Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | January 8, 2012

2012.01.08 “Who’s Your Daddy?” – Mark 1: 4 – 11

Central United Methodist Church

“Who’s Your Daddy?”

Pastor David L. Haley

The Baptism of the Lord

Mark 1: 4 – 11

January 8th, 2012


“At this time, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. The moment he came out of the water, he saw the sky split open and God’s Spirit, looking like a dove, come down on him. Along with the Spirit, a voice: “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.” – Mark 1: 9 – 11, The Message

The family and I took some time off last week after the holidays and went down to visit my folks in West Kentucky. My dad is 91 and my mom is 81; so far they’re doing okay. Then we went down to Memphis, where I had my first church. I was associate pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in midtown Memphis from 1976 to 1979. I don’t have many friends left there now; but the ones who remain are quite dear.

Of course, almost every stop involved pictures. “Here’s a picture of Jenny at her wedding;” “Here’s a picture of Corey at his graduation.” With the help of a friend with a key, we even went inside Trinity Church to show the girls my picture on the wall, which they both laughed at.

That picture was taken by the man who accompanied us: Earl Major, now 88. For about 50 years, Earl was one of the finest photographers in Memphis. So when we went back to his apartment, he showed us what remains of some of his most memorable pictures: children and grandchildren, pictures of his dear wife Mabel, who died in 2009; and some of the notables, who – over the years – he was privileged to photograph: Bishop Patterson, former head of the Church of God in Christ; Fred Smith, CEO and founder of a little company called FedEx; and some musicians we’ve all heard of, such as Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. Yes, unfortunately, one of Memphis’ most famous is missing: Earl never got to meet or photograph Elvis.

What’s most interesting about these pictures of Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, is that these were likely some of the first pictures taken of them, just when they were starting out, long before they were famous. The one of Johnny Cash, for example: taken long before Johnny became the Man in Black who played in prisons. In the picture Johnny Cash looks about 17 years old, baby faced with curly hair, dressed in white, looking scared. Who would ever guess the legend he would come to be?

I have told you about this, because today, upon the occasion of the Baptism of the Lord, I wonder whether we might not visualize the life of Jesus in the same way? Over the last 2 weeks, at Christmas and Epiphany, we’ve seen Jesus’ baby pictures, such that we have.

Today we skip to the next biggest event of his life where God’s glory was seen, his baptism in the River Jordan by his cousin John. Like you, I wish we had more pictures of Jesus as a child and a youth, but we don’t. Like what he might have looked like when he entered first grade, what he looked like at his bar mitzvah, or a picture of Jesus with his mom. In fact, it would be great if they’d told us what he looked like at all.

As with family photos, all four Gospels have different pictures in the family album. Only Matthew and Luke record Jesus’ birth stories. Three of the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke, describe Jesus’ baptism using similar language; only John does not. Clearly, by the way they all reported it, it was a big event, of critical importance in Jesus’ life.  Let see if we can understand why, and why it might also be important for us.

As I said before, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, all reported it in the same way. John was out at the Jordan River, preaching a baptism of repentance, and suddenly Jesus stood before him. At first, it was like every other baptism. But then amazing things began to happen. As Jesus came out of the water, it was if the sky split open, and God’s Spirit descended – like a dove – upon him. Along with the spirit, came a voice, affirming, “You are my son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.”

Such a scene raises many questions. Did everyone see and hear it, or only Jesus? Did God’s Spirit come upon Jesus as God’s Child only then, adopting him, as some in the early church believed, or did the vision and the voice only affirm who he already was and always had been, as most of the church believed.

It also raises profound psychological questions in addition to theological ones. Why was it so important for Jesus to hear he was God’s special child, chosen and marked by God’s love, the pride of God’s life? Might it have been because up to this point in his life he’d only heard otherwise? In a culture where boys were named for their fathers, such as “Jesus, son of Joseph,” as Jesus walked through Nazareth, might he have overheard what was said about him?

“Who’s that?” “Jesus, son of Mary.” “In other words, Mary’s bastard child.” “Who’s his father?” “Good question.” “Some say Joseph; others say Joseph only did the right thing.” “Anyway, Joseph’s dead now; so the boy doesn’t have a father.”  So we just call him “Jesus, son of Mary.”

So, how affirming for Jesus to hear, on the special day of his baptism, God saying to him irrevocably that whatever others might say, know that “You are my Child, chosen and marked by my love, the pride of my life.” If God has a refrigerator, Jesus’ picture would be on it. Perhaps this is why this day was so important to Jesus; it was the day he was given a name, and a destiny.

It is no less so with us. I never get tired of quoting the late Henri Nouwen, who in his book, Life Of The Beloved, says that these words spoken by God over Jesus at his baptism are also the most important words spoken about us, and reflect the most intimate truth about us.

There are so many voices in life seeking to tell us who we are, to label us, and with that label set our destiny. Perhaps the most critical of those are our parents.  Did their voices tell us – can we still hear them telling us? – either that we are gifted and smart and loved, or that we are worthless, stupid, or unloved? For some these latter are fatal pronouncements we never escape.  There are so many who suffer from low self-esteem which leads them to outlandish and even tragic lives, in search of the acceptance they never received from their primary family, their parents. Parents: be careful what you say to your children; it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Beyond our parents, there are some many others who seek to label us: by class or age or ethnicity or skin color or sexual orientation or how much money we have or don’t have. With these labels they try to put us in a box, again, shaping our destiny, putting us in our place, never to escape it, or rise about it. Sadly, sometimes those in the church, those who call themselves “Christians,” well-meaning but ignorant people, have been the worst.

How wonderful to break through all that and to hear the truest word about us, the one God speaks. In a sermon preached 12 years ago on the Protestant Hour, the Rev. Rosemary Brown said:

“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, it 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)

Even now, as we practice Christian baptism, and parade these cute babies and precious children before us, let us affirm to them, even as we hear again for ourselves, these words spoken at the baptism of Jesus: “You are somebody.”  “You are my Child, chosen and marked by my love, the pride of my life.”

Then let’s watch the difference it will make, because the assurance and certainty of God’s love for us, always makes a difference.

For decades, Fred Craddock has been one of the most respected preachers in the country, and a renowned storyteller. I found out recently he was born not that far from me, in Humboldt, Tennessee, and that he himself never got received the affirmation from his father that he sought all his life. He’s 83 now, has begun to show the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease, and has retired from preaching.

Over the years, he has told this story: He and his wife Nettie were on vacation in the Great Smoky Mountains, in a restaurant eating dinner. Early on, an elderly man approached their table and said, “Good evening.”

“Good evening,” said Craddock.

The man said, “Are you on vacation?”  Said Craddock, “Yes,” but under my breath I was saying, It’s really none of your business.

“Where are you from?” the man asked.

“We’re from Oklahoma.”

“What do you do in Oklahoma?”

Under my breath but almost audible, I was saying, Leave us alone. We’re on vacation, and we don’t know who you are.  I said, “I’m a Christian minister.”

He said, “What church?”

I said, “The Christian Church.”

The man paused a moment and said, “I owe a great deal to a minister of the Christian church,” and he pulled up a chair and sat down.

Said Craddock, I said, “Yes, have a seat.” I tried to make it seem like I sincerely meant it, but I didn’t.  Who is this person?

The man said, “I grew up in these mountains. My mother was not married, and the whole community knew it. I was what was called an illegitimate child. In those days that was a shame, and I was ashamed. The reproach that fell on her, of course, fell also on me. When I went into town with her, I could see people staring at me, making guesses as to who was my father. At school the children said ugly things to me, and so I stayed to myself during recess, and ate my lunch alone.

In my early teens I began to attend a little church back in the mountains called Laurel Springs Christian Church. It had a minister was both attractive and frightening. He had a chiseled face and a heavy beard and a deep voice. I went to hear him preach. I don’t know exactly why, but it did something for me. However, I was so afraid that I was not welcome since I was, as they put it, a bastard. So I would go just in time for the sermon, and when it was over I would move out because I was afraid that someone would say, “What’s a boy like you doing in a church?

One Sunday some people queued up in the aisle before I could get out, and I was stopped. Before I could make my way through the group, I felt a hand on my shoulder, a heavy hand. It was that Minister. I cut my eyes around and caught a glimpse of his beard and his chin, and I knew who it was. I trembled in fear. He turned his face around so he could see mine and seemed to be staring. I knew what he was doing. He was going to make a guess as to who my father was.  A moment later he said, “Well, boy, you’re a child of . . .” and he paused there. And I knew it was coming. I knew I would have my feelings hurt, I knew I would not go back again. He said, ‘Boy, you’re a child of God. I see a striking resemblance, boy.’ They he swatted me on the bottom and said, “Now, you go claim your inheritance.” I left the building a different person. In fact, that was really the beginning of my life.”

Said Craddock, “I was so moved by the story I had to ask him, ‘What’s your name?’ He said, “Ben Hooper.”

I recalled, though vaguely, my own father talking when I was just a child about how the people of Tennessee had twice elected as governor a bastard, Ben Hooper. (Craddock Stories, Fred B. Craddock, p. 156-157)

The assurance and certainty of God’s love for us, always makes a difference.  As it did for Jesus, as it does for us.  “You are my Child, chosen and marked by my love, the pride of my life.”  Amen.


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