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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 3:15–17, 21–22

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized 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.” (NRSV)

Much as I wanted to focus on the last verse of this passage, I kept getting caught by John’s words about Jesus to the expectant and questioning people. “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Ouch.

In an effort to understand this better (and probably distract myself from “unquenchable fire”), I read a little about winnowing and threshing. To review: winnowing is the process of separating the seed of a grain from its chaff, or husk. Threshing comes before, when one is loosening the bran from the husk. Obviously the seed is the valuable part, what the farmer wants. In this process the weight of the seed makes it fall to the ground (or threshing floor) while the light seed covering gets blown away (or, apparently, burned up) because it is worthless.

And what does this agricultural digression have to do with baptism? I’m not sure. But I’m starting to think that Jesus’ winnowing fork has something to do with helping me let go of my “chaff.” What might that be? The outer covering I put on to keep my true self hidden. The lightweight (and worthless) personas I wear because I think they’re what other people want to see. The trite and annoying (think popcorn husks between teeth) tricks I’ve developed to avoid acknowledging who I am really am and what I really do. Letting go of these could be almost as scary as unquenchable fire.

When God said, “You are my Beloved, with you I am well pleased” to Jesus, God was naming and claiming what was most essential about Jesus, the truest seed of his soul. Throughout his ministry, Jesus must have been sustained by the memory of this moment. Surely it must have helped him sort out what was hefty enough to hang on to and what could be winnowed away.

Maybe the memory of my baptism can do the same for me this year.

Jesus, you who became human like me, thank you for separating my wheat from my chaff. On this feast of your baptism, help me to live up to, and into, my own. Amen.

Written by Susan Quaintance, Director, Center for Life and Learning

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