We are reading through the Ukirk lectionary each Wednesday primarily focusing on Matthew. Last week's reading was Matthew 3:1–17 John the Baptist/Jesus' Baptism.
Check out this description of John the Baptist (NRSV):
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.” ’
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
John was clearly not the clean cut, respectable, hip pastor of the day. I don't think camel hair was any more popular then -- nor was eating locusts. John's presence offered a challenge to the faith tradition as it was being organized and lived out. He called for a new way of thinking and living. It was a challenge to the way things were always done. If you read on, you'll see he is not kind to the religious leaders and calls on them specifically to change their lives.
As we look for signs of where God is moving in our lives ponder these questions:
How does God put experiences and people in our path that challenge our assumptions?
How can challenges to our faith help us see new places God is working?
Where is God speaking in unexpected places and people?
Last week we talked about that fear in the pit of the stomach and places that are not life-giving but are rather death-dealing. To be challenged in our faith is different. It is not something to be feared but something to explore with trusted mentors and in a community of believers. John's challenge to the way things always have been comes as he is baptizing followers and Jesus. We must remember that our baptism does not mean an easy life, but a life of both great joy and great challenges. The promise in baptism is that Christ has gone before us and God's grace is always with us.
Another question to ponder:
In what ways has your faith been challenged?
In what ways have you seen God's grace?
We are reminded of how challenging and costly this life is by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the Cost of Discipleship: Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which [one] must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives [us] the only true life.
This poem is attributed the French Reformed Baptismal liturgy:
For you, little child,
Jesus Christ has come, he has fought, he has suffered.
For you he entered the shadow of Gethsemane and the horror of Calvary.
For you he uttered the cry, “It is finished!”
For you he rose from the dead
and ascended into heaven
and there he intercedes —
for you, little child, even though you do not know it.
But in this way the word of the Gospel becomes true.
“We love him, because he first loved us.”