Turning PointPosted: January 13, 2013
SLIDE 3: EPIPHANY – BAPTISM OF JESUS
Epiphany means to be revealed, and during Epiphany season our scriptures focus upon stories of the revealing of Jesus to the world. Last week we focused upon the Christ Child revealed to the Wise men, this week we concentrate on the baptism of Jesus.
The three Synoptic Gospels Matthew, Mark and Luke were clear that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. The Gospel of John, however, tried to finesse that issue by never actually presenting the baptism of Jesus. Probably by the end of the First Century, when the Gospel of John was being written, the early church was embarrassed to admit that Jesus had been a follower of John.
SLIDE 4: ARE YOU THE ONE?
What happened, when Jesus came up out of the water after his baptism? Were the dove and the voice seen and heard by anyone else? Hollywood usually presents the dove and the voice as if everyone present could see and hear them. The voice and the dove may have been subjective experiences of Jesus alone. We don’t know, but we can speculate. Apparently even after Jesus witnessed the dove and heard the voice, John continued his ministry as if nothing had happened. According to the gospels even after John had been arrested he sent two of his followers to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one we have been looking for, or should we look for another?” This represents a level of uncertainty that is inconsistent, if John had seen the heavens open, a shining dove descend, and heard the voice of God from the heavens.”
SLIDE 5: MAJOR LIFE TURNING POINT
Whatever happened, Jesus’ baptism was a major life turning point for him. His life could never be the same after that experience. For many people who want to believe that Jesus had a fully developed messianic consciousness even at birth, the very idea of a turning point in Jesus’ life is blasphemous. If he experienced a turning point, then that would call into question the very idea that Jesus was pre-destined to be the messiah, the son of God. And experiencing a turning point is just somehow too human for someone we want to put on a pedestal, so we don’t have to follow his example.
But what if Jesus was truly human like us? What if the significance of the Jesus story is we are supposed to follow him and try to put into practice the hard things he taught in our own lives like loving people we don’t like and forgiving people who hurt us, and sharing our stuff with others?
SLIDE 6: SIGNIFICANT TURNING POINTS IN OUR LIVES
I think our scripture is asking us to consider significant turning points in our lives, and how God has been involved in those important moments. If God is still speaking, maybe God speaks in those decisive moments in our lives. We might all wish God would send a dove and a voice or sign posts to give us direction and point the way. Most of the time, however, we don’t even know we are at a turning point, until we look back in hindsight. Also turning points at least in the moment are seldom as clear as they may seem years later. Consider that after his baptism Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness considering the implications of his call to messiahship. He had to work through several temptations in that time of contemplation. Perhaps he was even questioning the very meaning of the dove and the voice during his forty days in the wilderness.
As we look back over our own lives what kinds of events might have been turning points? Everyone is different. But allow me to suggest some common turning points in people’s lives as we think back over our own lives.
SLIDE 7: RELATIONSHIPS AS TURNING POINTS
Relationships with mentors are often experienced as major life events for people: a significant teacher, a coach, a pastor, a counselor. I remember my father sharing with me that he had dropped out of high school and was digging ditches, when a chemistry teacher, who was also his football coach got a hold of him and said, “Fran, if you don’t finish your education, you’ll never amount to anything!” Now, I don’t know if it was the eloquence of the coach or the ditches he had been digging, but he did go back and finish high school, and then went on to college, and finally earned a doctoral degree in educational psychology and taught at the University level for thirty years. Significant mentors can be experienced as a turning point in our lives. Did you have a significant mentor?
SLIDE 8: PEERS INVOLVED IN OUR TURNING POINTS
Significant relationships with peers, friends, partners, spouses, roommates can also be turning points in our lives. My best friend in 8th grade, Ken McCall, changed my life. During the Cuban missile crisis Ken shared with us that his father, who was the chief programmer for the targeting computers at the Strategic Air Command, had told him that the bombers were parked on the runways, and the crews were sleeping in the planes, ready to take off within 2 minutes notice. Ken didn’t know it, I didn’t even know it at that point, but the realization that we all faced the possibility of nuclear annihilation started me on a journey into the ministry. It was a turning point.
SLIDE 9: RECOGIZING TURNING POINTS IN HINDSIGHT
Sometimes only in hindsight do we perceive and understand those turning points. Maybe Jesus didn’t understand how the dove and the voice were turning points until he spent time in the wilderness and John the Baptist was arrested opening the way for Jesus’ ministry. Look back on your own life and appreciate God’s hand in the turning points in your life.
SLIDE 10: SYNCRHONICITY – THE CLEMSON RING
Another way God’s hand can appear in the turning points of our lives, is through coincidence, or as Carl Jung preferred to call it synchronicity. My father suffered a horrendous life accident during World War II. He was wounded — took three machine gun bullets and shrapnel in the stomach. It was a miracle he was still alive, when they were finally able to transport him to the field hospital. When the triage medic saw his massive abdominal wounds, he tied a tag on Dad’s toe, gave him a shot of morphine and set him aside. By all rights my father should have died there in the hallway of the Field Hospital.
But then a surgeon came walking down the hallway, and he noticed Dad’s Clemson Ring. The surgeon was a graduate of Clemson. He took the tag off of father’s toe, took him into the operating room and after operating for twenty-four hours saved Dad’s life. What a turning point – coincidence – synchronicity? Dad believed it was God’s hand.
SLIDE 11: GOD’S PRESENCE THROUGH GUIDANCE
My father also credited that surgeon for changing his life in another way. Three days after the surgery, when Dad finally became fully conscious, the surgeon stopped to see him. He asked my father what he had done before the war, and Dad said he had been in construction for Southern Bell Telephone.
The surgeon said, Well we did our best to put you back together, but I can’t guarantee you will ever be able to lift more than five pounds. Education, we will need a lot of good people after this war in education.”
That thought stuck in my father’s mind, and gave him direction for what to do with the rest of his life. Did someone speak a special word to you after a life accident? Think about that. Maybe God’s hand was present in that turning point.
SLIDE 12: MAKING CHOICES
What are some other ways God can be present in the turning points of our lives – like making choices about school, marriage, career choices, or other life accidents like parenthood? And what are other signs of God’s presence in our lives – unexpected gifts of love, gifts of guidance, or what about what I call spontaneous prayer.
SLIDE 13: SPONTANEOUS PRAYER – HELP! THANKS! WOW!
Have you ever been in a situation, maybe you were brought up short by a crisis, or a surprise, or you were overcome by awe, and you found yourself muttering a spontaneous prayer like: “Oh my God,” or “Holy ____,” or “Thank you,” or “Help!” Anne LaMott claims there are three essential prayers: Help! Thanks! Wow! I believe those spontaneous prayers are evidence of God’s presence. They aren’t holy or pietistic prayers, but they are real prayers, and when we are being real, we are closest to the divine.
Now why am I encouraging everyone to go back to meditate on the turning points in our lives? Because I believe if we can begin to see God’s actuality in our lives in hindsight, we can start to recognize and appreciate God’s presence in the present moment.
SLIDE 14: REVERENCE FOR GOD IS THE BEGINNING OF KNOWLEDGE
Allow me to share part of a Still Speaking devotional by Ken Samuel on the importance of acknowledging the importance of God in the present moment, based on Proverbs 1:1 “Reverence of God is the beginning of knowledge.”
How many times in the past year have we not acted and then regretted it? How many times have we made decisions without praying, and then prayed to mitigate the damage caused by our bad decisions? How often do our plans and agendas relegate God to an after-thought?
SLIDE 15: BEGIN EVERY ENDEAVOR WITH PRAYER
The New Year gives us an opportunity to do some things differently. The wise writer of Proverbs begins with one simple but often neglected insight: “The fear or the reverence of God is the beginning of knowledge.” The wisdom here has to do with how we begin. We are encouraged to begin every day and every decision with the acknowledgement that God is with us, God is working in us and God is watching over us. We are encouraged to begin every endeavor with the acknowledgement of God’s presence, God’s promise and God’s power.
SLIDE 16: PRAYING IN THE PRESENT CAN CHANGE OUR FUTURES
By learning to appreciate how God has been with us in the turning points of our lives, we might learn to reverence and pray in the present and thus change our futures. How much better we might be if we prayed before we did something, rather than regretting what we’ve done? Or maybe by praying regularly we can become motivated to act, rather than leaving something undone that really ought to be done? Let’s learn from the turning points of our pasts, and thus change our futures.