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Saturday, 9 January 2016

What if God was One of Us?

In some countries, Joan Osborne is a proper one-hit wonder. Most of us have never heard of her - I had to Google her to find out who she is - but she recorded a song that many know, which has always nagged at me. The song is "One of Us", and in case you don't know it - this is the chorus.
"What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make His way home." 
It sounds like it's just slightly disrespectful - what if God were a slob like one of us? Not really polite to us. But then I read this from Luke 3:
Now when all the people were baptised, and when Jesus also had been baptised and
was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in
bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved;
with you I am well pleased.’
In Luke's version there's no mention of the singling-out of Jesus that Matthew tells us about. And even though Luke has told us that the baby John the Baptist recognised Jesus even when they were in their mothers' wombs, we aren't told by Luke what passed between them. Simply, when all the people were baptised and when Jesus had also been baptised. He's part of the crowds that come to John, and he's baptised and he's there with all the others - barely noticed until the voice comes down from heaven. The voice from heaven picks out the anonymous Jesus - there among all the others - and says "you are my Son, the Beloved." And the question what if God was one of us - starts to find an answer. If God were one us - God would look like us, blend in with us.

Baptism is a sign of death - in an immersion baptism, you're plunged down into the water as if into the grave. And then, as a sign of life, you're dragged back out into the light. Everybody dies. And if God was one of us, then God has got to die as well - although it's not something natural for God. If God was one of us, then God can't behave like a day-tripper, wandering into a crisis scene to get a selfie and then wandering back home, unscathed and unstained. That's why Jesus was baptised - to show his solidarity with us. And he didn't just go through that symbolic death - he walked up out of the water and headed his face towards his real one.

"Just a slob like one of us"? Well, that was the accusation that they threw at Jesus later. When he stepped out from the anonymity and started healing, and John was dead and so Jesus started teaching. They said, he has a demon in him. They said, he's a drunkard and a glutton. They said he was the friend of tax collectors and "sinners". They watch a woman pour perfume over his feet and wipe it away with her hair and they say - what's he doing with that woman? His mum comes to get him and says, "Come home, son - you're very likely mad." And they beat him, whip him, spit on him and nail him to a cross and mock him - hanging there so useless. They didn't know he was finding his way back home.

Baptism is a sign of death - but also of new life. And after days plunged into the waters of death - they became the waters of new life and he broke free. Free to make his way home. Free to set his Spirit loose upon us, as the Spirit was poured upon himself. Free to identify with all of us.

And if God was one of us - just another ordinary person - it turns out that he identifies with some people in this world of ours more than we might really want. It seems that he identifies with the poor more than most others. Which means if God is one of us - you may see the face of Jesus in somebody you carefully walk round - eyes averted so as not to recognise their humanity - in London, Bedford, Luton. You may not think it's a good idea to give such people money straight out - I don't think it normally is. Nut that doesn't mean you can't help - whether that's through charity, through politics, through your local homeless drop-in or food-bank. The eyes of Jesus can be looking at you when you least expect it.

Jesus's baptism is a sign that God is one of us. God has become one of us - plunged into the world, facing the power of death. Knowing poverty, homelessness and helplessness. But in becoming one of us, he makes us like God. He joins himself with each of us - especially the least likely. And he raises us up - as we are raised through baptism - to take us back home.


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