Last Sunday as we celebrated Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan River, we noticed something that often goes overlooked. This sacred ritual took place in, well, the wrong place. The right place for this would have been, should have been the Temple in Jerusalem. That’s where righteous Jews went for such things. Why? Because this was where God dwelt here on earth. The faithful came to God, not the other way around.
What does it say about Jesus, what does it say about God, that Jesus’ baptism and the divine blessing that attended it took place not in Jerusalem but in the wilderness, that this sacred moment was overseen not by a temple priest but an unsanctioned cousin?
And what are we to make of the breaks from convention that follow Jesus’ Jordan River baptism?
Here’s the first of what will be many—just a few verses before our reading this morning, two of John the Baptizer’s disciples—Simon Peter and his brother Andrew—had Jesus pointed out to them.
“Look,” the Baptizer said as the freshly baptized Jesus passed by. “Here is the Lamb of God.” Knowing nothing about Jesus, this truth about him was nevertheless obvious and the two immediately became Jesus’ disciples.
This was not at all how rabbis traditionally gained followers. No, rabbis would situate themselves at a synagogue and in the course of teaching would be approached by students hoping to be taken on as disciples.
So again, tradition gave way to a new way with Jesus. Even before he said a word, even before he had given a talk about scripture or tradition, even before he had a chance to demonstrate his worthiness as a teacher, as a rabbi, already Jesus had two eager disciples in Simon Peter and Andrew, men for whom Jesus’ identity and authority was plain.
Our lesson this morning picks up the following day. And now, for a third time, we bear witness to a break from tradition. This time, it is Jesus who is doing the noticing, not the other way around.
Jesus lays eyes on Philip, then Nathanael, and in an instant understands they are perfectly suited to be his disciples. “Join me,” says the unconventional rabbi, the God-man on the loose in Galilee. “Join me,” Jesus says. And without hesitation, they each do.
We have all heard stories, some of us have even lived them, of two people just looking at each other and knowing. Just knowing.
Although this has never happened for me with a love interest, it has certainly happened with friends, colleagues, and mentors. Those first encounters felt like happy reunions. Everything we needed was already there.
If we can step away from the details in the gospel, if we can set aside what the church has (or hasn’t) taught us, the story I see unfolding in these opening days of Jesus’ public ministry is how there is something in God and something in us that is always seeking out the other, something eager to draw close, and then quick to recognize the value and validity of the connection when it occurs.
God’s Spirit seeks out and then falls upon Jesus at the Jordan and even before Jesus has said a word or done a cotton pickin’ thing, God says “With you, my child, I am well pleased.”
The next day Jesus strides past John, Andrew, and Simon Peter, and all John has to do is say “Look. This is the Lamb of God,” and the two brothers see Jesus and are drawn to him like iron filings to a magnet. Then the following day, it’s Philip and Nathanael who are magnetic and it’s Jesus who is drawn to them.
In the Hebrew Bible, Psalm 42 to be exact, there’s a line that describes what’s going on here: deep is calling to deep. Deep is calling to deep.
Throughout Jesus’ life, we will see this divine dynamic at work. People of every size and stripe will draw near to Jesus not merely because he is charismatic or, for some, a spiritual curiosity, but because people see in Jesus something, someone they recognize, something that some part of them has always known.
Borrowing from another tradition, we might call these namaste moments: the God in them recognizes the God in Jesus.
And the God in Jesus recognizes the blessedness, the “made in the image of God”-ness of others. We see this today with Nathanael and Philip.
We see this too in the scene from Jesus’ ministry when he spies that dirty little tax collector Zacchaeus perched in a sycamore tree. Jesus calls up to him saying “Get down from there, Zack. I’m having dinner at your house tonight!” If you know the story, you that this meal will change Zacchaeus completely.
In another scene, Jesus goes to a well in the middle of the day where he meets a Samaritan woman with a complicated past. She says nothing and still he understands. When at last he speaks to her, Jesus conveys such love and acceptance that the woman recognizes exactly who Jesus is–her living water. Realizing who Jesus is, she also discovers who she truly is.
Deep calls to deep. It happened at the Jordan. It happened in Galilee the next day and the day after that. It happened again and again through Jesus’ ministry. And it happens still. It happens to me and it happens to you. Deep calls to deep.
When deep calls to deep, it’s almost impossible not to respond. When deep calls to deep, we know. When deep calls to deep, we find ourselves willing and able to do what may make little earthly sense.
Forget what others might say. This is not foolishness or impulsivity. This is what happens when we are sought out and found.
Deep doesn’t need a resume to recognize our worth. Deep does not need proof or a reason. When deep calls to deep, we don’t need to find pencil and paper to jot down a list of pros and cons before we respond. Deep recognizes deep. Before a deed is done, before a word is spoken, before anything transpires, deep blesses, deep affirms, deep calls to deep and deep answers back.
Of course it’s not always as simple as this. The depths of God no doubt call out to our depths long before we notice. It’s often when we look back that we can see the breadcrumbs God has scattered. We see the not-so-random sequence of events, the successes and the failures, the inner tugs and the outward efforts that have all come together to bring us to that moment when at last we hear deep calling to our depths.
Surely this is what happened for Joe Biden in 2017 when he decided he would make a run for the White House. Retired from public office at the time, deep called to the deep in him when the unthinkable happened in Charlottesville, Virginia and the President of the United States refused to repudiate the racism and white supremacy that fueled that violence.
Deep called to deep in the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. King had many formative experiences, many heartbreaks and furies before the moment arrived when he recognized and then responded to what he would later call “an inner urge to save humanity” from the sins and suffering of racial injustice.
From that moment of clarity on, King had a conviction, an inner authority, a blessing from beyond he could call upon, an inner sense of God with him that would guide his steps and inform his efforts. How else could he possibly have proceeded? How else could he have continued on a path of discipleship that was so incredibly treacherous?
Deep is forever calling to deep. Not in some blanket way, not in general. But in particular. That divine effort, that holy reaching toward us is always tailor made for us. Not only as individuals but also as communities of faith. It’s always personal, never impersonal. Deep always calls to deep in the most specific of ways.
If you aren’t convinced, spend some time today keeping company with Psalm 139. There the poet eloquently, movingly describes a God who has been intimately connected to each of us even before we were born. A God who knows each of us from the inside out, from the marrow of our bones to the very tips of our fingers. “You knit me together,” the poet writes. “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Deep is ever calling to deep. To your deep, which is not the same as mine.
Deep is ever calling to this church’s depths, which are depths with contours and gifts, realities and capacities that are not the same as any other church in our community, in Colorado, or even on this continent. That we exist at all is a testament to this. That we heard ourselves being spoken long before we were born is proof, is it not?
We do not need to be Jesus or Joe Biden or Dr. King to be beloved, to belong to God, to be worthy or of use. We do not need to be anything other than who we are, as individuals and as a faith community.
We do not need to present God with a list of reasons why we should belong, why we are worthy to be Jesus’ disciples. We need only be who we are, blessed before we have even said a word. Beloved before we’ve done a thing. We are known and loved by God long before we had any inkling of our truest natures.
And it’s from all this that we proceed. That we can say with confidence “This is me. That is not. This is my calling but that is not.” God blesses each of us in all the same ways God blessed Jesus. Blesses us ahead of time, yes, and also with the capacity to be who we are because we know whose we are.
Pray with me please:
Gracious God, thank you for breaking from tradition. Or rather, thank you for breaking tradition open so that we can relate to you more fully and freely. Thank you for working through Jesus, that we might be liberated from thinking of ourselves as somehow unworthy or imagining that we need to abandon our uniqueness, our peculiarities so that we can be good disciples.
Grant each of us the strength to be unabashedly who we are because we, like Jesus know whose we are. Grant this to each community of faith, as well, that we all might be beacons of love, light, joy, and yes, even justice.
All this we pray as we follow in the way of Jesus. Amen.