Sunday, January 9, 2011

January 9, 2011 - "A Good Beginning"

Matthew 3:13-17

The longest trip begins with the first step.
And along the way, every step counts.

And may it be, that we all start this new year with a first step, in the right direction … with Jesus … to the Jordan … where it all began so long ago for Israel.

Where Joshua and the people crossed over the Jordan into the Promised Land.
It had been a grueling journey.
Forty years in the making.
Manna in the wilderness and water from a rock.
Fire on the mountain and the Golden Calf.
And finally, at the Jordan.
To begin a new day in the Promised Land.

The people crossed over that day.
On dry ground.
One more miracle to get them there.
And then the battle of Jericho.
Trumpets blaring and people shouting.
And the walls came tumbling down.
The Promised Land was theirs.

But the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.
Even the best laid plans of God.

Israel clamored for a king, just like all the other nations.
Their courage failed.
Their faith faltered.
Rather than looking to God, they looked to their neighbors instead …

Well, they got a king …
And then king-after-king.
And some were good, and most were not.
And after Saul and David and Solomon, the whole thing fell apart … the Northern Tribes went their own way, and Judah was left to its own devices in Jerusalem.
There were plenty of uneasy feelings and sometimes open warfare.
Politics – tangled and desperate.
Rampant materialism and spiritual confusion.
The Northern Tribes were eventually overrun by Assyrian forces and subjugated.
A hundred years later, Jerusalem was sacked by Nebuchadnezzar and the powerful armies of Babylon – the ruling elite and the wealth of the temple were trundled off to a faraway land, for seventy years of exile.

And then a Persian king took over, and let the people return to a broken and tired land.
And then the Greeks came.
And then the Romans.
It was not a pretty picture.
Under the Romans, some were rich, and some were very rich … and most were poor.
Sorrow lay heavy on the land.

And then a star in the night.
The cry of a child.
A baby born in Bethlehem.
Shepherds from the hills.
Wise men from afar.
And Herod’s bloody wrath.

It was a rocky start for Jesus.
His parents flee for their lives in the middle of the night.
They become refugees in Egypt.

When Herod dies, Joseph and his family return, but even then, things are a little too hot, so Joseph takes his family to the North, to Galilee, to Nazareth …

Thirty year later, Jesus makes a fateful trip to the South – about 120 miles from Nazareth, to the Jordan River.

Jesus goes there … to make a new beginning.

A new beginning for all of us.
For all of humanity.
All of creation.
Every creature, great and small.
For God dearly loves us all.

Jesus becomes the new beginning.
Israel all over again.

Jesus embodies within himself the plans and promises of God … where humankind fails, Jesus succeeds … where we fall into darkness, Jesus bring the light of grace and kindness … where we stumbled badly, Jesus picks us up and walks with us through all of it.
What we cannot do, Jesus does it for us.
When we cannot finish, Jesus completes.
What cannot be undone is taken up into the heart of God and made new.
Jesus becomes a human being for the rest of us – to live up to the best, to set the course, and to give us hope.

Jesus is his name in Greek.
Joshua is his name in Hebrew.
A new day.
A fresh beginning.

Jesus steps into the water, and a voice from heaven declares, This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.

Many a fateful day was to come.
And it would be hard for him.
But all’s well that ends well, we say.
Or perhaps, all’s well that begins well.
Though many a tough time may lie between start and finish, a good beginning will get us there.

A marriage begins with love.
But tough times come, as they always do.
And even the best of marriages has its hard days and rough nights.
But a good beginning goes a long way.
Folks remind themselves of the first love.
The first kiss.
The first everything.
The start of the journey.
And they remember the promises.
“till death do us part.”
And they keep on going.
They forgive and even forget.
They find new ways to manage new days.
The soul heals and love gains anew.
Nothing like a good beginning.

Many a business starts out with enthusiasm and all kinds of dreams, and then come the hard times and some of them can be pretty rough.

And maybe the business doesn’t make it.
But lessons are learned.
And dreams remain.

Good beginnings are important.
The first day of school.
The first day on the job.
The first of anything.
We can all make some good beginnings today.
And I’m not talking about New Year’s Resolutions …
I’m talking about some very basic spiritual beginnings:
1.   To pay attention to hate-speech and negativity, and keep it out of our lives … we can be truthful, without being hateful; we can be positive even as we’re critical … we can sow seeds of hope even as we seek the truth.
2.   To be mindful of our food supply … to stay up to speed on critical research about GMOs, genetically modified organisms … the rate of pollution … because it doesn’t do us any good to hide our heads in the sand … and it’s too late when the canary keels over.
3.   To be faithful to Covenant, because it’s our church … and everyone has a place in it … to be pro-active … don’t wait to be asked … go ahead and do it … show up … lift up others … give yourself up to God!
4.   To be a Christian first … a follower of Jesus … and then a citizen of the land … the worst things in the world that ever happened have happened when Christians placed nation ahead of God. We serve our nation best of all when we serve God first of all.

We can make some good beginnings to day.

With Jesus in our heart.
With Jesus by the River Jordan …
With him at the Table.

What a good day this is.
We began with a meal … we’ll end with a scrubbing.
We entered here to eat … and we’ll leave all cleaned up.

Today, is the first day of the rest of our life.
We’ve made a good beginning of it.
We are with Christ.
And Christ is with us.

That’s a good beginning!

Amen and Amen!