a sermon for the 1st Sunday after the Epiphany (Baptism of Our Lord)
Before Jesus healed the first leper or first blind man, before he even had his first disciple, God blessed Jesus simply for being who he is.
Of all the people who have become rich, Mark Zuckerberg is perhaps the most creative. “Who is Mark Zuckerberg?” you ask. Mark Zuckerberg is the thirty year old founder of Facebook. He’s the 14th richest person on the planet because he figured out how to make money on this:
Whenever a person posts a picture or makes a comment on Facebook, everyone else on Facebook can show their approval by clicking on that symbol. The effect is that millions of people spend all their free time looking a Facebook, trying to see how many “likes” they got for some comment they made or some picture they posted. And if they don’t get as many likes and somebody else, they begin to wonder whether or not anybody loves them anymore.
Of course, what folks are seeking is some form of approval or affirmation. We live in a time where everywhere you go, you are constantly being measured, evaluated, and judged. Pretty early in our lives, we learn about competition. Children are graded on how well they learn in school. Teenagers, we learn to compete in sports. Adults have performance evaluations at work, and we get promotions based on how well we perform for the company. One of the biggest lessons in life is that only the strong survive; you got to work hard to get ahead of the other guy; there’s only so much room at the top. That’s why getting the affirmation of others is so important. Clicks or Likes means that other people think you’re clever or smart or pretty or handsome. Nobody wants to feel like a loser. We’re always looking for a word of affirmation, a word of acceptance by those who mean the most to us.
So what is God’s affirmirming word?
In today’s first reading we heard the story of Genesis, which begins before there was anything – before there were people, before there were animals, before there were plants or mountains or oceans or even light itself….until God spoke.
All of the sudden, light comes into being. Just. Like. That. God created something out of nothing, simply by speaking it into being. God created light, and with light, all the rest of creation was revealed. From there we got day and night, and then the sun and moon, and oceans and earth, and fish and animals, and people. It all began with God’s voice. God spoke, and it was so. So when God speaks, we should listen. And if we listen closely, we will hear a blessing. In fact, every time God speaks, it is a blessing. The world was created in a state of blessing, because God said, “that’s good.”
Fast forward a few eons until we come to the Jordan river, where a wild-eyed, animal skin wearing, bug eating man named John the Baptist is preaching and baptizing. One day, along comes Jesus, who asks to be baptized. So John baptizes him, of course, dunking him in the river. And as he comes up, Jesus has a vision: the heavens are ripped open, and the Holy Spirit comes down like a dove. And he hears the voice of God speak. And because it’s God who’s speaking you know it’s going to be a blessing. “You are my son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
What a word blessing to hear!
Of course, there’s a big difference between counting how many annonymous people on the internet click on a silly thumbs-up symbol and receiving a blessing from God. And that’s just the point. Because too often, we measure our self worth in a currency that is constantly devalued. Too often, we look for approval or affirmation when what we really need is blessing. Too often, we’re so busy wondering how many people approve of us for some small thing we did, that we forget that God blessed us before we ever did anything – at our baptism.
It’s true. God spoke out in a loud voice at Jesus’ baptism, “You are my child. With you I am well pleased.” At Jesus baptism, God blessed him before he turned a single drop of water into wine, before he healed the first leper or first blind man, before he had the first disciple. God blessed Jesus simply for being who he is, his adopted son, a child of God, before he began his work in the world.
Now there are three things that I want you to remember about today. The first is that our baptisms don’t have anything to do with anything we have done or will do for God. Baptism is all about what God is doing for us. In our baptism, God blesses us and claims us as his children before we ever do anything. We are blessed, and nothing can ever change that fact, no matter how badly we screw up. We are beloved of God, and we are marked and sealed with the sign of the cross as Christ’s own forever. It is like starting out the semester with straight A’s in school, before we even take our first class. When we are baptized, God claims us, just a surely as God claimed to Jesus in the Jordan River. In our baptisms, we become adopted children of God.
The second thing we need to remember is that through us, Christ’s love for the world is made known. That is what Epiphany means: making God’s love for the world known by making Christ known in the world. As important as our baptisms are for our own personal journey with God, we should never lose sight of the fact that that we are called to proclaim the love of God through Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit empowers us all, so that we become part of God’s continued revealing of Christ to the world. The world comes to know Christ through us, and through the love that we share as members of the Body of Christ.
The third thing to remember is that our baptism is the lens through which we live in relationship with God and with each other. Yesterday, I attended a funeral for a young woman, a woman many of you here knew. The circumstances of her death are heart breaking, she had two children and battled depression all her life. Her sudden death was a shock for her family and for the community of people who knew her and loved her. But at her funeral was a candle, the same candle you see here today. It’s the candle we light at Easter and burn for 50 days afterwards. It’s the candle we light at every baptism, and again whenever a baptised person dies. It’s the candle that represents that we are baptised children of God, who have been marked as Christ’s own forever. And we believe that our baptisms mean something.
Our baptisms change how we engage the world. No longer do we have to worry about how we are measured and evaluated; God has already adopted us and taken us as his own. No longer do we have to compete with our neighbors for some small advantage; by God’s abundance, there will always be more than enough love for us all. No longer to we need to worry about approval or affirmation for being smart, or pretty, or rich, or anything.
In our baptism, we engage in the world soaking wet – blessed, beloved, and forgiven.
Different people may understand baptism in different ways – as a washing away of our sins, as a dying of our old life and rebirth into a new one, as an initiation as a member of the body of Christ. But perhaps the most important way we understand baptism is that by it, God has adopted us as his own. In it, God’s spirit moves over the water, descends on us, and lives within us forever. Through it, we too can hear God speak a blessing: “You are my child, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Thanks be to God.
Thanks be to God.