Monday, January 10, 2011


This sermon was a conversation that Edwina Landry (first year seminary student at Gettysburg seminary) and I had on Facebook the week leading up to Sunday January 9th.

Sermon – Jan. 9, 2011
Text: Matthew 3:13 -17

Jonathan Hopkins
What struck me about this morning's readings was the righteousness.
In the passage from Isaiah we hear that God will send a "servant" and he has been called in "Righteousness".
Jesus before being baptized tells John that they should do this so that all "righteousness" might be fulfilled.
Righteousness is a word that happens to be part of the Biblical witness and our lives as followers of Jesus Christ.
I was realizing that I never really thought about righteousness before. I have given lots of thought to justice, justification, and sanctification but not righteousness.
So my question is what does it mean to be called in righteousness, and to fulfill righteousness?

Edwina Landry
According to Webster's dictionary, righteous means to act in accord with divine or moral law; free from guilt or sin; morally right such as a justifiable or righteous decision.
Jesus is free from guilt and sin and therefore can be called righteous, but by that definition how can people be righteous when we are all sinners?
Job was considered a righteous man and he was certainly not sinless.
In the case of Job, he was righteous because he was faithful in following God.
I think righteousness therefore, has more to do with a right relationship with God and Jesus unites us with God therefore making us righteous.

Jonathan Hopkins
I can tell you are in your first year of seminary all about the Old Testament :-)
I believe you are right that it is Jesus uniting us with God that makes us righteous.
In our Baptisms we are drowned in the water and cleansed from sin and death.
Not that we will never sin again (that is a heresy. I forgot which one, but you will probably know since you are at seminary) or that we won't die.
In Jesus Christ we are given forgiveness from our sins and eternal life.
Baptism is what gives us the ability, strength, and call to go out and live righteous.
Meaning we follow the will of of God.
This of course is a slippery slope because the question becomes what is the will of God?
How do we follow it?
Help me out here.

Edwina Landry
Old Testament - ha, ha - it is important you know. :-)
As far as heresies, we have not learned about those yet.

What is the will of God?
That IS the question isn't it.
We all ask ourselves that question.
We wonder if the decisions we make are the will of God or if they are merely our own will, at least I wonder that.
I guess that is why Jesus asked us to pray The Lord's Prayer and ask for God's will to be done and not ours.
And we can study the Scriptures to see what God's will is for us.
Prayer and Scripture study are what help us determine God's will for our lives.

Edwina Landry Pastor Jon Hopkins said in the first sermon at Concordia when faced with deciding between two choices, "it's all a crap shoot" because God is with us no matter what choice we make.
Ah, still one of my favorite sermons! :-)

Jonathan Hopkins
You should be careful who you listen to.
I hear that Pastor Jon Guy has long hair and is weird. Well, Pastor Jon Hopkins is on to something, but I think that righteousness is about doing something.
I think the texts itself gives some ideas on this matter.
Jesus is the messiah, Son of God, or whatever other great title you want to give him.
Jesus gets that title not because he rules over people with an iron fist but because he gives himself away.
Jesus is not afraid of John's ministry and therefor has no problem being baptized by John.
Likewise, John submits his own feelings thoughts about the Messiah to the will of God.
I often think the will of God is whatever the opposite of my personal desires is.
God wills what is good for the neighbor and for others not what is good for me.
Righteousness comes from putting others ahead of ourselves and putting God above all things. What do you think?

Edwina Landry
Yes, and Jesus exemplified this righteousness.
He did not want to suffer and die on the cross, but it was necessary.
He agonized in the garden and prayed "let this cup pass from me" but only if it was God's will.
He relinquished His own desire for the will of the Father.
The concerns of others came before what Jesus wanted.
He asked us to do the same when He gave us the new commandment to love our neighbor.
This leads me to another thought.
The commandments are considered righteous (Psalm 119) - Sorry to quote the OT again! - and the pharisee in the NT thought he was being righteous by following the law.
But Jesus is the fulfillment of the law, so righteousness is not just following the law, but following Jesus who is the new commandment.
What do you think?

Edwina Landry
In looking at the text I also am struck by the phrase that "John would have prevented him..." I wonder if this means that by John or anyone of us not fulfilling our role in the ministry of Jesus, by not doing what we were sent here to do, we prevent the will of God. We are necessary, as John was, for the fulfillment of all righteousness.
It is a relationship and that is what baptism does. It brings us into that relationship. Thoughts?

Jonathan Hopkins
This is amazing a person from Gettysburg seminary and another from Philadelphia seminary agree!

It is a great point that John is necessary in this case.
John just like Jesus has to be open to the will of God as do all of us.
We have to play our part and listen for the ways that Jesus is calling us even if we don't think this is what we want.
The key for me is to maintain that relationship with Jesus and to listen to the places I am being called.
I think this is a good time to stop talking all this theological mumbo-jumbo and to talk about our lives.
Tell me a time when you found it hard to follow God so that you might fulfill righteousness?

Edwina Landry
I know there are several examples in my own life, but the most obvious one is the one I am struggling with right now and that is my time at seminary.
I felt for a long time that this was God's will, but I fought it.
How did I know it was God's will and not my own?
For one, my resistance, but more importantly, it was the people of God who saw that it was God's will and kept encouraging me to follow this path.
I did not want to go and leave my family, get rid of all the possessions I worked hard to get, face the loss of some people in my life because they did not agree.
It is incredibly hard physically and emotionally, but I am really getting to know God more deeply through this experience.
I think that is key to knowing when it is God's will because when we follow God, our relationship becomes deeper and despite moments of doubt and fear there is a peace that transcends it.
Following the will of God does not mean we always want to do what is asked of us, but we know it is necessary and in that respect it fulfills righteousness.

I think of the people every day who get up and work at jobs they don't particularly like - sometimes even hate - but they do so because they put their families first.
Or, the kids in high school who are so tempted to follow the wrong crowd and make bad decisions, but they don't and because of that may feel alone.
Sometimes people do make the wrong choices and get themselves into serious trouble and they check themselves into rehab and make the tough choices to turn their lives around.
These people are following God even if it is hard, and in doing so fulfill righteousness.

Edwina Landry
What about you?
Can you tell me of a time when you found it hard to follow the will of God so that you might fulfill righteousness?

Jonathan Hopkins
The issue of call is not just for pastors of course.
All of us need to consider God's call to us.
What is our Baptismal call?
What has God called us to do in this world for our neighbor?

I was thinking about the everyday decisions I have to make.
How hard it is to fulfill righteousness.
In particular there was this one time when my wife asked me to call my mother to ask her about when we would be having dinner.
I totally forgot about it.
When she asked me if I had called my mother my first thought was to lie and tell her I did.
As a husband I am called to tell my wife the truth.
I was going to lie because I thought it would save her from being mad at me, and save me the embarrassment of having to admit I failed her.
This is the thing about righteousness it cost us something of ourselves.
This cost me some of my honor.
The Good News is that my wife forgave me and we moved on in our relationship.
That is the key in our relationship with Jesus the more honest we make the easier it is to get back on the right track.
Here is the other problem.
The story I told did not just happen that one time.
It happened many times, and will probably happen again.
I think that living in righteousness is not so much about always doing the right thing (impossible anyway) as it is about truthfully owning up to our failures.
On a deeper level it is about recognizing our desire to protect ourselves from embarrassment, shame, or from being the best.
This is what is really so extraordinary about Jesus that he is God's only begotten Son but he lived as one of us.
He fully took on our humanity and shared in the same baptism as us.
Righteousness comes from his humility at being human.
Ours should come from that same place.

Edwina Landry
Yes, I can think of times when I was late for work due to my own poor time management and I could have easily made up an excuse because I didn't want to look bad in my boss's eyes. But I knew that telling the truth was the right thing to do and I had to accept the consequences if there were any.

There have also been moments when I have lost my temper and yelled at my children when I shouldn't have. I had to apologize and confess that I was wrong. I think it's critical to say I'm sorry when we have made a mistake and re-open the lines of communication and get the relationship back on track.
As a person who is plagued by perfectionist tendencies, it is important to value the righteousness that as you say comes from humility at being human. We cannot, as you said, be perfect, but in acknowledging our failures we are humbled and drawn closer to Jesus who makes us right with God.

I recently watched an episode of Oprah who interviewed J.K.Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books.
She went from being desperately poor to now one of the wealthiest people in the world, but she remains extremely humble.
And she remains humble by understanding and talking about the benefits of failure.
In a 2008 commencement speech at Harvard, she said "failure is a stripping away of the in-essentials" and through failure she stopped pretending she was anything more than what she was. She went on to say that "rock bottom (failure) was the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life and it is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all."

Edwina Landry
Through baptism - not just once, but a daily baptism - we acknowledge our failures and are stripped away of the in-essentials.
What is essential is the righteousness of God.
And relying on God's grace that we receive through baptism and the sacraments, we have the courage to really live life boldy and not cautiously.
We are not afraid to avoid failure, but live in the promise of the grace and forgiveness of God.

Jonathan Hopkins
Well said, even for someone who is going to that other seminary :-)

Let us go forth and live in our baptisms stripped of our in-essentials. So that we too might fulfill all righteousness.

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