gratitude & hoopla: August 2006

gratitude & hoopla

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton


Who's the point?

Jared at Shizuka Blog is sayin' it!
We have not done a great job at making Jesus the point of the enterprise of faith.
Hmmm, could that be the most overlooked elephant-in-the-corner in the history of everything? Read the whole post. It's true and powerful and powerfully true.


BTW, speaking of Shizuka Blog, note the new feature on his sidebar. Books (and music) that have influenced him the most. Jared writes:
This list is a representative sample of the works that have most influenced the thinking and style that direct the unique approach of Shizuka Blog.
Many of them are my influences also. Those that aren't, probalby soon will be. I take Jared's recommendations that seriously.


What's of First Importance?

It’s not easy being mildly unhappy in one’s church. You wonder if it’s just you, and not the church. You wonder if you’re not making mountains out of doctrinal mole hills. After all, the people are wonderful, all your friends are there, etc. But the preaching and the worship leave you feeling singularly unsatisfied. What do you do? Oh, people say you should talk to somebody about it, anybody, except that it’s been clear whenever you’ve tried that negative opinions of this kind are looked upon as bad form, and possibly downright snarky. The subject is always quickly changed.

Okay, so maybe I am being snarky. The thing is, I’d just kind of like a Gospel message now and then. Remember what Paul wrote to the Corinthians, something about something being, umm, of first importance. Oh yeah, the Gospel. Christ crucified for our sins. That whole deal. But I go to a church where people routinely say that other things, such as marriage, or community, or the young people, are the foundation of our church. Never the Gospel. Never the cross.

Oh well, maybe they’re just being, you know, sloppy with words. On the other hand, what ever happened to the wooden cross that had stood in the corner of the sanctuary for years. Oh sure, it wasn’t exactly given a place of honor, which should have been a warning to me, but then it disappeared altogether. And no one seems to miss it. When asked about it, the pastor said, that’s just not the kind of church we are. Uh oh. Red flag city!

Then again, what ever happened to the preaching of the Gospel? Can somebody tell me? Is it just one of those items in a creedal statement that nobody reads . . . too "doctrinal," don’t you know?

I’ve been going through a period of personal re-assessment lately, (perhaps it has something to do with my impending fiftieth birthday), but I’m tired of settling for preaching that would be right at home on the Oprah show (well, almost). I’m tired of trading ancient wisdom for the fleeting will-o-the-wisp called "relevance," of shallow hip-ness and glib self-congratulatory church booster-ism and music that is fervent about nothing more than our own fervor (instead of being fervent about the singular value of Christ and his cross).

And I hate taking this tone. I never expected a perfect church, but as I approach my fiftieth birthday I begin to wonder how many more social-club Sundays I must endure. I’m not looking for a perfect church, but one that puts first things first. Is that too much to expect?

A Forlorn Hope?

Over at Mark Dever's 9Marks website there's a lot of discussion about things "emergent." At this page several theologians are asked, "What do you hope will ultimately emerge from the emerging church conversation for evangelicals?" D. A. Carson's answer included the following:
My most forlorn hope is that as this fad—for that is what it is—burns itself out, rising numbers of Christians will learn a great lesson, and resolve afresh to be passionate about Christ, about Christ crucified, about the gospel holistically considered, and not about fads. As a result, when new fads come along, we will learn from them what we should, while maintaining our allegiance to and excitement in the old rugged cross and him who hung upon it, was buried, and rose again for our justification, so that our reading and praying priorities, the kinds of conferences we attend and the colleagues we cherish and admire, the language we use and the heritage we seek to pass on to a new generation, are all shaped by eternal realities, and not by fads. Soli Deo gloria!
Yup, that's my hope, too. But I too would call it "forlorn" one. But time will tell.


The Foolishness of God

"We are fools for Christ’s sake," Paul says in the first letter to the Corinthians. God is foolish, too, Paul says. God is foolish to choose for his holy work in the world the kind of lamebrains and misfits and nitpickers and odd ducks and stuffed shirts and egomaniacs and milquetoasts and closet sensualists as are vividly represented by us all.

God is foolish to send us out to speak hope to a world that slogs along heart-deep in the conviction that things can only get worse. . . . He is foolish to have us speak of loving our enemies when we have a hard enough time loving our friends. . . . God is foolish to have us proclaim eternal life to a world that is half in love with death. . . . God is foolish to send us out on a journey for which there are no maps, and to aim us in the direction of a goal we can never know until we get there. Such is the foolishness of god. And yet, and yet, Paul says, "the foolishness of God is wiser than man."
Frederick Buechner


Carson on Passion

I'm about a year and a half through D. A. Carson's two part devotional, For the Love of God [Volume 1, Volume 2], and I continue to be amazed, challenged and consoled by its wisdom. From this morning's reading:
Where there is no passion for the Word of God, other passions take over.



We--or at least I--shall not be able to adore God on the highest occasions if we have learned no habit of doing so on the lowest. At best, our faith and reason will tell us that He is adorable, but we shall not have found Him so, not have "tasted and seen." Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun which you could never get from reading books on astronomy. These pure and spontaneous pleasures are "patches of Godlight" in the woods of experience.
C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcom.



No, g&h is not dead, only slightly sleepy. I do want you to know that I've been trying the new Blogger beta and it is a vast . . . and I mean VAST . . . improvement.

I mentioned in my last post that I was experimenting with another blog that would reflect a broader range of interests than this one. I was calling it, for a while, "The 1sr R", because I saw it as a bookish blog of sorts, but really because I couldn't think of anything better. But I'm a little clearer about its purpose now, and so I've also settled on its permanent name. It's called Towamensing, which means "wild place" in the language of the Iriqois (I think).

The reason for that title will come clear as you read the blog (or maybe not). Actually, one primary focus of the blog will be a place to work out my understanding of this nagging story-idea I've got. I'd really like to write a novel, you see, and I believe I'm on the trail of one now. Towamensing is the place where I sniff out the clues. Anyway, I've only just posted once (having discarded all previous experiments), and the blogroll is definitely under construction, but you can find it here if you're interested.

Gratitude & hoopla, meanwhile, will continue. I've in the first week of my new work-schedule, which doesn't allow me to blog in the morning anymore, so I'm going to have to work out a new blogging routine. So I guess you can call this a period of a adjustment. As I said last time, posts may not be so frequent, or so lengthy, but post I will.


Feeling Fluxish

So, here's the story, as of this moment. My job will be requiring me to go to work somewhat earlier now than in the past, so I don't think I'll have the time for morning blogging after this week. And I don't imagine I'll be as inclined to blog in the evening (just not my style!). So for that reason and others, I think (I think . . . ) gratitude & hoopla will be going into semi-retirement soon. Semi-, because I think I will still post here, but quite a bit less frequently. So, I guess you can say that things around here on in a state of flux.

In the meantime, I have been experimenting with establishing another blog that will be focused loosely on the kind of work I do (librarian). Since I'm contemplating writing a novel . . . whimsical me . . . that might be the place for my thoughts on that process too. So it'll be a bookish sort of blog I guess. That too is in a state of flux, you see, and I haven't even settled on a title for it yet. Right now it's being called The 1st R, but I'm not satisfied with that name. Besides, my posting to it has been erratic and somewhat pointless (oh wait a minute, it's a blog, so that's ok!).

So that's how thing's stand at the moment. Infrequent postings here, pointless postings there. And flux all around. This isn't a goodbye post, and I'm not (not yet) completely shutting down g&h, but I'm going with the flow (and the flux) and seeing where it leads. See you later!


Matthew 12: Intensification

In Matthew 12 Jesus repeats and broadens his claims about himself, and as a result the enmity of the Pharisees is stirred to action. Their conflict with Jesus is not merely a philosophical one. They begin to conspire to destroy him.

Note: Jesus' defense against their various accusations (that he has profaned the sabbath or that he is possessed by Beelzebul) is nothing if not deeply sensible. In other words, he is not merely denying their charges, but verbally demonstrating their hollowness. This must have been deeply frustrating to the Pharisees, for they are status-proud folks, and here the carpenter’s son from Galilee is showing them up publicly.

Jesus, for his part, continues to call himself the Son of Man. He boldly claims to be "the Lord of Sabbath," and later "one greater than Solomon." When the Pharisees, mightily bothered, accuse him of serving Beelzebul, he in response not only demonstrates the absurdity of their accusation, but suggests that they have blasphemed the Holy Spirit. He calls them a "brood of vipers," and goes on to suggest that their response to him is crucial to their eternal destiny. Finally, he aligns himself so radically with heaven and with heavenly things as to seems even to deny his own family.

Chapter 12, then, is a chapter of intensification. Jesus' claims have become more radical, more devisive. Meanwhile, the enmity of the Pharisees has also intensified. Finally, it should be noted that, in line with this intensification, Jesus now speaks (no doubt in a veiled manner) of his death and resurrection (v.40):
For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Intensification, indeed.


Notes on Matthew 11

The point of this exercise--blogging through Matthew--is simply to put into writing the thoughts and impressions that "rise to the surface" as I read through the Gospel of Matthew. It is not to “study” Matthew by using various helps, or to speak comprehensively or authoritatively, as if with a settled understnading. I make not pretense at exegetical expertise. As I’ve said before, I’m trying to recognize the arc of the story, see each passage in context, and simply make note of my fleeting impressions.

There's a new note of urgency in this chapter. Jesus has been healing and preaching, and crowds have been gathering, eager to receive from him, and yet there must also have been resistance, and not only from carping Pharisees. Jesus suggests that the proper response should have been repentance (see v.21), but it has not been forthcoming on the scale that he, Jesus, had perhaps hoped for. This "disappointment" seems to lie behind those "woe unto you" passages here.

And yet, the chapter ends with an invitation.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
The yoke is Christ's teaching, his message, and the heavy yoke is that teaching which has heretofore been weighing people down. [see Mt. 23:23]

Also in theis chapter, Jesus speaks of John the Baptist, describing him at a latter-day Elijah, pointing the way to the coming Lord. Pointing to Jesus. On this grounds alone--on the grounds that he pointed out Jesus--he is called the greatest "among those born of women."

Pretty amazing, no? D. A. Carson, in his devotional For the Love of God, V.2, says that our own greatness lies solely here--we "point out who the Messiah is with even more immediacy and explicitness."


On Cross-less Preaching

I have had several discussions lately about the need for the Cross of Christ and the fact of its atoning and redemptive purpose to be central to everything that goes on in church. A lot of people don't seem to want to accept this. They think that the Cross is "understood" and doesn't need to be "harped on" all that much.

That's why this post [What does it matter...] is so timely for me. Another great word from the consistently Cross-centered GospelDrivenLife. Speaking of his experiences in many churches:
I have heard a truncated, therapeuticized Gospel -- I have heard protracted pushes for people to invite Jesus into their hearts -- but I have not heard thoughtful explanations of the Gospel.

Further Notes on Matthew: Chapter 10

Jesus has been performing many miracles of healing, but in chapter 9 he begins to run into resistance from the religious authorities. Why? Because he has claimed the authority to forgive sin. In fact, he has strongly implied that to forgive sin was his primary purpose in coming.

That word, "coming," seems somewhat mysterious in this context. Jesus was speaking and healing in his home counties, not in some far away place to which he had "come." But when he uses that word, he reminds us that he is, or at least claims to be, the coming one that John the Baptist had spoken of.

John had associated this coming one with a kingdom. Jesus, claiming in a not-so-veiled way that he is that one, proclaims relentlessly that that kingdom is indeed "at hand." Christ's miracles of healing only display that kingdom's nearness, signaling that, yes, this kingdom-stuff is for real.

So what have we so far? Jesus heals many, associates healing with forgiveness (a controversial premise) and associates himself -- the one who heals -- with the God-like authority to forgive. Finally, Jesus passes on this combined ministry of proclamation and healing to his disciples. They are to ) proclaima Christ's message that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. And, 2) perform miracles: heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons, etc.

This is yet another stunning fact and unveils to us still more about the nature of Jesus' work and ministry. Note: these men to whom Jesus has assigned a ministry--what Paul would later call a ministry of reconciliation--are to do everything Jesus did. They will proclaim the same kingdom message. They will perform the same kinds of miracles. And just as Jesus has met resistance, so shall they. In fact, they’re going to be flogged, dragged into court, etc. But Jesus tells them that the Spirit will be speaking through them at those times, so they shouldn't be afraid. "Endure," he says. Hang in there. God will take care of you.

You see how in each chapter since Jesus’ ministry began he has ramped thing up, revealing more of his power, and hinting more plainly at what is to come. Now in assigning his authority to others, he is once again displaying the very fact that his authority is not of this world. Everything they do they will do in his name. Their authority is derivative of his. How great then is this man’s authority? So great that he can task it to others, and now fishermen and tax collectors are raising the dead, casting out demons, etc. This little ballyhoo in Galilee that so concerns the religious authorities is now, by means of these disciples, going to spread throughout Israel. And the way people respond to these sent ones -- either accepting or rejecting them -- is taken as their response to Jesus himself. The disciples 'represent" Jesus, act as his official ambassadors, and so are responsible for the message they carry -- it must be Christ’s message and no other. If they "harvest" souls for the heavenly kingdom, it will be in Christ’s name. If they suffer persecution, that too will be in the Master’s name. So be it.


Matthew 9: Harvesting Sinners

So I'm traipsing through Matthew, trying to catch the arc of the story and not get too wrapped up in the details. This is for my own sake, and no one else's. That is, I've got nothing particularly insightful to offer others . . . it's just that the blog is a convenient place for me to do this sorting out of the text.

In chapter 9 we run into some new developments. A little more of the truth about Jesus, and about his kingdom, is being revealed here. Some new pieces of the puzzle are falling into place. [The great puzzle is, by the way, who is this Jesus?] John said Jesus was the coming one, and that he was associated somehow with the near-at-hand kingdom of God. And clearly Jesus has authority, as everyone recognizes. After all, even the demons obey him (8:28-34). And yet chapter 8 ends with the people of the Gadarene neighborhood asking him to leave, and in chapter 9 we find Jesus running into resistance from the religious authroities. So it is clearly a kingdom that, however "near" it may be, is not exactly commandeering the levers of power. In fact, while the spirit-realm obeys Jesus without question, people are not half so amenable.

So, chapter 9. One of the new developments revealed here is that Jesus openly claims the authority to forgive sins. This is, quite obviously, one important aspect of the kingdom's nearness. People get healed, yes, and (in close relationship to healing) people get forgiven. The Pharisees, making their first appearance, are appalled. Jesus may have veiled the full meaning of his ministry at first, but it's clear now that he's claiming something that just might get him in deep trouble. Only God can forgive sins! Christ is stepping on very thin ice here.

In the next encounter with Pharisees, at Matthew the tax collector's place, Jesus succinctly states the purpose of his "coming."
For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.
Hmm, the ice just got even thinner.

The last "episode" recorded in chapter 9 in closely related to this stated purpose. "The harvest is plentiful," he tells his followers. He has been healing people almost without let-up. Crowds are pressing in, Pharisees grumbling. He has said his purpose is to forgive sinners. Now he says, in essence, "There are many sinners ripe for forgiveness. We've got to go tell them that what they're longing for is now available through me." That's the harvest he speaks of. A harvest of forgiven sinners.


The Gospel in the Gospel According to Matthew

In chapters 5-7 we have an example of Jesus' preaching, perhaps the supreme example in all the Gospels. And the truth is, it's not exactly what we might have expected. I mean, hadn't John recognized Jesus as the "coming one" that he had been looking for? And hadn't God confirmed that with a voice from the heavens? And hadn't the Holy Spirit descended upon him in a manner that was apparent to all? But now he is not preaching, as we might have expected, "Here I am . . . the one John was speaking of." He is not preaching, "The kingdom of God is here." No, he's preaching the same message that John preached: the kingdom of God is near. And he's preaching, in chapters 5 through 7, a way of living as we await that kingdom's full "coming."

It is a remarkable document, these three chapters, and one for extended meditation, but I'm going to point out only one matter here. The sermon on the mount is not a gospel message. Isn't that interesting? Why do you think that is?

It's perhaps worth noting that Christ, in inaugurating his ministry by submitting to the baptism of John (Mt. 3:13-15), was in effect "going undercover." That is, for the time being, he was not openly declaring the full revelation of what it would mean for him to assume this mantle of messiahship. Thus, "the sermon on the mount" may be seen as a preparatory message, in advance of the full unfolding of what his coming is all about.

As noted above, it is essentially the same message as John's, and yet it is accompanied with healing. Thus his fame spreads and many come to him, and to these people he preaches his "sermon," a message about the attitude his hearers are to have as they await the kingdom. He is saying, in essence, Yes, the kingdom is near, very near, so see to how you walk. And here are a few pointers: blessed are the poor in spirit, etc.

At the end of this sermon we are told: "And when Jesus finished these sayings the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority...." The wisdom of Christ's words revealed, perhaps, just how the "near" the kingdom really was. This matter of "speaking with authority" was apparently as striking and noteworthy, to those listening, as his healings had been.

And so we arrive at chapter 8. Herein Jesus proceeds to heal 1) a leper, 2) the centurion's daughter, and 3) Peter's mother-in-law, 4) many who were demon-possessed, 5) many who were sick, and 6) two Gadarene demoniacs. But amidst all this we have the first hint, inserted by the author with the benefit no doubt of hindsight, of the full meaning of what Jesus was doing. Was he simply demonstrating the power of the kingdom? Well, there is that, yes, but Matthew seizes the opportunity to point to the fundamental meaning of Christ's healings. Read verses 16-18 again:
That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: "He took our illnesses and bore our diseases."
Isaiah 53 of course. And it is here, in these verses, that the Gospel intrudes on Matthew's story, orienting our understanding. Is Jesus simply waving a wand and making sickness go away. No, in some way as yet not clear, Jesus is "bearing our diseases." What can this mean? We shall have to keep that question in mind as we read on.


8 Characteristics of Salt-and-Light Living

Matthew 5:13-14 (you are the salt of the earth . . . you are the light of the world) is a passage usually spoken of in connection with the subject of evangelism. We are salt and light by being bold about our faith, preaching the gospel, etc. But these verses come in a context that has nothing to do with such matters. They come in the context of Jesus Christ’s discussion of spiritual integrity--or in other words, his discussion of an inward heart-attitude that is consistently and thoroughly "walked out" in the common affairs of life. That is, the faith and the life are perfectly in sync.

So then, regarding salt and light, the light that we are to shine and the "flavor" that we are to add to the world simply by virtue of our being in it, has about it the following qualities:

Beatitude #1 - spiritual poverty or deep humility
Beatitude #2 - a prompt and authentic sensitivity to the pain of others Beatitude #3 - meekness or gentleness (as opposed, perhaps, to a retributive spirit)
Beatitude #4 - a hunger for what is right or in line with God’s character and will
Beatitude #5 - a disposition to mercy or deep and consistent and "natural" kindness
Beatitude #6 - purity of heart (wholeness, integrity)
Beatitude #7 - peacemaking
Beatitude #8 - such a commitment to what is right that one is even willing to endure persecution for it

These are the aspects of salt-and-light-living that Jesus purposefully chose to highlight in this inaugural sermon of his ministry. Much that follows is simply illustration of these 8 important characteristics. I am all for evangelism, I am all for being open about one's faith, but how much more powerful might our "witness" become if it were corroborated by these deeply-rooted character traits?

Oh, and by the way, did I mention that such a life, according to Jesus' repeated emphasis, is blessed by God?

Matthew 5

So here I am happily blogging along in that off-hand seat-of-the-pants spur-of-the-moment way that we bloggers often do--and then I come to Matthew 5, for crying out loud. The so-called "sermon on the mount," about which so much has been said, for so long, by so many. Here are some of the most disturbing--and silencing--words ever spoken.

So, I'll just say this: note the virtues that Jesus extolls here. Poverty of spirit, mournfulness(!), meekness, hunger and thirst for righteousness, merciful, purity or cleanness of heart, peacemaking, and a commitment to what is right so stubborn and true that it draws down enmity and persecution (how's that for interpretive license!).

I am struck once again at how antithetical these values are to what we would call a happy well-adjusted person. This is either complete hogwash (as many believe it to be), or the deepest truths ever spoken.

Ask yourself: how well do our leaders in the church display these characteristics? How well do we? My God, how well do I?


Matthew 4

Well, I hadn't really planned this, but perhaps I'm going to blog through The Gospel of Matthew. As I said yesterday, I'm just trying to overcome my own familiarity and read the text with "fresh eyes," and I'm using these blog-posts to help me do so. I'm reading one chapter a day, so stay with me and perhaps we'll learn things together.

Matthew 3 ends with the baptism of Jesus and the descent of the Spirit of God upon him. In The Presence and the Power G. E. Hawthorne writes:
Immediately after Jesus was baptized, the Spirit descended upon him, entered into him, filled him without measure, and remained within him. The consequence of this crisis event was that the entire course of Jesus' life was forever changed. From this moment onward the directing and empowering impulse of the Spirit of God ordered the way he was to go, the things he was to say and do.
That's something I hadn't thought about before. The descent of the Spirit was a kind of crisis in his life. What would come after was going to be in some way drastically different than what came before.

And what's the first thing the Spirit does? Leads him into a desert wilderness--in fact, John the Baptist's old stomping-grounds--where he'll be tempted by the devil. Note this: he is led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted. Yup, that's what it says at 4:1.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
To put it another way, it was a part of God's plan for Jesus that his Spirit-led ministry should be inaugurated by a close-encounter with evil, a full-frontal assault of the enemy. This was the first demonstration, for Jesus' benefit alone, of the power that the Spirit's presence would give him.

It kind of reminds me of a verse I read this morning:
It is good for me that I was afflicted, / that I might learn your statutes. Ps. 119:71
Or, in Jesus' case, It is good for me that I was tempted, that I might learn the real power of your indwelling Word.

Well, much more can be said (and has been) about all these desert temptations, but in the end Jesus comes out of that experience as a sort of new and improved John the Baptist, preaching exactly the same message ("Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand"), but unlike John accompanying that preaching with healing on a massive scale. People come flocking of course, and this carpenter's son from Nazareth seems invested with a power heretofore unknown. The obvious question, for one reading this account 2000 years later, might be: Okay, but what's all this about a kingdom?


Extraordinary Jesus

So I'm reading Matthew again, one chapter per day, trying to see the story of Jesus with "fresh eyes." Trying to catch that note of awe in Matthew's voice. Trying to remember how utterly shocking this strange tale is.

In the first chapter we learn of the extraordinary circumstance of Jesus' birth. He is the one foretold, born (of all things) to a virgin. Now, if you stop and think about it, that's a pretty outrageous statement, but one we have managed to turn into a line of bloodless doctrine. In fact, of course, it's a stunning indication that, well, something extraordinary is in the works.

Chapter 2 has eastern magi picking up and leaving their distant lands in pursuit of a star, for crying out loud. How strange is that? They realize, apparently, that the world is about to be turned upside down, and the evidence is on display in the heavens. Herod also realizes this, but his intentions are different. Yes, evil is stirred to action--dreadful action--by what is about to happen in little Bethlehem.

Then, chapter 3. Thirty years or so have come and gone. John the Baptist. Freaky desert guru, proclaiming the soon-coming fulfillment of ancient prophecy. His message: you better repent now, because the Lord is coming. Many people take him seriously. They seem to understand that life as-we-know-it has run its course. Something's happening. Something's on the way. Get ready!

It's useful to stop for a moment and look at the verbal formulations with which John describes these extraordinary at-hand circumstances:

v.2 - the kingdom of heaven is at hand
v.3 - the Lord is coming (quoting Isaiah)
v.7 - this coming will involve, for some, wrath
v.11 - the coming one will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire
v.12 - His winnowing fork is in His hands (judgment)

Okay, this guy could be out of his mind, who knows? But people take him seriously, and many repent, coming down to the Jordan for baptism. Clearly, they want to be counted righteous by this coming one, they want to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. They want to be wheat, not chaff.

Then Jesus shows up, down by the riverside. This one whose birth, recall, was extraordinary. He is baptized by the somewhat shocked and dismayed John, and then the Spirit of God descends upon him. However this was manifested, it was an apparently visible sign. And then, to top things off, people hear a voice. Does it thunder from the skies? Or does it whisper in the inner sanctum of each man's heart? "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

Just imagine being there. Extraordinary. Crazy stuff. No one will believe it when I tell them. But this guy, this Jesus, from Nazareth, this ordinary man, could he really be the kingdom-bringer that John keeps talking about? The Coming One, here at last? Here? At last?