As with most of my sermons, there are points of divergence from the notes and the delivery. Alas, in the middle of the two there is much to be interpreted.
Baptism, Belovedness, and Call
The Baptism of Our Lord
January 8, 2017
I couldn’t have been more than seven years old. I was sitting in the front row of the church, like I did, with one of my buddies…Tommy. I had this habit even then of listening to sermons by my pastor and seeking to write down all that I could onto the back of one of those envelopes. I would squeeze font down just legible enough so that when I would get to the car I would quick recap for my family what the preacher had said.
And then it happened. One Sunday, at the invitation of the Pastor to come down and accept Jesus…I felt moved. Maybe I felt it because I felt. maybe I felt it because Tommy felt it. Or maybe, just maybe, there was something more.
I stepped out into the aisle, moved forward. Following the service came the baptism. and I can still remember putting on that crazy white gown and getting into that cold cold water, looking James into the eyes as he welcomed me, covered my nose and baptized me into the family of God…
What I remember, more than anything, other than being soaking wet, other than tears in brother James’ eyes, other than “I’m glad I didn’t drown,”…was that I felt loved. Not just by people…not just by a church…I felt loved in my very being to become who God loved me to be.
The Baptism of Jesus, particularly the version that we have in Matthew’s gospel, gives us all the chance to pause and listen, to ponder how very very loved we are by God. It gives us the chance to wonder: where in our very own belovedness is God calling you to live out our own ministry in the world.
While each of us may have come to baptism through different roads (as babies, as adults, as second adults) what is true is this: that voice that echoed through the crowd at the baptism of Christ affirming Jesus’s identity at the beginning of his ministry, is a voice that is still active alive in the world today but here is the catch: we have to create the space to hear it.
You see that voice, that Spirit, that sent Jesus after his baptism to the wilderness…its here…its speaking. That Spirit that traveled with him as he was looking for companions to join in the kingdom…even when some quit or turned against him…its here…its speaking…its..calling. Yes, even that Spirit that echoed like thunder while Christ hung on the cross, facing the darkest moments in his life…its here…its still speaking.
Whatever your travail…whatever your struggle…whatever your blessing… it’s calling, You are loved…its saying. You are loved…its speaking…can you hear it?
There is great scene in the Hobbit where Bilbo Baggins is gathered at table with Dwarves debating the need for burglar to get past the dragon. Gandalf saw it him. It took him choosing to hear it, and see it, and chase it for him to become who he fully was. (More story in Audio).
Friends, I look around the room and I know what the Pesky Holy Spirit knows: there is something in you. The world order is not all sorted. People are hungry. Children need homes. There are plenty of Oarks that need to be tamed. And God needs good ol’ beloved you to do it.
Maybe in 2017 you will find your inspiration in your name. Maybe its in your family. But if you are not sure where to find that courage…or where to listen for that voice, you will remember there’s once place where you can always trust in finding who you are: in your baptism.
You see friends, when you are marked as Christ own for ever, a public ministry begins. The church begins its ministry to you and your vocation begins to take shape in the world. That doesn’t mean that all of a sudden all will be clear – or that a special dispensation will come down and you will have a linear path to sainthood (or to call). Its doesn’t mean that the church will always get it right as it tries to affirm you in your work. But it does mean that God’s dream for the world includes you becoming who God loved you to be.
Friends, if 2016 was the year of We > Me, then 2017 must be the year where love calls us to become who we are meant to be. Becoming who God wants us to be is scary – mostly because it includes who we are and who we are not YET.
I encourage you to make 2017 a year of getting in touch with your yes, but not yet belovedness. Find a group of friends to pray with. Find a safe place to talk about who you are becoming. Embrace what you lament about life so far and what you pray God will bring for you in the year to come. That’s the journey of baptism. Not that we get wet once, but that we recommit to walking through the water of Spirit and Water year after year after year.
At the very end of his ministry, Jesus had just had supper with friends and he had blessed some bread and they had shared some wine and he was happy. He led them out a hillside where, knelt and prayed that God would tell him what the rest of the journey was. The kept sleeping, but he stayed focused. He prayed. And after a little while, some guards came and led him to where he was supposed to be. And he, prayed up, full of life, and committed to the big picture, embraced it. And it changed everything.
Friends, this is the holy work of discipleship. Oh, that we might all be so honest with ourselves and God, that we might know what the right thing to do with our one great holy life really is. That Spirit is still speaking yall. May love trump fear in your life in 2017 and may we all see what dreams…what hope…what you may come. Amen.