On the Power of More-Than-One
January 9, 2022
Isaiah 43: 1-2, 4
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you…
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you…
Luke 3: 15-22
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison.
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Today’s sermon is titled On the Power of More-Than-One.
It is truly amazing how the focus of our lives can be redirected in an instant. A Friend last week received a phone call that her adult son had a hemorrhage near his brain stem and needed emergency surgery. She dropped everything and jumped on a flight out west immediately. My eldest daughter recently tested positive for covid and within an hour all plans and appointments had been canceled. I’m sure you remember exactly where you were last year when you heard about the violence at our nation’s Capitol building. For hours, nothing else seemed to matter. I could not believe my eyes and I could not think about anything else.
In such moments of crisis, our personal world shrinks and compresses to allow us to keep our focus and, all of a sudden, what we care about most stands out in stark relief against the everyday details of life, like grocery lists, bills, and the daily chores. But then, after a few hours or a day or two, something else begins to happen. A few phone calls and emails go out and love and care and concern start to flow in. There’s a word for this: community.
The root of community is the word common. Listen to this meaning from Webster’s Dictionary, “belonging to, open to, or affecting the whole.” Community is created when one becomes more than one. Community does not have to be large to have a large effect. Especially in times of crisis, a community of two can make all the difference in the world.
Both of our scripture readings for today testify to the power of community, the power of more-than-one. The words from the prophet Isaiah carry what may be the most tender message in the entire First Testament. This is a message of acknowledgment, acceptance, protection, and affinity. It brought tears to my eyes when I read it for the first time.
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned…because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you…
The message that rings true in these words is “we are not alone.” There is a force of goodness in the world that compels us to reach out to one another, to empathize, to care, and to help. We are not alone. This morning I heard a story about newlyweds who were stranded in the traffic jam on I-95 this week. They had not planned to spend all night in their car. They had no food. It’s nearly impossible to stay warm without food and water. They made it through the night and in the daylight of early morning they spotted a bread truck from Schmidt Bakery ahead of them on the freeway. The couple looked up the phone number for the bakery on their cell phone and within 20 minutes they were surprised to hear back from the owner of the bakery based in Baltimore. He had already radioed the truck driver and asked him to open up the door of the truck and begin passing out food to anyone who wanted it. The couple walked up and down the lanes of stranded vehicles, passing out so much more than food. They gave hope, warmth, and assurance. We are not alone.
Jesus was not alone, either, on the banks of the Jordan river. We read, “The people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming…”’ Jesus came… with no title, no lands, no credentials, and no fanfare. He came to the people who were waiting there by the river, expectant and questioning. We learn in the Gospel of Matthew (3:15) that Jesus had to insist that John baptize him, saying, “…it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”
Right from the very beginning, Jesus does not place himself above anyone else, he places himself among them. He offers himself to the waters of the Jordan, offers himself to be raised up by the hand of his cousin, John, and is praying when (the scriptures say) “the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.”
This moment is not just about Jesus being anointed as the Messiah. This is the moment that the people gathered with him there on the riverbank witnessed his anointing. In so doing, the gathered community becomes what author Ismael Ruis-Millan calls “the messianic community-the body of Christ on earth.”
He receives much more than a divine blessing by the Jordan river that day. Jesus receives a community…a community that will bear witness, time and again, to his baptism and his anointing. Jesus is not alone. He begins his ministry with community. He begins his ministry in community. Jesus is not alone and neither are we.
Times of crisis are inevitable. There will be times of crisis in our personal lives and we will likely face more times of crisis as a nation, but hopefully none so violent as January 6, 2021. The historian, John Meacham, said this week, “The Constitution was drafted, in part, to curb our worst instinct.” Human flaws are unavoidably reflected in popular government. “Democracy is a manifestation of all of us.” I would say that Christianity, too, is a manifestation of all of us, for better or worse. Our faith community is a manifestation of all of us, as well. We are not alone. We all rely on the power of more-than-one. We rely, as Jesus did, on the power of community.
In closing, I celebrate that in our togetherness, we can become more than we ever imagined. In our togetherness, we can weather illness, loss, grief, failure and times of hopelessness. In our togetherness we can safeguard our Republic and ensure that the democratic ideals that so many fought and died for will be inherited by future generations. We are not alone, Friends. We have one another and we are guided by the force of goodness we call God. So be it. Amen.
Beloved God, I thank you for the precious gift we receive when we look to Christ as the embodiment of your highest wishes for us and for our fulfillment as human beings. Our inmost fears and our inmost joys are known to you before we can put them into words. You have gifted us with the ability to feel so many different emotions and it can, at times, be overwhelming. Empathy for our brothers and sisters and the struggles they face can be painful to bear, Lord, and yet through this deep feeling, we become more alive, we become more humane, and we come closer to the place within where you reside. Help us to remember the life and example of Jesus Christ, that we may learn to empathize without feeling depleted, and that we may learn to let the love of God flow through us to others. With willingness and devotion, I pray in the name of Jesus, who gave us this prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.
I leave you with these words from the book of Colossians, chapter 3: “Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and forgive one another, as the Lord has forgiven you.” Amen.