The Baptism of Jesus
January 20, 2013
Isaiah 43:1-7 and Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22
Today in Church we baptize Makayla Elise Osborne, daughter of Eric and LeAnn, and Godchild of Jeremy Still and Resha Watkins
“Como se llama?” Me llama Barbara” It’s the first thing you learn in Spanish class. How can you have a conversation with someone if you don’t know their name? Names are more than a handle to identify one person. Names have power. Right after the commandment about not having any gods before Yahweh, comes the commandment to honor God’s name and not to “use it in vain.” In the Hebrew Bible, people often got a new name after something important happened to them. Abram accepted God’s promise to be the father of many nations, and God changed his name from Abram, meaning Father, to Abraham, which means Father of Many. Biblical names describe the gifts people are, Isaac means laughter, Joshua and Jesus mean Savior of his people.
Long before Harry Potter, Ursula LeGuin wrote a series about a boy who discovered he was a wizard and had to learn to use his gifts. His name was secret, and part of his work was to discover his true name. You can only share your true name with people you have tested and can trust, because if someone knows your name they have power over you
The power to name someone is a gift, not to be taken lightly, because the names under which we live will shape us into who we become. So when God says “I have called you by name, you are mine,” it is no small thing. There are hardly any times in the Hebrew Bible in which God speaks directly to people rather than through the prophets, but here, God tells each one of God’s people that they are named and claimed. “when you pass through the waters I will be with you, through the rivers they shall not overwhelm you, when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned.” These words were spoken to people who carried their stories with them into exile, and despaired of ever coming home. They knew the story of the Red Sea, and crossing on dry land. They knew the story of the burning bush that was not consumed, and that God walked with the people in the desert as a pillar of fire. They knew that they crossed the Jordan River on dry land as they entered the Promised Land. These stories reminded them that God was with them, that God protected them, and that they were always in God’s care, even in the disasters which befell them.
And so in the story of Jesus’ baptism, we hear John summon up water and fire and the Holy Spirit. And then we see how it happens. I imagine Jesus in a crowd of people being baptized, stepping into the water, and allowing John to dunk him. The heavens open and that promised Holy Spirit descends. The voice from heaven names him, “you are my beloved.” Kinda makes me wish I’d been there to see it. The Holy Spirit enters the picture in such an obvious way, and Jesus’ new name is pronounced over him. He goes immediately into the desert then to spend time absorbing his new commission. And when he comes back, he is ready to go to work, calling his disciples, healing and teaching and raising the dead.
What we do here today may look different, but it isn’t really. Makayla is not just an ordinary baby, we are not just an ordinary congregation. Like every baptism, we as the Body of Christ, welcome this gift of life, healthy, beautiful, unique, into our community to be with us the manifestation of Jesus’ presence in the world. The water we splash on her is not from the Jordan River, but is linked with God’s promises of forgiveness, of life everlasting, of God’s presence with her through her whole life. We name Makayla God’s beloved, as we were named Beloved at our own baptism. She is named and claimed as we were named and claimed. Now nothing about her is the same, she is forever part of God’s family in a public, proclaimed way, part of us, part of Christ.
When you go home today, and stand in front of the mirror to wash your face, splash it again, once more, and remember that God has called you by name, you are God’s own. You are not just ordinary, either. When you walk through danger, you will not be overwhelmed because God walks with you. Your name too, is Beloved, and no one, nothing that ever happens to you on this earth can take that away from you. All of this is a gift. It is purely God’s love at work because we do nothing to earn it, nor can anything we do change it or take it away from us. We call it grace, this unearned, lavish love which is always poured out on us, which makes us God’s own and God’s people together.
Luther wanted everyone to understand not only these personal parts of what it means to be baptized, but also the objective part. The fact is that whether you feel worthy or not, you are God’s Beloved. No matter what you have done or failed to do, in your baptism you become God’s own. Never fail to remember that you are loved, you are part of God’s family, God’s household, as you are part of this community, Christ’s body here on earth. Amen.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy in believing that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.