This passage today is a reminder to me that conversion is not about the condition of my soul, my salvation, or myself as individual. It is about the Church and how it understands itself as it sits in relation To God. Conversion is about God’s will unfolding in this world whether we show up for it or not. The New Testament is filled with a variety of stories that defy the demand for a specific formula for the “conversion experience.”
- Peter was called when Jesus asked him “who do you say that I am?”
- The second chapter of acts tells a story of conversion of a large group of people.
- There are theologians of the Reformed tradition that think that conversion is a lifelong process—that it is the work we do in relationship to our understand of God’s grace and will.
- For some, it is instantaneous—as in the physical healings Jesus performed.
- For others, it requires interpretation.
- For Paul—it involved physical blindness and instruction.
The point is, that God calls as God desires. The church is not a human made structure demanding obedience to rules, money to continue the agenda, unquestioning loyalty to a cause, and a pedigree for admittance. The church is a group of people that have gathered together because of a call God had on their lives. It is the unfolding of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. It is God’s response to the suffering in the world and it is fueled by God’s power poured out through the Holy Spirit.
This calling, or conversion is reflected in Isaiah’s servant song. This is 1 of 2 servant songs in Isaiah. We can’t be certain that they reflect the same individual, or if they are attributed to two different ones. It is also not a closed off scripture that points only to the Messiah. The New Testament writers explained the function of Jesus through the Jewish scriptures. Isaiah is a reflection of this because it highlights how God works in the world. This passage highlights what conversion is.
- It is a calling, a choice that God made—it’s God’s tag on your life.
- It is a proclamation of God’s delight in the one called—God picks you because of the love and desire for connection that is God’s nature.
- It is a task that we are required to perform—The task is to advocate for the oppressed by bearing witness to God’s divine justice in this world.
And the lack of partiality in God’s choosing is upsetting, it is exciting, and it is world reversing! It makes people uncomfortable because it forces us to look at our unwillingness to be inclusive and loving and compassionate to those that we do not think are aligned with God’s will (our will, rather). Divine justice is found in the extension of mercy and in restoration of relationships. It is lifting up the unsavory other people over there to the level that you esteem yourself. Higher, in god’s estimation. And it’s a very real challenge.
Such a clear example can be found as we reflect on our social media interactions. Most people move in circles where we are comfortable, where our people think the same way about the same issues and we aren’t pricked by the conscious and morals of others that might cause offense to the way we think the world should be.
And then something pops up that is outside the norm…someone voicing thought different than yours about issues on Immigration, how criminals are treated or should be treated, opinions about elected officials, systemic racism of the American culture, LGBTQ inclusion.
Where ever you land in your own thoughts, when you are confronted by the thoughts of others that are not aligned with your own, it can get uncomfortable.
Peter is a perfect example of the disciples’ reluctance to include others.
And again, we are confronted by God’s choices, God’s will for our righteous actions, God’s lack of partiality for inclusion. God’s justice involves healing, a reformation of oppressive political structures, advocating for the oppressed. It revolves around attending to the physical cares of ourselves and others, kindness, and hospitality.
The Church is a show of God’s power to move and act as needed in this world. And it can’t be stopped.
Matthew’s gospel reading today told the story of Jesus’ baptism by John. John, knowing exactly who Jesus was, did not consider it proper for him to Baptize Jesus. But he consented as Jesus, in his authority declared that it needed to be done this way to fulfill all righteousness. Which is to say to DO the revealed will of God. I want to break this down a little bit more. God, incarnate in the human Jesus, whom John called the Word…through which all of creation came out of…that aspect of God…came to earth. God, even incarnate as a human, cannot stop this restoration and unfolding of new creation. It is God who is speaking when Jesus says it needs to be done this way to fulfill my will. And that will is the unfolding of divine Justice.
John goes along with it, whether he thinks he’s worthy, whether he understands or not, we don’t’ know, Matthew doesn’t share that. He just does it. And proclamations from Heave occur. And it is a mirroring of the passage in Isaiah. This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am we pleased.
God calls us.
Conversion isn’t the end of the story. It is not the goal “to win the souls for whatever”.
Conversion is the beginning. It is out response to God’s presence in our lives—even and especially when we don’t recognize it. It is the retelling of the story of God’s call on our lives.
These stories of conversion are the church acknowledging that God is not partial. It is a celebration of the life of freedom from sin and newness of our position as child of God—through the Grace of Jesus Christ.
So we attend to the task of divine justice, in openness to the movement and call of the Holy Spirit, in fulfilling righteousness as we go.
May it be so for you, may it be so for me, may it be so for all of us. Amen