In sunlight or in shadow

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In sunlight or in shadow, preached by Revd Keith Underhill 8th January 2017.

You may well recall how at my welcome service last September, I showed one of my all time favourite paintings — the supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio

One of my many other favourite artists, is the American Edward Hopper — perhaps his most famous and iconic painting is this one, which is going to appear before you now — Nighthawks painted in 1942. If you wish to see the original, you'll have to travel to Chicago, to the art institute, where it proudly hangs.

One of my Christmas presents this year is this book In sunlight or in shadow — it is a collection of short stories collated by the acclaimed American crime writer Lawrence Block.

What connects all these different stories, what holds them altogether is that each one is based on, or inspired by one of Edward Hopper's paintings.

The story that is based on Hopper's Nighthawks, is written by Michael Connelly, himself a crime writer, the creator of Harry Bosch.

In this short story, based on Nighthawks, Bosch is surveiling a young woman and follows her into the Art Institute where she sits on a bench and looks at the said painting. Sitting close to her, he is shocked when she strikes up a conversation she then says Who are you?,

"What do you mean", Bosch replies, thinking his cover may be blown.

"Which one of them do you identify with?" She asks, "You've got the man by himself, the couple who don't look all that happy to be there, and the man working behind the counter. Which one are you?"

That question, who do you identify with, is in fact at the very core and centre of the short Gospel lesson from Matthew that today's lectionary offers us.

Here we have John the Baptist doing a roaring trade in the waters of the Jordan as people come flocking to him to be baptized.

The baptism that John is offering is to wash away their sins, their misdemeanors, their accumulated detritus of a shared, common humanity and into this scene, comes his mother's sister's son asking to be baptized.

But why? Certainly that was in John's mind, as he questioned Jesus request, pointing out that surely it should be the other way round.

For Jesus didn't need to be baptized as a symbol of rejecting his past and his sins — because he hadn't any.

Jesus was the perfect person — the only person never to have sinned. He had nothing to be forgiven for, no need to be baptized, as a sign that he had turned away from self and towards God, from what was to what would be.

So why did he insist that John should baptize him, what was going on in this episode in the river Jordan then?

I firmly believe that Jesus sought out John to be baptized in answer to the young woman's question to Harry Bosch, which one are you, who do you identify with?

In being baptized by John in the waters of the river Jordan, Jesus shows us his identification with all of humanity.

Jesus is standing with us, as one of us. This is the good news as well as the challenge, the answer as well as a question.

The good news that we have not been abandoned and that we are not alone. That God in his great love and mercy decided to become like us so that we might become more like him.

So in effect, what began at Christmas continues in his baptism.

What was symbolically demonstrated at the manger side is symbolically re-enforced in the waters of the river

What was symbolically begun by shepherds and wise men is continued in the person of John the Bap.

Jesus identifies himself with all of humanity and makes the point so powerfully that although he is the Son of God, he is also the Son of Man. He is one of us.

Remember the communion hymn written by Patrick Appleford Lord Jesus Christ? Where we find the words;
Lord Jesus Christ, you have come to us, born as one of us — Mary's son — that is what is going on here, Jesus is once again, showing his oneness with us — he is identifying himself with us.

It was the poet Milton who said; "God forsook the courts of everlasting day to dwell with us in a mortal house of clay"

Jesus bap in the river Jordan shows us once more the truth that began that first Christmas that he identifies fully with us in our need. This is present throughout his incarnation as he subjects himself to the limitations of a real human body and in this instance identifies himself not with his need for cleansing and forgiveness and the wiping away of his sins, but of ours!

If that is the good news and the answer, then what is the challenge and the question.

Well the challenge so pertinent for today, as we renew of covenant, is simply this, who do we identify with? Surely it must be with the one whose name we seek to own?

For as St. Paul reminds us in Philippians 2
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!

Who do you indentify with?

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