On this Sunday that has us reliving the Baptism of Jesus and how that poured water not only marked the beginning of His ministry, but our own practice of Baptism, I happened to read a commentary which I wish I had seen earlier; then it could have used to invite every parent and godparent of a baptized child to be here today.
But then I thought of the Baptismal service with its vows that not only call for a life-long pledge from parents and godparents, but the whole congregation, and I also thought of the very special role of family members who are grandparents and aunts and uncles of a baptized infant or young child…all who are the WE in Baptism,
with some of us being here today; the WE, who can carry this sermon to all the others who would have been included in the invitation that, regretfully, was not discovered soon enough to send.
The message is: “Being all we are meant to be,” with what “we are meant to be” being today’s Gospel report:
(… when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened,) and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved;
with you I am well pleased.”
“You are my beloved” – God’s announcement coming to rest on Jesus, like a dove, as a dove, descends to rest on earth.
God’s assignment for Jesus, verbalized and visualized in His baptism being God’s commissioning Him to an earthly ministry to make visible the invisible Parent-God Who, in Jesus, is showing a love that will not let us go.
God had made that pledge earlier to the exiled Jews returning after years of suffering and separation from all they had cherished, who, with their heirs would have harder, more brutal times in their future…as we continue to witness today in what seems to be the recycling of the capacity of some humans to be so inhumane to one another.
But now thus says the Lord, wrote the prophet Isaiah, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.” God’s pledge to cling to when waters rise, fires burn; when crises within and around us threaten to destroy us: “I will be with you; For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. - everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
The pledge that held Jesus to His ministry all the way to the Cross and is poured like Baptismal water, to wash us, bathe us, fill us, cover and protect us with God’s ongoing pledge echoing from the time of Isaiah, through the
scene at the Jordan, to our Baptismal moments at the font, when all are baptized into Christ Jesus, and hear,
“You are my Beloved.”
Gardner C. Taylor, called “the dean of America’s Black preachers” who died last year at the age of 96, once said in a sermon that he imagined when we reach heaven, the very angels would look over at us--and at Jesus--and would be confused. He imagines that by bearing the name of Christ through life, we will have become so like Jesus that the angels would have a hard time telling who was who.
When the Rev. Dr. Clayton J. Schmidt (Provost of Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary of Lenoir-Rhyne University, Columbia, SC) uses that quote in his sermon for this Sunday, he adds: “Reformed, reshaped, reborn through the gift of a name.” The name being what is was for Jesus: “God’s beloved one.”
“Being who we are meant to be.” - those who have been baptized into Christ and work at knowing Christ,
letting His love, His sense of fairness, His practice of welcoming the nobodies and the sin-scarred others judged to be trash, being Jesus’ love parents, godparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and a whole congregation witness at an infant’s baptism, then make a life-long ministry to model to that individual.
About a generation ago, a magazine read by Church school teachers circulated an article under the title “Why aren’t they like us?” The “they” being children and youth who weren’t sitting in the pews and attending wholesome events like retreats, mission trips, and being around to be a part of the church family; (the age group absent today) the “they” with the “us” being the adults, and the “why” being the hard truth of adults having abdicated their mentoring and modeling role of sharing their faith-story ( warts, scars, doubts, and all),
of not carrying forward the vows everyone present makes at the time of an infant’s or child’s baptism,
so that each lives into the title “God’s beloved.”
“Being who we are meant to be.” – with the short reading from the life of the first followers of Jesus preserved as the “Acts of the Apostles” noting that some individuals newly baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus didn’t feel different, special, marked as “God’s beloved,” until Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit….until they were touched by two who had been in the company of Jesus and had become a
channel for His life to flow from them to others.
“Being who we are meant to be.” - parents, godparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, a whole congregation,
who know we can’t be “who we are meant to be” unless we stay close to the font that continually reminds us of our own baptism into new life in Christ, the life we want, more than anything else, to model and mentor to the newly baptized, and, together, grow into belonging, not to ourselves, but to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
After 13 years in the parish ministry, Pastor Teri McDowell Ott, began to serve as Chaplain at Monmouth College in Illinois where she cherishes interacting with students, especially those who have no desire or need for any expression of religion.
When a student who claimed to be an atheist attended the campus Christmas Convocation with candle lighting and Communion, she came away saying it was very “intimate.” When they passed the flame from one candle to another and the glow brightened everyone’s face, the student thought, “It’s like we’re all different, yet we are the same.” And later she confessed missing being in a worshiping community; she missed the singing and praying. (Quoted with permission to use from Christian Century, “In the Realm of the Nones” by Teri McDowell Ott, Jan. 6, 2-16, p. 31)
In chapel services she found that place where she was free to doubt, to reject, yet to search in the loving company of others– who we pray we are here.
Parents, godparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, a whole congregation, working at, sometimes struggling and failing, yet keeping committed to “Being who we are meant to be” so that a late 20th century article’s title, “Why aren’t they like us?” asked by adults in the church, when seeing the absence of children and youth , which is even more prevalent today, will be raised less and less among us as we commit to “Being who we are meant to be” – “God’s beloved,” whose love is contagious. AMEN.