Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"Not about you..."

Message preached January 13, 2002
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon  Matthew 3:13-17

Order of Worship

            Perhaps youíre familiar with that recent country music hit song from Toby Keith, in which he sings this to his girl:

"We talk about your dreams and we talk about your schemes
your high school team and your moisturizer cream
We talk about your nanna up in Munci, Indiania
We talk about your grandma down in Alabama
We talk about your guys - of every shape and size
the ones that you despise and the ones you idolize
We talk about your heart, about your brain and your smarts
and your medical chart ... and when you starve
You know talking about you makes me grin
but every now and then
I wanna talk about me, wanna talk about I
wanna talk about number one ... oh my me my
what I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see
I like talking about you - you, you, you, usually
but occasionally I wanna talk about me."
                      (written by Bobby Braddock, © 2001 DreamWorks Records, to hear a clip)

            Thatís a fun song to listen to and sing along, a favorite of a few persons I know... By the way, we have a battle of wills in our family car when it comes to what we listen to on the radio while traveling down the road. Sound familiar? One of us wants to hear the "country" station, another prefers "rock." We have all sorts of kidsí tapes to plug in as well. Now, I like my NPR talk shows or classical music, and "you know who" would love just a few moments of quiet. Who wins this "war" of wills depends on how close they are to the radio or how loudly they can make their claim.

            Anyway, for some reason this song - "I wanna talk about me" - just wouldnít go away as I studied the story of Jesusí baptism, as told by Matthew. Itís a narrative about Jesus, but it also involves another character - John the Baptist. Face it, the career of this "other" guy, John, was primarily one of talking about someone other than himself. You know, I wonder if he ever wanted to just "talk about me" for a change? ... In all four gospels John is portrayed as a voice in the wilderness preparing the way of the Lord (Matthew 3:1-6, Mark 1:1-5, Luke 3:3-6, John 1:22-23), echoing the prophet Isaiah (40:3-5). He was very direct in what he said, nailing folks about their sin. You, you you, "You brood of vipers," he called the Pharisees and Sadducees, the professional "holy men" of the day (Matthew 3:7-10, cf. Luke 3:7-9 where he calls everyone that).

            Now, John wasnít the kind of guy who paid much attention to his outward appearance. "Camel's hair with a leather belt around the waist" (Matthew 3:4, Mark 1:6) was not exactly the height of fashion, even then. I doubt he preened for hours in front of a mirror like some folks I know. Furthermore, itís probably a good thing he was in the water quite a bit baptizing people, otherwise the smell might have grown a bit overwhelming. At least thatís what I think, standing here a couple thousand years later...

            No, John wasnít a fellow focused upon himself. He spoke pointedly to others about their sinful ways, calling them to repent, and he pointed beyond himself to someone else. "I baptize you with water," he said, "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" (Luke 3:16, see also Mark 1:7-8, John 1:26-27). According to the fourth gospel, John the Baptist "came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him." However, "he himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light" (John 1:7-8). The "true light," Godís "Word" in human form, was Christ Jesus (John 1:9-14).

            John spent his life talking about "you, you, you, usually," calling people to turn to Godís Messiah. However, in this morningís text, I hear a bit of the refrain that "occasionally I wanna talk about me." Did you catch the tune as we read the story? Here John was - working away in the chilly Jordan river, calling people to repent. Along came Jesus to be baptized, himself, by John. It then says that John would have prevented this from happening, saying "I need to be baptized by you." That is, "what about me?"

            Now, I know this wasnít a selfish move on Johnís part, an attempt to shift the focus to good old "number one" and "what I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see." That wasnít John. This was not his song. If anything his melody was exactly the opposite. His humility - putting himself last - is almost embarrassing to behold. It was so then. It is so today. About Jesus, the Baptist said this: "He (Jesus) must increase, but I (John) must decrease" (John 3:30). Those are not words for climbing the corporate ladder, for getting ahead in the world. If anything, John confessing his own need to be baptized by Jesus, instead of the other way around, is an example of a man who puts himself down in order to lift up somebody else. To be honest, thatís just as uncomfortable to observe, as it is to watch someone put other people down. "You, you, you, you brood of vipers!"

            Whether or not John ever felt the need to focus upon "me," upon "I," upon "number one ... oh my me my," is not really the point. The fact, however, that the rest of us do feel that need is the point.

We talk of Josephís dream and we talk of Herodís scheme
how Christ came to redeem and God remains supreme
We talk about heaven and we talk about leaven
We talk about seven and forgiving guys like Kevin (?)
We talk about Godís work, and how the devil is a jerk
We talk about the church, and leaving sin in the lurch
We talk about the heart, not just the brain and our smarts
and our missionary charge ... and how the poor starve
You know talking about this makes me grin
but every now and then ... I wanna talk about me...

            I venture to say that most of us have very "me" oriented reasons for coming to church on a Sunday morning. Please donít hear that as a "put-down." Iím not calling you a "brood of vipers," though there are times when us church-folks can be very much like the scribes and pharisees of olden days - out of touch with the daily personal need to repent, to drown our sin and rise by faith beyond "me" into the arms of the Great "I am who I am." Yes, it is often for very selfish reasons that we come to the water on a regular basis. And thatís okay.

            Of course, some of our me-oriented reasons may have more to do with "what I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see," than with what God thinks, what God likes, what God knows, what God wants, what God sees. Thatís understood. Itís always been that way. Jesus himself began his ministry - after leaving John the Baptist at the Jordan river and spending time in the wilderness getting his priorities straight - he began by first addressing the needs of people. Folks came to Jesus because they needed to be healed, because they were hungry, because they were attracted to miracles. Is this wrong? No. Now, is this where Jesus left them? Again, no.

            The shift he made is the shift we need to make ourselves whenever we turn to God. As nice as it is to focus upon "what I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see" - to stay in that location is deadly. The truth is - itís not about me. Itís not even about you. We gather together to touch something beyond "you" and "me." In fact, in our gathering we discover that - in reality - it is a power beyond us that has drawn us together to this place. Itís not our own needs, thoughts, preferences, tastes, wisdom, desires, even our own sight that matter in the bigger picture. If we leave this place not having wondered over the ways of God, not having pondered what God thinks, what God likes, what God knows, what God wants, what God sees, then we will go forth from here empty. Worship is not about "you," itís not about "me."

            Consider, again, that scene at the Jordan river, with John the Baptist crying out as a voice in the wilderness for people to repent. Each person has come to this place - out of their own needs, their own thoughts, their own desires - to hear what John has to say of God and maybe to be plunged into the water in response. One person in particular then steps forward. According to Matthewís gospel, John has never met this man before. In Lukeís gospel, they met while each was still in his motherís womb (1:41). Now, thatís going pretty far back!

            Jesus steps forward for John to baptize him, and John stops as he recognizes the One for whom God had called him (John) to prepare the way. "I am not worthy to carry his sandals," John had told people earlier (Matthew 3:11). In that moment he says to Jesus, "I need to be baptized by you..." Itís an interesting statement that only Matthewís gospel remembers. Did an awkward pause follow? I mean, who should baptize who first? Was it like two men trying to make their Gustave Dorť, 1866way through a hug? Probably not, but itís sometimes fun reading between the lines of scripture at what isnít said.

            What is said next, however, are the very first words that Jesus utters in Matthewís gospel. And since this gospel comes first in the New Testament order we have received, these are the first words we "hear" from Jesusí lips. What he says, if youíll allow me to paraphrase, is - "Just do it. Itís the right thing to do. For itís not about you, or even about me, itís about God and what God is doing."

            The good news is not about you, or even about me, and thatís what makes it "good" news instead of just news. Itís about God and what God is doing. Likewise, worship is not about you, or even about me, something to remember in these days when believers clash over traditional versus contemporary styles of worship. Worship is about God and what God is doing. That is where it truly begins and ends. That is its substance. We come together, indeed, each out of our own sense of need - "what I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see." But thatís not where we remain. In a way, we are like John when it comes to worship - "He must increase, I must decrease." But thatís not a put-down, a masochistic, self-deprecating move. For you see, my friends, only when God increases in us do we increase, do we grow in faith.

            Brothers and sisters, we have been drawn to the water and to that voice from heaven, who said of Jesus long ago, and who continues to say right now, by way of whatever tongue will dare speak it - "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased" (3:17). "I wanna talk about" him, listen to him, follow him, love him, commune with him. But itís not about me. Just like itís not about you. Itís about the One who says, "I am."


(cartoon © Gospel Communications International, Inc - www.reverendfun.com)

©2002 Peter L. Haynes

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