By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
January 10, 2010
Read: Isaiah 43:1-7 and Luke 3:5-17 21-22
I don’t know where to begin with today’s scripture readings. Today we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord. Jesus went to be baptized by John the Baptist. And after he and the crowd were baptized he prayed, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
In some circles we ask “why was Jesus baptized”? The church fathers said that the significant thing about this is that this is the first time that God is revealed to the world as he really is, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity. Matthew answers the question of why was Jesus baptized by saying that John protested that he should not baptize Jesus, but that Jesus should baptize him. Jesus takes charge and says, “Let it be so to fulfill all righteousness”, and John baptizes Jesus. In John’s Gospel, the purpose of John’s baptism is to discover and reveal Christ to the
world. “I myself did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’
Perhaps the better question is “What difference does it make in my life that Jesus was baptized?”
For some people, baptism is “just joining the Jesus club.” Everyone knows what it means to join a club such as Brownies, Boy Scouts, Kiwanis, the Elks, the Rotary, and others. We have all joined clubs and every club has its rules and regulations. Baptism is joining the ‘Jesus club” and we now have to follow the “Jesus rules” as suggested by this particular congregation.
For others, baptism is like “hell insurance.” I’ll never forget Grandma Prudence insisting that her grand daughter was baptized because the family was going on a trip. Grandma didn’t want to have that baby in an accident and go to hell. Baptism is like hell insurance.
For others, they want to wait until they are older to be baptized. They want to let the child grow up until they are old enough to “make a decision for themselves.”
But God’s love between us is stronger than our differences of Biblical interpretation. In fact, the Book of Acts details several different versions of just how the Holy Spirit comes to us. Which may mean that God reaches us in different ways because we are different kinds of people. Not a new biblical thought.
So, as Isaiah tells us, God says to her and says to you and to me as well:
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.
When you pass through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.
When you walk through the fire, the flames shall not consume you.
I have called you by name, and you are mine.
Yes, our Baptismal liturgy is entrance into the church, it does tie together forgiveness of sins with baptism and the receiving of the Holy Spirit. But more deeply and strongly is the claim to identity that comes with baptism. It is not a once and done thing, it is a profound moment of claiming our identity as a child of God. It is an empowerment that is with us all the days of our lives. To watch an infant being baptized is to recall that we also were “sealed and marked as Christ’s own forever”. It is to remember whose we are. That baby is part of what we all do together – our baptisms have moved us toward being a worker in the kingdom. Bringing the kingdom to the world. How do we see ourselves as participants? Baptism is actually somewhat scandalous – in other words – can you tell me how this baby’s life is changed because of the baptism. Or even adult baptisms – I know this person – how can you tell me that his or or her life is changed.
Well, as Christians, we say YES, the life is changed because we have been baptized and sealed and marked as Christ’s own forever. Baptism says that not only are we named but that we are owned by God. God keeps what God purchases and on the cross an awesome price was paid. In times of great doubt,, Martin Luther would sometimes touch his forehead and say to himself, “Martin, be calm, be calm Martin; you are baptized.” In those times of our greatest trials, confusion, spiritual dryness, and hopelessness, we might do well to touch our foreheads and remind ourselves who and whose we really are.
It is easy in the confusion of this life to forget who you are and more importantly, whose you are. So the Church is here to remind you, we are here, all of us, to remind each other that we have been named and claimed. That someone greater than John the Baptist has claimed us and loves us with a love that will never give up on us. Remember your baptism and be thankful, for this is who you are.
There’s an old legend that predates the story of the princess and the frog. It has a simple but sound theological allegory: The ballad tells of how a handsome knight found coiling around a tree in a dismal forest, a loathsome serpent-like-dragon, breathing out poison; and how, undeterred by its hideousness and foulness, the knight cast his arms around it and kissed it on the mouth. The thing resisted him fiercely, but the knight persisted, and finally the beast changed into a fair lady, and he won his bride. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear”. Being loved when you don’t deserve it is the most transforming thing in the world.
We are chosen by God. That means we are seen by God in our preciousness, in our individuality. We are seen as precious in God’s eyes.
In God’s mystery, being chosen, though, doesn’t mean excluding anyone. In fact, the more we know we are chosen, that we are seen in our preciousness, the more we will realize that our friends and all people are seen in their preciousness.
Henri Nouwen, a great spiritual writer, spent time living in the L’Arche community. And he writes, “The people I live with sometimes have a very hard time believing they are chosen. They suffer, not so much from their mental handicap, but from the feeling of being not wanted, not desired. They have lost touch with the truth that they are chosen. It is hard for them to be in touch with that, precisely because often the people around them have said, “I don’t want you around. I don’t want you to be here. Why don’t you go away?”
The life of the beloved starts by trusting that we are chosen in our uniqueness, that we are unique in God’s eyes, precious.
The second aspect of the quality of the life of the beloved is that we are blessed. It is so important that you and I experience that we are blessed. The word benediction means blessing. Literally, bene means good and diction means saying. To bless someone means to say good things about them. “You are good.” We need to know that good things are being said of us. We really have to trust that, otherwise we cannot bless other people. So many people don’t feel blessed.
Nouwen continues….I would like to tell you a little story about our community. There is one of my friends there who is quite handicapped but a wonderful, wonderful lady. She said to me, “Henri, can you bless me?” I remember walking up to her and giving her a little cross on her forehead. She said, “Henri, it doesn’t work. No, that is not what I mean.” I was embarrassed and said, “I gave you a blessing.” She said, “No, I want to be blessed.” I kept thinking, “What does she mean?”
We had a little service and all these people were sitting there. After the service I said, “Janet wants a blessing.” I had an alb on and a long robe with long sleeves. Janet walked up to me and said, “I want to be blessed.” She put her head against my chest and I spontaneously put my arms around her, held her, and looked right into her eyes and said, “Blessed are you, Janet. You know how much we love you. You know how important you are. You know what a good woman you are.”
She looked at me and said, “Yes, yes, yes, I know. I suddenly saw all sorts of energy coming back to her. She seemed to be relieved from the feeling of depression because suddenly she realized again that she was blessed. She went back to her place and immediately other people said, “I want that kind of blessing, too.”
The people kept walking up to me and I suddenly found myself embracing people. I remember that after that, one of the people in our community who assists the handicapped, a strong guy, a football player, said, “Henri, can I have a blessing, too?” I remember our standing there in front of each other and I said, “John,” and I put my hand on his shoulder, “you are blessed. You are a good person. God loves you. We love you. You are important.” Can you claim that and live as the blessed one?
I think it is very important that when we are in touch with our blessedness that we can then bless other people. People need our blessing; people need to know that their father, mother, brothers and sisters bless them.
But what I would like to say is that the spiritual life is a life in which you gradually learn to listen to a voice that says “You are the beloved and on you my favor rests.”
Jesus heard that voice. He heard that voice when He came out of the Jordan River. I want you to hear that voice, too. It is a very important voice that says, “You are my beloved son; you are my beloved daughter. I love you with an everlasting love. I have molded you together in the depths of the earth. I have knitted you in your mother’s womb. I’ve written your name in the palm of my hand and I hold you safe in the shade of my embrace. I hold you. You belong to Me and I belong to you. You are safe where I am. Don’t be afraid. Trust that you are the beloved. That is who you truly are.”
I want you to hear that voice. It is not a very loud voice because it is an intimate voice. It comes from a very deep place. It is soft and gentle. I want you to gradually hear that voice. We both have to hear that voice and to claim for ourselves that that voice speaks the truth, our truth. It tells us who we are. That is where the spiritual life starts — by claiming the voice that calls us the beloved. Amen.
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