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Monday, January 23, 2017
Remember Who You Are
A Sermon on the Baptism of Jesus
by Griff Martin
For the People of First Austin:
a baptist community of faith
On the Third Sunday following Epiphany
January 22, 2017
Incarnate God, we ask that you once again take the Word and transform it into a living and breathing reality we can all together experience. Be present here in this space and in these words God for if you are present here then nothing else will matter, but if you are not present here then nothing else will matter. In the name of the Creator, the Christ and the Comforter.
Cody Nichols is a student at Texas State, not far from here and he had a really bad weekend last spring. He is a member of a fraternity at Texas State and they held their annual formal in New Orleans last spring. They went down on a chartered bus and spent the weekend in the French Quarter and inevitably they spent a large part of one evening on Bourbon Street doing what folks do on Bourbon Street. And that is when his weekend took a turn for the worse.
After a few hours on Bourbon Street he got separated from his group and could not find them. He tried but could not locate which bar they had gone into and in the mixture of the drinks and the frustration of losing his group, he became a bit disoriented and thought he was on 6th Street here in Austin. He got frustrated and decided to go home, so he jumped into a taxi cab and gave them the address of his fraternity house in San Marcos.
The taxi driver quickly realized this was no quick trip- in fact that journey is 513 miles and takes almost 8 hours. So the driver told Nichols to get out his car, that journey was going to cost too much. To which Nichols laughed and said take me home and charge it on this and gave the driver his credit card. Eight hours later they arrived back at his fraternity house at Texas State. The total cab ride ended up costing $1,240 plus an additional $400 to fly Cody back to New Orleans the following date to meet up with his date and fraternity.
On some levels the story is completely ridiculous (true but still ridiculous) but on another level it’s also so the story of each and every one of us here today. The story of getting lost and allowing voices that are not sane to take over, voices that make poor choices (sometimes even destructive choices), voices that are not thinking straight and don’t even know how to think straight.
There is that voice that is constantly comparing what you have to what others have and loves to nag that you don’t have enough, that your life will be complete only when you finally have that pair of jeans or those shoes or the house in the right neighborhood or these golf clubs.
There is the voice that is comparing what you look like to what others look like and that voice loves to remind you how skinny your best friend is and how much happier you might be if you looked a little bit more like Beyonce or Brad Pitt or how you need to wear a bit more makeup to hide the wrinkles or you need to find a way to hide the bald spot or simply throw in the towel because if you can’t look 10 years younger than what is the point anymore?
Or the voice that loves to remind you that you need to always be thinking about what others think about you. The voice that is not only your critic but goes ahead and criticizes you from other’s points of view as well, the voice that is harder on you than anyone else in your life would ever even dream of being.
Or the voice that reminds you of the dreams you have not yet accomplished. Or the voice that reminds you of the list of failures in your life. Or the voice that asks if it’s even worth getting up today. Or the voice of doom which already knows that the future is so bleak, so why try?
It’s the voices of power, wealth, knowledge, security, beauty, youth, popularity, relevance, and prestige. The voices who love to claim the verbs of comparison, competition, envy, jealousy, disappointment and it all leads to loneliness.
The voices that lead us to the Bourbon Streets in our own soul, those dark and often filthy streets where we are looking around and feeling totally alone, confused, angry, outside of ourselves and simply trying to get home.
Home. Because we know there is more because we have been there before, we have been to that place and because each year during the season of Epiphany we read the text of Jesus baptism and we are reminded of that place.
We are reminded of that river where John the Baptist stood calling out repent- turn around and change your ways- transform yourselves. That river where John the Baptist stood and reminded us that there is another way and there is more to this life. That river where people walked in just filthy from life and they walked out clean and whole and changed and tranformed. That river of life that truly was The River of Life.
It’s that river where Jesus went one day. In Matthew’s Gospel there is quite a bit of a literary silence between Jesus’ visit from the Magi and then one day Jesus is grown and is headed straight for his cousin who is baptizing people out at the river. And Jesus gets in line with everyone else, waiting his turn to be baptized. Standing there and hearing his cousin as he continues to scream out “repent, turn around and change your ways, transform yourselves, know that there is More.” And he’s crying out and he is baptizing folks and suddenly there in front of him stands Jesus.
And John stops, “Cousin I am unfit to baptize you- in fact I need you to baptize me.” We are not told what all John knows and understands about Jesus (at this point we are not even sure what Jesus knows about Jesus). Does John recognize Jesus because they have seen each other at family reunions? Does he recognize Jesus because of all his mother has told him about Jesus? Or does he recognize Jesus because if you spend enough time in baptismal waters there is a good change you are going to be more in tune with things than others? He knows Jesus and he knows he needs to receive the baptism not give the baptism.
And Jesus responds, “Let it be” (obviously Jesus has been listening to his mother) “Let it be for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”
And Jesus is baptized. And as he comes up out of the water, the heavens themselves open up because once again God cannot be contained…. God the Creator and God the Spirit break forth in this Trinitarian moment and a voice declares the truth: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
It’s the same voice that has spoken over you and me at our birth and at our baptism and over and over again in our lives… “You are my Beloved and with you I am well pleased.” And that is home.
It’s the voice that declares us as Beloved. The voice that tells us that we belong and it’s the only voice that we need in our lives.
It’s the voice we need when we start thinking of all the things we don’t have and we feel like we so badly need…. And then we return home to the voice of God: “Beloved, you belong… you have all you need.”
It’s the voice we turn to when we start comparing ourselves to others and we don’t feel beautiful…. We return home to the voice of God: “Beloved, you belong… and you are perfectly made.”
It’s the only voice that can overpower the critical voice that is always running in our heads…. “Beloved, you belong… and you are wonderful and all you need is Me.”
The baptism of Jesus is a really strange thing when you think about it. It raises a lot of theological questions about sin and why Jesus need to be baptized, questions that should make us rethink a lot of our understanding of baptism. It raises questions of the Trinity and the nature of God. It raises questions about the dual nature of Jesus… his humanity and his divinity.
And yet all four Gospels contain at the very least a mention it, which is worth noting since all four Gospels don’t even contain the birth story or a resurrection account. One scholar says all four Gospels mentioning this is “surest proof that Jesus was baptized, because when someone tells you something that it’s really not in his best interest for you to know, then you can be relatively sure it’s true.” And despite all the questions and theological disputes the baptism raises, there it is in all the Gospels.
And there it is each new lectionary year, soon after Epiphany we get to Jesus’ baptism. Each year in the three year cycle we get an entire Sunday dedicated to this event.
And here’s my theory: all four Gospels mention this because it is the cornerstone, the foundation, of Jesus ministry. Jesus goes back to this day over and over again in his ministry. He is given his identity this day and he spends the rest of his life living into it and when he starts to question it, I can hear him under his breath muttering… “I am Beloved.. I belong…”
And that is why we are given this text each year at the beginning of the liturgical season and at the beginning of our calendar because we know that if we do anything in the next year it better be living into our baptism. Over and over again in the year we are going to need to utter under our breath, “I am Beloved… I belong.” I think we are given this text because as foundational as it was to Jesus ministry and life here on earth, it is equally foundational to our ministry and our life on earth.
We are Beloved and we belong.
Is there anything more beautiful that could be said over us? Is there any better claim we could make over our own lives?
“I am Beloved. That is my name.”
Martin Luther, one of our church forefathers and a really important name in church theology, a man whose faith greatly impacted our faith. One of Luther’s greatest gifts was translating the Greek Bible into German so that the average person could sit and read Scripture, to be able to easily relate to and read the voice of God, the words of God. Obviously not everyone wanted this done and not everyone was a fan of this work…. So on top of the ever difficult work of translating Greek to everyday language he was also dealing with very real discouragement. Luther told friends that he was dealing with the devil in terms of doubt and discouragement and then he came up with a solution. Any time those things surfaced- anything that brought doubt or discouragement or questioned his calling and identity- Luther would throw his inkpot at this invisible tormentor and scream. “I am baptized.”
He did not scream I was baptized, but I am baptized. He was claiming his name, “I am the Beloved child of God.” Martin Luther’s baptism saved him over and over, he lived into it. Beloved and Belonged.
Another of our saints and my favorite writers Flannery O’Connor was also consumed with the imagery of baptism. Baptism makes an appearance over and over again in her writings. In one of my favorite of her short stories, The River, a young child is baptized. This young man is with his baby-sitter for the day. This young man is a neglected child, his parents pay him little attention, his mother seems to struggle with addiction, and he is often ignored. This is a young man who knows the Bourbon Street of his own soul very well. His baby sitter though loves him and one afternoon takes him to a river side church baptism service.
He is intrigued by what’s going on and he answers the call, making his way down to the preacher to get baptized. When he gets to the preacher, the preacher asks, “Have you ever been baptized?”
“What’s that?” he murmured.
“If I baptize you,” the preacher said, “you’ll be able to go to the kingdom of Christ. You’ll be washed in the river of suffering, son. You’ll go by the deep river of life. Do you want that?”
“Yes,” the child said. “I’ll go on to the river.”
“You won’t be the same again,” the preacher said, “You’ll count.”
And isn’t that what each of us are waiting to hear our entire lives? You count.
You are Beloved.
One final story: a few years ago Blake went through a real princess phase. As in we dressed like a Disney princess almost every day. One day Blake and I were out running errands and the store we were in had princess stuff in it and I was busy doing something else and Blake went and found a crown and a wand and a cape to make herself a princess. She found me and came up behind me and tapped on my shoulder, playing along I turned and said “oh a princess… they should let everyone in here know that we have a princess among us.” And Blake looked at me really confused and said, “Dad, it’s me Blake.” And then she looked up at me with her big brown eyes and said, “Dad do you know why I am princess? I am not a princess because I dress like one- I am a princess because you call me princess.”
Isn’t that the truth we all so badly need to hear…. It’s not what we do or what we have or what we have accomplished…. The truth is so much of that matters so much less than we think. What matters is that we are beloved and we are beloved because God calls us beloved.
We are no more and we are no less… we are Beloved.
May we be reminded of our baptism…. Each time we dip our hands into water, each time we wash our hands, each time we shower, each time we take a sip of water may we be reminded of the waters of baptism… and may we be reminded that we belong and even more than that, that we are Beloved.
And may we spend the rest of our lives, just like Jesus Christ, living into the belonging and Beloved name.
Amen and Amen.