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BTSR Chapel Sermon: “As You Wish”

As You Wish
Matthew 3:13-17

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 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. 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, with whom I am well pleased.”

One of my favorite novels is The Princess Bride. When I was in seminary, the book became the basis of a movie directed by Rob Reiner. I’ve read the novel and seen the movie more times that I can count.

The book and screenplay were written by William Goldman. He pretends to translate a Florinese manuscript written an S. Morgenstern. But in reality, there is no Florinese language, no country named Florin, and no author named S. Morgenstern.

Goldman wrote the novel in response to his two daughter’s constant requests for a story about either a “princess” or a “bride.” The story offers swashbuckling thrills, villainy and heroism, intrigue and romance, but does so without taking itself too seriously. It’s inclusion of pirates, swordplay, a giant, screaming eels, fire swamps, and ROUSs (rodents of unusual size), makes the tale is appealing to girls and boys of all ages.

It is filled with some very enjoyable lines of dialogue.

For example, there is the irritable criminal mastermind Vizzini, who confronting the hero, advises (in an extremely irritating voice):
“Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!”

There is Inigo Montoya, a Spanish accented, revenge-driven swordsman who promises that when he finds the murderer of his father, he will walk up to him say: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

But of all the great lines, one of the most well-known takes place when Buttercup is being forced to marry evil Prince Humperdink. The Archdeacon of Florin appears in an ornate cathedral, dressed imposing robes and vestments, and when he begins to speak, sounding almost exactly like Elmer Fudd:

“Mah-widge. Mah-widge is what bwings us together today … that dweam wiffin a dweam. …”

But there is one line that is the heart of the story. As the movie begins, we see Buttercup going through her chores on a farm. She has two great joys in life. The first is riding her horse, that she named “Horse,” revealing that Buttercup is not very imaginative. Her other great joy was tormenting the young boy who worked on the farm. She ordered him about:

“Farm Boy, fetch me that bucket.”
“Farm Boy, get me that bowl.”

It was like all day long.

“Farm boy, fetch me this.”
“Farm Boy, fetch me that.”

His reply was always the same. Whenever Buttercup asked him to do something for her, he would always reply: “As you wish.”
That is all he ever said.

Then one day Buttercup asked him to fetch a pitcher that was easily within her reach. Farm Boy, whose real name is Wesley, walked over, stares into her eyes, lifts the pitcher, and hands to her while whispering: “As you wish.”

In that moment Buttercup realizes that every time Wesley said, “As you wish” what he was really saying was “I love you.”

It dawned on me, when thinking about Jesus baptism, that what He was saying in His submission to baptism where those simple words as a prayer: “As you wish!”

The question as to why Jesus was baptized in a significant one in theological circles. Theologians, including the Gospel authors, each offer a different perspective in answering this question.

The Fourth Gospel does not mention Jesus baptism. The Baptizer was there, acting like a prophet, calling people to repent in preparation for the coming Messiah. When Jesus appears the Baptizer points to him and says, “This is the guy I have been talking about.” With that, the ministry of Jesus begins.

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ baptism is mentioned, but without detail. Mark simply reports the facts without interpretation or explanation. One day, John was preaching. Jesus showed up and John baptized him. The heavens opened. God’s voice was heard. Jesus goes to the wilderness, is tempted. Just the facts.

In Luke’s Gospel, the text says, “When all the people came to be baptized, Jesus came too!” For Luke, in that moment, it was important that Jesus identified with the people as He joined them in baptism.

Matthew is the only one who offers any sort of theological reason for Jesus baptism! According to Matthew, the Baptizer is preaching and baptizing. He is bold and brash and the people come from all over. They come to repent and be baptized. Maybe they are excited about the possibility of a second chance and the hope that God might not be finished with them.

Then Matthew tells us that Jesus came to be baptized. Why Jesus? Wasn’t he the perfect revelation of God? Wasn’t he the one who came to save his people from their sin? Wasn’t he the one who would baptize not with water, but with fire and with the Holy Spirit? Why did Jesus come for baptism?

Even the Baptizer wondered. As Jesus approached, John said, “I am not worthy.” He said, “It is not I who should baptize you, but you who should baptize me.” But Jesus says, “Hush! We have to do this to fulfill all righteousness!”

Righteousness – what comes to your mind when you hear that word? I think it meant something different in Jesus’ day than what we’ve made it to mean in ours. We think of it as some sort of absolute standard – a set of rule, rituals, regulations, and requirements to be adhered to and obeyed.

It the Bible, righteousness means something different. It is an expression of God’s gracious activity to save. God’s righteousness is God’s salvation. It is something that is deeply rooted in the loving character of God.

So Jesus comes to baptism aware of the love of the One whom He audaciously called Father or Abba or Papa. He came to baptism experiencing love, and sharing Abba’s desire that all humanity experience that love.

By submitting to baptism, I think Jesus was saying, “Papa, I am joining you in the joy of making all people aware of your salvation.” Put another way, Jesus was saying, “As you wish.”

Jesus prayed that kind of prayer several times throughout his life. One of the most intense was on the night before his crucifixion. Jesus prayed: “Abba, if it be your will, let this cup pass from me! Nevertheless not my will, but yours be done.” “As you wish!”

At his baptism, Jesus placed himself under God’s call. Nothing was more important than to affirm and live out God’s righteousness. Jesus was saying: “As you wish!”

So, what does this mean for us when we follow Jesus in baptism? Might it mean that at baptism we are invited to catch a glimpse of the righteousness that saves us – that welcomes us as dearly loved children. We are baptized into Christ and in that fellowship, we hear the same promise from heaven: “You are my beloved children. In you I am well pleased!”

Now if we hear that and it makes us feel intimidated into thinking this and awesome chore, challenge, and responsibility, we miss the point.

You see as a people united with Jesus, we are in the same relationship with the One He called Abba. We are God children. We are God’s sons and daughters. We are connected to God in a love relationship. It is not obligation, expectation, or duty that motivates us. It’s love. God loves us.

In baptism – in life – our response is a heartfelt prayer to the One who loves us. And that simple prayer to God is this: “As you wish!”
I remember the day of my baptism. It was hard to forget. I was sixteen and already six feet tall. My pastor was 4’11” in platform shoes.

I might also want to tell you that I am a bit aqua phobic. When he leaned me back into the water, I slipped and began thrash about. I was kicking and flailing my arms.  The members of the choir all became Methodist that morning.

Unfortunately, I had not yet been completely immersed. Being a good old fashioned Baptist preacher, was determined to get the job done. So he kept pushing until I was totally under.

When it was all over, after worship, one of the church deacons came to me and said: “Billy (they called me Billy then – please don’t call me Billy). He came to me and said: “Billy this was a special day. This was a day for to remember that God loves. This was a day for you to express your love for God.”

I have been thinking about that as I have prepared to be here today. I do love God. I have given God my life. My prayer as I remember my baptism is simply this: “As you wish!”

I can tell you this: Sometimes saying that prayer is downright terrifying.

In August, I was feature in news stories from our local TV stations and on the front page of the Richmond Times Dispatch. Don’t worry; I did not do anything illegal, immoral, or unethical. Up till August 20th, I was the pastor of the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond. On that Sunday our historic congregation worshipped for the last time. After ten years as their pastor, I led them to disband as a church and donate their property to a new, younger congregation.

That was the last day of a long journey. In the few years prior we had been walking in darkness and despondency. In the final few years before that closing we have travelled from one graveside to another. We buried nearly 75% of our active membership. We died well. We died with an eye toward mission. We died in a fashion that served to advance God’s Reign in our community. But we did die.

I led a congregation into the graveyard. I wasn’t taught or equipped to do that in seminary. I heard about it happening to other pastors in other places. Statistics tell us that 4000 churches in America close every year. But I did not think I would be a part of one of those numbers. Yet it was the direction God led us. As so we prayed: “As you wish…”

I remember, now, that when I was baptized it was not about me. It was not about my commitment, my emotions, my feeling, my vows, my success in ministry. Baptism isn’t about that. The Gospel isn’t about that. The Gospel is about a God who loves me more than I could even imagine. This is a God who loves me (and each of you) with every fiber of God’s Triune being. The God whom Jesus called Abba love you.

The words aren’t there in the text, but I can’t help but believe that they express the heart of Jesus. Jesus took the brokenness of humanity into Himself and redeemed us all. He did this because it was the passion of God.

The voice that spoke over him (and speaks over us), saying: “This in my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.” This God invites us to join in the joy of making the good news know. Knowing that, we can pray in response: “As you wish!”

 

 

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