Baptism of Jesus Sunday Sermon (January 9, 2021)

Have you ever thought about changing your name or your identity?  Many of us talk about or have talked about being different than we are in the past.  Perhaps you wished you were quieter or more outgoing.  Better at math or at science.  That you were taller, thinner, more muscular, or had blonde hair instead of brown.  It was 14 years ago yesterday that I decided to legally change my name.  When I applied for a name change at the age of 16, I received a new birth certificate, new driver’s license, and new social insurance card. It was almost as if the old me had never existed.  That old person was struck off any legal documents, and a new identity was formed.

Today is Baptism of Jesus Sunday, and it’s monumental because it shows us how in Christ we have been formed  as a new creation.  We likely have all heard the phrase “new year, new you” but the Bible actually says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that in Christ, the old aspects of ourselves are done away with, and we are transformed.  Romans 12:2 says that our minds our renewed.  The word “renewed” literally means to re-establish, to rebuild, to repair, to restore after decay or deprivation.

Today’s Scripture passage might have only been 4 verses, but to me they are powerful and transformative.  For those of us who grew up in the church we likely have heard the phrase “remember your baptism” which is a curious expression because many of us were baptized as infants.  There are many traditions which baptize adults only and some of us here today might have made the choice to be baptized later in life perhaps due to not having been raised Christian or because we wanted to make a public declaration of our own accord, yet in the United Church these occasions are rather uncommon. Instead, I wonder if there is a holy mystery which occurs through the corporate act of remembrance on the part of the congregation, even if we, ourselves, slept or cried through the water being poured on our heads.

The United Church is not a “sacramental” church in the way the Roman Catholics and Orthodox denominations are, so we don’t often talk about what the sacraments mean and yet they are an important part of our communal worship.  In the UCC we only have two sacraments: baptism and communion.  Both were decreed by Christ Himself who said in Matthew 28:19 that we are to go into the world, making disciples, and baptizing in the name of the Triune God.  If you’ve never given much thought to the theological basis for sacraments, they are tangible ways God reveals Himself, ways to identify ourselves as believers, and visible sermons to others.

I will admit, that I, myself, never gave much thought to sacraments until I was forced to consider them in light of my ordination, for when a pastor is ordained, it is a calling to both the ministry of Word (Preaching) and sacrament. At first, I found it difficult to figure out how one could be called to sacrament, but then it became clear to me: for baptism is actually a sign of invitation, inclusion, hospitality, and healing.  More than that, it is a sign of purity, of passively receiving something which we do not have to earn of our own merit, and of being part of a community of friends.  It is a way of honouring life, bringing community together, and baptism is ultimately about being welcomed, accepted, and loved by God.

Last summer during my first clinical pastoral education unit also known as my chaplaincy training, I had a classmate encourage me to see my worth as a beloved child of God.  I have struggled with seeing my value as a worthy individual my entire life.  I have always been striving and seeking after the next thing, feeling that I needed to prove myself based on my degrees, my job performance, my popularity, or how the world saw me.  So, I decided to challenge myself to spend a year thinking about what it truly meant to be God’s beloved.  It has been a slow process and I’m not entirely sure even now that I can articulate it, yet, through my preparation for this sermon, I have come to see how our belovedness is uniquely tied into our baptism. Of course, this does not imply that if you are not baptized you are not God’s beloved.  We are all God’s chosen and cherished children, yet baptism to me exemplifies this very act of God’s outpouring love.

In Baptism we are chosen, called out and marked in love.  When Jesus came up out of the waters, it was the beginning of His ministry and marked a unique turning point in His life.  At that very moment, a voice from heaven called Jesus the delight of God’s life, the apple of God’s eye, and affirmed that Christ was on the right, true, and faithful path.

Some of us might have experienced the horror of being chosen last in school when it came to picking sides for a team sport.  As a single person, I often felt extra lonely and rejected because I felt that not having been married was a sign that I was not special enough to be chosen and I have heard many other singles say the same.  Perhaps we felt rejected because we were not hand picked or selected for the job, scholarship, or other opportunity we so desperately sought after.  Yet, in baptism, God shows us that we all are part of His family.  That we are all part of His church.  That we are gifted, called, and chosen because we are His.  

I love how Zephaniah 3:17 reminds us that God delights in us and rejoices over us with singing.  When is the last time you delighted in being you?  When is the last time you looked in the mirror and told yourself how much you love yourself?  It’s easy to tell others how much we love and appreciate them, but it’s much harder to list out those good qualities for ourselves.  It’s easy to compliment others, even complete strangers, and so easy to criticize ourselves, yet, when God made and formed us He pronounced us as good.  Not “good enough” but as whole and treasured children.  Psalm 139 says that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” We are God’s handiwork and each one of us here today was born into such a time as this to accomplish a task which only we can do for God’s kingdom.  There has never been and there will never be anyone else just like us – with our temperament, our redeeming qualities, our quirks, idiosyncrasies, and flaws.  It’s easy for us to “show our best and save the rest” but sometimes it’s exactly because of our brokenness that beauty exudes from us.  Sometimes it’s because of the scars in our stories that we are able to offer hope and reassurance to others.  Or, as Brittany Estes, an American pastor says, “if I wouldn’t have been shattered the way I was, I wouldn’t shine like I do now.”  

One Bible story that is not often talked about but which has been a huge road marker on my journey is the story of David’s son Solomon found in 2 Samuel 12.  This story is one of the best illustrations of how God loves us even despite who we are or where we came from.  After David had an adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and then proceeded to murder her husband, God still showed favour to David and gave him a son.  David named his son “Solomon” which means peace, but the Bible says that God gave him a different name.  To God, he was called Jedidah which means “loved by the Lord.”  God loved Solomon even though his father was a lustful murderer.  God also loved David even though he committed this sin because David’s heart was in the right place.  He made a mistake, but God is full of forgiveness.  We might also have made a wrong turn, we are imperfect, we fail, we choose the wrong path sometimes.  But still, to God, we are called “Beloved.”

We might not be able to remember our baptism literally, but I’m willing to say that our parents remembered it well.  That they remembered the anticipation and excitement leading up to it.  Carefully choosing beautiful and special clothes for the occasion.  Giving thought to who our godparents would be.  Cheerfully inviting friends, relatives, and neighbours.  Delighting over us.  Taking pride in us.  Giving expectancy over to God for their hopes and dreams over who we might become.

This is what it means to be a beloved child of God. It doesn’t matter who we are, who we were or where we came from, because the Bible tells us that we are all given the same spirit and that we have all been clothed in Christ.  To be a beloved child of God means that we have entered a covenant with him – not a casual contract that can be easily canceled, but a binding promise given because God is committed and values us.  We do not need to hide who we are in Christ, we can take pride and joy in the fact that God continues to work in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about changing your name and your identity.  Perhaps you’ve always wanted to be called something different than the name your parents gave you at your birth.  Yet, in Revelation 2:17 we are told that one day we will all receive a white stone with a new name on it.  It might be fun to consider what our new name could be.  Could it be the name of a celebrity we’ve always adored, or the name of a mentor we’ve had who has had a place of prominence in our lives?  It very well could, but to me, it will be the same name as we were all given at our baptism.  The name will remind us that we are loved, that we are redeemed, that we have a place in the Kingdom, and that God has chosen us as a vessel for whom His Kingdom life will pour out of.  

May it be so.  Amen.  

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