Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | January 13, 2008

2008.01.13 “Remember Who (Whose) You Are” Baptism of the Lord Sunday

Central United Methodist Church

“Remember Who (Whose) You Are”

Baptism of the Lord Sunday

Matthew 3:  13 – 17

January 13th, 2008

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  (Matthew 3: 13 – 17, NRSV)  

On this second Sunday of January, we journey to the banks of the Jordan River, where John the Baptist is preaching. Suddenly, Jesus approaches, and wow, he’s no baby anymore — he’s 30 years old.

Only one Sunday after the visit of the Wise Men to the manger in Bethlehem, what happened?  I know children grow up fast, but did we miss something? Where’s the childhood snapshots, the birthday parties, the graduations from Temple School or Bar Mitzvah? 

Apart from Matthew’s exclusive story of Jesus’ visit to the Temple in Jerusalem at age 12, we don’t get them. The authors of the Gospels had no interest in writing an exhaustive biography of Jesus, which we might have liked, but a theological summary: the big events, where God’s glory shows through. Surely it was evident at his birth, but the next big event was his baptism. That’s what the word “epiphany” means: “appearance”, or “revealing”; specifically, the revealing of God’s glory in Christ.  So, every January, after Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, we attend his baptism in the River Jordan. 

We revisit Jesus’ baptism, because — for most of us — we can’t revisit our baptisms.  The water has long since dried, we may not remember it, the place where it happened may no longer even exist.

And why would we even want to do this?  Because that’s where our basic covenant with God was made, and our identity and destiny as a child of God sealed. 

A covenant, in the Bible, is a two-sided agreement in which both parties agree to certain things.  If God does this, I will do that.  If I do that, then God will do this. Which party to the agreement is most important?  Both. 

Baptism is such a covenant.  It is the beginning, not the end, of faith.  It is God’s gift to us, which evokes response in us. I doubt, when we do it at whatever age, we ever understand it, that’s why it takes a lifetime to learn it.  I’m glad we Methodists don’t practice believers’ only baptism, waiting until we’re old enough to “understand” it.  Some of us might never be baptized.

And why should we, of all times, revisit baptism in cold January?  Because, chronologically, after Jesus’ birth, his baptism is next.  But also because, now, in the New Year, when we are making (and breaking) new year resolutions, what better time to remember and review what is most fundamental about us, the deepest and clearest reminder of who (and whose) we are.

I wonder if that wasn’t Jesus’ experience, the function of his baptism in his life? Perhaps ridiculed from his childhood as the illegitimate child of Mary, left without a father by the early death of Joseph, both derisive and demonic voices may have taunted him long before his wilderness experience: “So you think you’re special — Jesus, Son of Mary — you don’t even have a Father.” “Who do you think you are?”

      In a sermon a few years ago, John Buchanan imagined someone asking Jesus how it happened, and Jesus saying:

“So there I was, standing in the crowd, listening to John, and all of a sudden my whole life passed in front of my eyes, all thirty years of it, and I was filled with a sense of anxiety and anticipation and expectation and I knew I was at a turning point, that I had to decide now what to do with the rest of my life. So for some reason I found myself walking into that river and asking John to baptize me, and he did, pushed me under the water and pulled me back up, and as I stood there a little embarrassed, feeling foolish, soaking wet, water running down my face, tears suddenly came, and it was as if the sky opened and God’s Spirit — almost like a dove — came down and I heard a voice addressing me, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.’”  (“Grasped by the Power of Love,” John Buchanan, Pastor, The Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago, January 11, 2004)

      What if the story is even told because Jesus remembered and told his disciples about it and the story was passed along until Mark, Matthew, and Luke wrote it down. And so it’s there because it was so important to Jesus, the day he was given a name and told to whom he belonged.

The late Henri Nouwen, in his book, Life of the Beloved, says these words spoken by God over Jesus at his baptism — “You are my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” — are also the most important words spoken about us, and reflect the most intimate truth about us.

Says Nouwen, there are so many voices in society and in life who seek to tell us who we are, perhaps the most critical being our parents.  Did their voices tell us — can we still hear them telling us — that we are worthless, or stupid, lazy or unloved? For some those are fatal pronouncements they never escape. There are so many people who suffer from low self-esteem, which leads them to lead outlandish even tragic lives in search of acceptance.  Parents: be careful what you say to your children: it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Sadly, sometimes even the church has resorted to such demeaning language, to keep people in a state of dependency, rather than encouraging each and every Christian to grow up and become the mature son or daughter of God that God intends us to become.  

On the other hand, says the Rev. Rosemary Brown, in a sermon preached five years ago on the Protestant Hour:


“For us to hear God’s voice speaking those words in the deepest core of our being, as the deepest truth about us, more indelible than the most corrosive comments anyone can make, can be one of the most powerful and formative experiences of our life, and can bring about a greater degree of peace, trust, and intimacy with God than we have ever known. To hear those words spoken of us, to know this truth about us, renders our life in a new perspective, and provides the only true motivation for a lifetime of discipleship and service.” (The Rev. Rosemary Brown, “The Apple Of My Eye”, Sermon preached on the Protestant Hour, March 12, 2000)


        And, in fact, that is exactly what happens.  For when our identity as children of God is revealed, so also is our destiny.  Who and whose we are, reminds us of what we are called to do.          

        That’s why the story of Jesus’ baptism echoes, and in worship, is accompanied by the reading of Isaiah, chapter 42:

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,

my chosen, in whom my soul delights;

I have put my spirit upon him;

he will bring forth justice to the nations. . . .

I am the LORD,

I have called you in righteousness,

I have taken you by the hand and kept you;

I have given you as a covenant to the people,  

a light to the nations,

to open the eyes that are blind,

to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,

from the prison those who sit in darkness.”

Just as these words were not initially spoken of Jesus, but of Israel, so even now they are not only spoken of Jesus, but of us.  That’s why our baptisms — as Jesus’ was for him — are not only the revelation of our identity, but our call to ministry.  Every child of God — not only those ordained to the special ministry of Word, Order, and Sacrament like me — every child of God is called to ministry:  to bring forth justice, to be a light to the nations, to open eyes that are blind, to bring prisoners out from dungeons, to free from whatever bind them, those who sit in darkness.  That’s you!

You’re listed that way in the bulletin – did you know that?  Under Church Staff, did you see?

“Ministers………….. All Members of the Congregation”

Once our identity and destiny as a child of God becomes clear to us, I suggest that becomes the organizing principle of our life.

I thought about this recently as I was reading about a new book by Bob Sitze, director for hunger education for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  Sitze has written a book called Starting Simple: Conversations About the Way We Live.  Is that title as appealing to you as it is to me?

Says Sitze:

        “Stephen Covey, the “effective living” guru, talks about the relationship of “yes” and “no,” especially in the management of time. One concept from his books and training course has stayed with me for more than a decade: saying “no” to something is easier when a deeper “yes” burns inside of you. With this insight, Covey names simple living to its core: what is the deeper “yes” burning inside of you? By whatever name — passion, lifework, a sense of purpose and meaning — your “yes” is the primary guide for making life’s most basic decisions, the ones that make possible the other decisions.  Among all the less-important priorities in your life, this “yes” is always in play.

        If the deepest “Yes” in your life is your identity and destiny as a beloved child of God, then other yeses and no’s become clear:

        –       If I am a beloved child of God, as Jesse Jackson says, “I am somebody:  Respect me, protect me, never neglect me.“

        –       If I am a beloved child of God, I am more than what I own, the size of the house I live in, the car that I drive, or how much money I have (or don’t have).  

        –       If I am a beloved child of God, then that is more fundamental about me than my age, my gender, my sexual preference, or what I do for a living.

        –       If I am a beloved child of God, then I should flee those things that degrade me, run me and others down, those things that oppress and destroy bodies, minds, and spirits.

        –       If I am a beloved child of God nothing there is nothing anyone or anybody can ever say or do to diminish God’s love for me.

–       If I am a beloved child of God — if that is my identity — then my destiny is great; and I am called to greater purposes than just taking up time and space.  I am destined for important purposes, great things. “Here is my servant . . . my chosen, in whom my soul delights.”

Years ago, I read that Queen Elizabeth II of England used to tell her son, Charles, Prince of Wales, whenever he would go out, “My Son, you must always remember who you are.”  Over the years, in the course of his life, Charles may have been tempted to forget who he was, just as it is easy for any of us to forget who we are.  However, I’m sure his mother, by virtue of the privileges they share, would tell him the same thing to this day.

Children of God, by virtue of the privileges we share in our baptisms — like Jesus’ baptism — marking us as beloved children of God, with an identity and a destiny beyond our comprehension, let us never forget who and whose we are.  Let us live lives worthy of our privilege.  

Remember your baptism, and be thankful.   Amen.


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