Of Fire, Drenching, and New Growth

By Sharron R. Blezard, January 9, 2015

Narrative Lectionary Reflection for January 11, 2015

Baptism of our Lord

I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:11-12

Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism identifies quite clearly that repentance is in order. John the Baptist makes no bones about the fact that his baptism is for “metanoia,” for a turning from old ways and living with a new orientation. This is no mere cleaning up for dinner; this is shaping up for life. And we learn that everybody’s doing it—folks are coming to the Jordan River from Jerusalem and all Ondra Havala ccJudea. Even the religious leaders are showing up to get in on the action, and John has some sharp words for them.

“You brood of vipers!” Ouch. John lets those he calls snakes that lineage alone won’t cut it. That which isn’t worthy fruit is going to be pruned and burned away. And then there’s Jesus, the one coming after John who will baptize Holy Spirit and fire, and who will shake things up with a winnowing fork.

The story moves in the next sentence to Jesus showing up to be baptized. John hesitates; Jesus insists that this action is necessary to “fulfill all righteousness.” Then we have the Spirit of God descending on Jesus, alighting on him, and God’s voice saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well-pleased.”

So is today about Jesus and his baptism, or is it about us and our baptism? Well, obviously the story is about Jesus’ baptism and the affirmation and inauguration of his ministry. The next scene in Matthew’s gospel shows that same Spirit that alighted on Jesus leading him into the wilderness. Jesus did accomplish all righteousness, and through him we are adopted THX0477 ccchildren of God. We are heirs to the kingdom and full participants—and, we are to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. We don’t have to hike to the Jordan, but we do meet our Lord in water and word. We do receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are named and claimed in this Sacrament.

So, yes, today we can look at what Jesus’ baptism and our own baptism mean in the grand scope of this discipleship journey. We are called to be different. We are called to bear fruit worthy of repentance. We are called to die daily to our sinful self and to rise in newness of life to follow our Lord and be a witness pointing to him. We should remember our baptism. True, today the distinction is that according to Matthew, Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness, and in him the world will be put right again. But it’s equally true that as adopted sons and daughters of God, we are part of that great work of the kingdom—aflame, drenched, and bringing forth new growth. Amen.

In Worship

A prescribed burn is an essential habitat management technique. In fact, Michael Porter, writing for the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, says “Burning, grazing, and rest are generally the most powerful tools for managing local wildlife habitats. Yes, usually more powerful than planting, feeding, and tillage.” A prescribed burn allows for new growth that is healthy and beneficial. That sounds a lot like what John is describing here. Jesus comes to burn away that which is unhealthy and not useful for the building up of the kingdom so that new growth can occur. Invite worshipers to write down on small slips of paper those things in their lives that need to be “burned away” so that new discipleship growth can take place. Invite them to bring these small slips of paper forward to put into a bowl. Later (or in the Easter Vigil fire), burn away these things to symbolize the readiness for new growth.

With Children

What does it mean to “bear fruit worthy of repentance”? This is what John the Baptist admonished the religious leaders when they wanted to jump on the baptism bandwagon. What sort of “fruit” might John have been referring to? Apples? Oranges? Of course not! Think fruits of the Spirit, think service, and faithfulness. Invite the children to name fruits worthy of repentance. Consider giving them “charms” or help them make a small poster highlighting these kinds of fruits. End with a prayer for a “fruitful” week.

Photos: Doug Beckers, Ondra  Havala, and THX0477 Creative Commons. Thanks!


About the Author

The Rev. Sharron Riessinger Blezard is an ELCA pastor currently rostered in the Lower Susquehanna Synod. She came to ordained ministry after teaching secondary and college English, working in non-profit management and public relations, and moonlighting as a freelance writer. See more posts by .

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