Isaiah 43:1-9; Matt. 3:13-17
There is a story about the 41st President, George H.W. Bush. It seems the senior Bush was touring a nursing home. As he walked down the hall with his entourage of aides and reporters, he came upon one old man who was slowly making his way in the opposite direction,
The president reached out, took the patient’s hand, and asked gently, “Sir, do you know who I am?” The ma started blankly for a moment then his eyes focused. Slowly he shook his head from side to side. “No,” he admitted “I don’t know who you are but if you ask the nurses, they can tell you.”
Do we know who we are? It is a question that haunts us all our lives. Having a sense of self, a sense of who of you are is critical to having a life of purpose and direction. There I nothing more unbearable than to go through life with no sense of meaning, a sense of being loved and accepted. Poet Maya Angelou put it this way: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” That is our task. To uncover who we are. To get that story out. To become clear about our identity. To name our gifts, clarify our life’s vision, and how we are called to apply them. We can’t do that unless we know our value. That we are loved and we are pleasing.
Our gospel lesson today is built on the question of identity. Just before Jesus’ baptism, the people were wondering who John the baptizer was. Was he the messiah? Yet despite the pressure, John the Baptizer did not succumb to the crowd’s expectations. John knows firmly who he is and what his mission is. He is the one to prepare the way and point the way to Jesus, who is the messiah.
In Jesus’ act of baptism Matthew tells us the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a dove. The dove in the Hebrew Tradition was the symbol of the Spirit. The Dove which once returned to the Art as a symbol of hope now returns to Jesus, making him the bearer of reconciliation peace and atonement. So, Jesus’ baptism tells us of the kind of relationship God extends to us, make visible through baptism.
Notice that Jesus hadn’t done anything yet, except to show up at his own baptism. It would have been very different if he had already been healing the sick and preaching good news to the poor and outcast. Then we might think God was pleased because of all the good things he was doing, that somehow, he did something to earn this blessing from God. But the blessing came first. God’s love was the beginning and foundation of everything Jesus was to do in his ministry.
And so, for us. God’s grace and blessing in baptism is not because we have been good, or somehow done something to deserve it. God’s love and forgiveness are a gift, and the beginning of all that we can do and be. Everything starts with love, as it says in I John (4:19), “We love, because God first loved us.” God’s declaration to us, that we are beloved children and God is pleased with us, is the foundation we build on.
Many of us don’t feel worthy of love. We strive to earn love. I wonder how manner of us, deep down, are naturally insecure, and it’s only made worse by our competitive, consumer-driven culture that thrives on creating all sorts of anxieties to get us to buy. Buy the latest iphone and you’ll be cool in eyes of others. Get those nikes and your worth is increased. Get reservations at the hottest restaurant in town and suddenly you’re in. Wear the latest designer clothes for the latest IT appearance. Look at all those fancy car dealerships on Sunrise Highway and that will tell us if only we have a Lexus, a BMW, an Acura NXS, and we have the public’s admiration and approval. We believe that we have to change or improve ourselves in order to be accepted, that if only we would lose more weight, work out more, get a better job, or accomplish something important, then we would be worthy of love and respect.
But God gives us a different message in baptism. God tells us: you are my beloved child I love you. I choose you. I am pleased with you. I was there when you were created, and watched you grow in your mother’s womb. I have taken you by the hand and kept you (Is. 42:6). God’s love is unconditional.
That’s why baptism is so important. It’s something we can see and feel to remind us these things are true. It reminds us of our true identity as beloved children of God, well pleased, and that we deserve to be treated with respect and love. But since baptism only happens once for each of us, we need ways to remember it. Believe it. Keep it in our hearts.
Now, one more thing happened to Jesus in his baptism. Remember what we said earlier? It says the heavens were opened and he received the Holy Spirit. And with that Spirit, Jesus had the power to begin his ministry of teaching and healing. In our baptisms we also receive the power of the Holy Spirit, the power to take part in what God is doing on the earth, to join in Christ’s ministry of love, peace and justice. Through the Holy Spirit, God’s power is in us, and God will use each one of us to change the world.
Everyone who is baptized receives the Holy Spirit and is anointed and empowered to serve. You may be called to teach or to sing in the choir. You may be called to take care of our building, to keep track of our finances, or participate in a mission project. You may be called to assist in worship, or simply to pray. And we are also called to serve outside the church. You may serve God through your job, your volunteer efforts, or your friendships and relationships. The point is to let God use who we are to show God’s love and justice in the world.
We recall what we heard from the prophet Isaiah this morning, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights: I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” Some people believe Isaiah was writing a job description for Jesus. And certainly Jesus fulfilled what the prophet described. And today the work of God belongs to all of us as well, not just one special person. Each one of us is a servant whom God chooses and upholds and delights in. And we are each given the power of the Holy Spirit to bring forth justice on the earth. You don’t need nikes or a lexus, wear designer clothes. God already accepts you. Loves you. Is Well pleased with you.
So I invite you to renew your baptismal vows by answering these questions:
Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?
Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Lord and Savior, trusting in his grace and love?
Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his Word and showing his love?
Know that you are Loved, not for anything you own or do, just because of who you are, God’s child. You have God’s favor. Knowing God is pleased with us, may we be filled with the power of God’s spirit to do God’s will in 2020, and spread this love and favor to all we meet. Amen.
“Here Is My Servant” Rev. Debra Given, the Presbyterian Church in LeoniaJanuary 12, 2014 Baptism of the Lord, Year A