Chaff, as you know, is the stuff that comes along with a grain of wheat, a sort of outer skin. Think of it like that piece of husk that sometimes shows up in your bowl of oatmeal.
Humans cannot digest chaff; so besides its annoying presence in a loaf of bread or a bowl of oatmeal, it is nutritionally worthless. It’s no wonder that John uses this metaphor to describe the in-breaking of God’s incarnate One. We don’t remove the chaff because it tastes bad—many people find beets to taste bad, but they’re packed with nutrients. We remove the chaff because it is worthless; it takes up valuable space needed by those whom Jesus will summon to follow him into the fires of baptism. If the chaff follows, it will be useless. In fact, it will simply burn up.
Disciples are made of stronger stuff, able to withstand the temptation to put self ahead of neighbor, profit ahead of justice, or fear before faith. We don’t blow away with the winds of change, but hold steadfast to the call to follow.
We learn something of this unique following when Jesus joins John down by the river. Jesus is dunked beneath the water and rises to hear the eternal words, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Over the next forty days he will face a trio of well-documented temptations. And then he will get on with gathering the wheat, making disciples.
No chaff here; it’s blowing in the wind. There is only wheat, solid and nutritious, ready to be made into the bread of life.
“According to the grace given to you, will you . . . serve as Christ’s representative in the world?” (Baptismal Covenant I, The United Methodist Book of Worship).
Water is an important theme throughout the Bible. The authors of scripture use water as an image of transition and sometimes challenge, and they tie it back to God’s renewing work. Isaiah records the divine promise that God will not abandon Israel, even if they pass through trying waters—a reference to the deliverance of the Israelites from the Egyptians. The psalmist declares that God’s voice covers all the waters, so nothing can come against us that is beyond God’s reach. In Acts we see the connection between baptism—passing through the water—and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The emphasis is on the inclusion of the Samaritans, a group considered unclean by many but not by God. We see clearly the connection between water baptism and the Spirit in the baptism of Jesus himself.
Read Isaiah 43:1-7. Isaiah presents an image of God’s favor that is at once particular and universal. How do you experience God’s love for you and for all persons as part of the body of Christ?
Read Psalm 29. God’s creation, in its wildness, incorporates destruction. In the face of disaster, how do you find a way to say, “Glory”?
Read Acts 8:14-17. Our baptism is in the name of Jesus and the name of the Spirit. To what wildness does the Spirit prompt you?
Read Luke 3:15-17, 21-22. Remember your baptism and listen for God’s call out into the wildness of the world.
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