The Baptism of Our Lord
January 8, 2012
Maybe you’ve know someone like my friend Greg. Greg was golden. I don’t think he ever had an unconfident moment in his entire life. His parents worked hard and made a comfortable life for him, their only child. He went to prestigious private schools and was a star student. He’d always known he wanted to be a pastor, had been an outstanding youth leader in his home congregation. When I met him in seminary, he was working on an advanced degree. He was brilliant, charismatic, obviously gifted as a preacher and teacher. He was handsome with a smile that could light up the universe. He wasn’t arrogant, he was just confident, as if it had never occurred to him that he would not be able to do anything or have anything that was important in life.
“And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ “ The Beloved. What a title. I think of Greg when I think about that title, that confidence that comes from being treasured and encouraged and enabled to grow fully into being a gift from heaven. This morning as we stand on the riverbank and watch Jesus come up out of the water, as we watch the heavens torn open and the Spirit of God descending like a dove on him, I want to encourage you to think about your own baptism. This is what has happened to you. You came, maybe in your parent’s arms, already treasured as a gift, and were sprinkled, or drenched in water which had been blessed by the Holy Spirit, and bound with God’s promise. You were given the title of Beloved, God’s own child, as you were lifted up. You were safe with God forever, according to God’s own promise, the one that was sealed with Jesus’ resurrection to eternal life for you and for all.
In your baptism, you were set aside, selected as God’s favorite, blessed to be a blessing to all you encountered in this world. You were set on a path of ministry, of courage, of inspiration by God’s Spirit, which was poured on you, to be God’s own person in the world. Do you remember? Probably not. If you were a baby, you wouldn’t remember. If you were a child or more grown up when you were baptized, maybe you didn’t notice the change from ordinary to fabulous that your baptism conferred on you. It happened, but the worries of everyday, the hardships of making it through life, the tragedies that accompany our journey, can steal that fabulousness from us.
This is a sad, hurting world. We know it so well. Our own failures, our own hurts pull us away constantly from the life that God intends for us. We see God’s commandments to love God first, to hallow God’s name always, to remember Sabbath, to honor parents and protect life, to be honest and protect our neighbor and their stuff, to be faithful as husbands and wives. AAAAARRRGH! We never seem to be able to do it. Not really. Not faithfully. All our best intentions get undermined without us even knowing how it happens. And so we feel so far from being what God wants and loves, that we forget about God’s forgiveness and restoration.
Martin Luther said that when that happens he reminds himself, “I am baptized.” The truth about us is that even at the time when we feel the least fabulous, the least confident of being God’s Beloved, is when we most need to remember it. I think of my friend Greg, with that smile, that talent, that openness to the world that holds no fear for him. What a gift to be able to live everyday with that kind of trust in the world.
So I say to you, don’t let sin, your failure, your imperfection, your doubt, your fear keep you from living as God’s Beloved. You have been given the gift of being God’s Beloved. You are golden. God’s Spirit lives in you, making a way when there seems to be no way, giving you hope, leading you forward into the Light of Christ.
This reading is the first one in the season of Epiphany, the season in which we hear stories about how the Light of Christ is made manifest – shines in the world around us that often seems so dark. This is the very beginning of Jesus’ own ministry, and we see what gives him the courage for the work ahead. The heavens tear apart and God’s own Spirit descends so gently. You are my Son, my child, my Beloved, God says. In this season, we want to encourage you to see yourself as bearing the Light of Christ in your own life. We want to encourage you to reflect on things you do every day – the kindnesses, the small and big things that send you out of your way to be helpful, to serve, to encourage, to love the world. We want to encourage you to see them as the things you do because you are God’s Beloved. Jesus is not just an example of the way God’s people live in the world, Jesus is the gift that makes it possible to live as God’s people. In his death all your sin and imperfection is healed and forgiven, in his resurrection, the power of evil to keep you away from God’s love is broken forever. You are golden. You are Beloved. You have nothing to fear. As God’s Beloved, you are called into your own ministry of faith and faithfulness, a light that shows that Christ lives in you. Take courage. Live the Light. God’s Spirit lives in you.
Now may the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.