ himself is being baptized.
14 John would have prevented him, saying, NO! “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” And I think that THAT is also typical of our reaction!
It’s as if we don’t WANT Jesus to come to where we are! We want instead to be elevated to where He is! What? You come to me to be baptized? NEVER! I must surely come to you! Kind of like Peter’s objection when Jesus was wanting to wash his feet[ii]… I wonder how we do that?
15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. Jesus insists that THIS IS how it works – how HE works! If we are to engage Christ in any meaningful way in our lives we must engage him where we are – recognizing him in our contexts – or else we may miss him altogether! He chooses NOT to be somewhere any loftier than where we are getting on with doing things in his name. The real miracle – like so many healed blind in the Gospels – is us getting to have our eyes opened enough actually to see him as he is – right here where he is…
16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved,[a] with whom I am well pleased.” It seems that it’s our recognition & acknowledgement of Christ’s presence that makes where we are and what we are doing in his Name holy. I’m suggesting that Jesus aligns himself/ insinuates an awareness of himself into every and all good work that points to him! Surely that’s Jesus’ whole point later[iii] where he speaks of his having been hungry and others feeding him – whatever you have done to the least of these, you have done to ME!
Emmanuel – God is with us. We will know our place within God’s will as we are given to realize the sacred in all our circumstances – wherever we are. If we cannot sense Christ’s presence with us in what we are doing – Christ wanting to be baptized within our work – that’s probably because of only one of two reasons: (1) we are not looking deeply enough into what we are doing, or (2) Christ is not there! That may perhaps be because Christ is endorsing neither what we doing with our lives nor the priorities that we are setting for ourselves to live by. Perhaps there is something we are missing?
And so our prayer is for God to open our eyes – the eyes of our hearts/ our souls – that we may see and be energised by Christ’s holy presence with us in all of what we are doing in his name. And wherever what we are doing is in fact not God’s will – just wrong – then our prayer is for us to realize that and be given us the energy, courage, motivation to change…
As we move into this New Year/decade I think we are being urged NOT to hold back from wherever we are being prompted/called to engage in manifesting God’s goodness as we are moved to act with God’s justice, compassion, to show God’s mercy, bring God’s comfort, hope.
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[i] My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
Then he goes on to say some things very beautiful. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
[ii] John 13
[iii] Matthew 25