Sermon for the 1st Sunday after the Epiphany
Isaiah 43:1-7 Psalm 29 Acts 8:14-17 Luke 3:15-17,21-22
I was talking with a friend who gave up social media for the new year. She was trying to make friends outside Facebook while applying the same principles. Every day, she walks down the street and tells passersby what she had for breakfast, how she feels, what she had done the night before, and what she will do tomorrow. Then she would give them pictures of her family, her dog and her garden. She also listens to their conversations and tells them that she loved them. She was bragging about how it was working. She already had three people following her – two police officers and a psychiatrist.
The Baptism of our Lord comes quickly after the Magi leave. Each year it begins the season of Epiphany. In our lectionary, we jump from the birth of Jesus to his baptism in the Jordan River as a thirty-year-old adult. My how time flies. In the three-year lectionary cycle, Jesus’ baptism rotates through the synoptic gospels. This year we have Luke’s account.
With many words, Luke has told us of John the Baptist and Jesus’ births. Now in very few words, Luke will transition from the end of John’s preaching mission to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus’ baptism provides the hinge. The people are wondering if John might be the messiah, but John tells them that someone more powerful is coming. One who is empowered by the Holy Spirit is coming. We know that during Advent, John’s ministry is all about preparing for the Messiah’s coming.
The beginning of Jesus’ ministry is marked by his baptism, not fully described in Luke’s account, but we know the story. Luke merely says, “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too.”
According to Luke’s account, all we know about Jesus’ baptism is that it was with “all the people” – but maybe that is what we sometimes forget. Jesus presented himself to be baptized as an act of solidarity with a nation and a world of sinners. Jesus just got in line with everyone who had been broken by the worries and woes of this world. Some of them had given up on themselves and on God. When this line of downtrodden, broken, covid-weary folks formed, they were filled with anticipation and hope for new beginnings. Jesus joined them, knowing all that he was to do. At his baptism and throughout his ministry, he identified with the damaged and broken people who needed God the most.
The question echoes off our walls – “Are we willing to identify with sinners and get in line with them, to welcome and work for them as brothers and sisters in Christ?” If the church is to be a hospital for sinners instead of a hotel for saints, then we need to do our part. If Jesus got in line with sinners, we need to sign up and we need to get in line. We are all works in progress and there is no magic formula or time frame that makes us worthy. Jesus’ love and grace and mercy and compassion make us worthy. It is not anything that we need to do, other than accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
In Luke’s account of the baptism, Jesus doesn’t say a word out loud. After he is baptized, Jesus prays. Jesus is not only coming to us sinners, he is also coming to God in prayer. He won’t begin his public ministry of teaching and healing left to only his power and abilities. The source of his strength will come from beyond him. The Holy Spirit will encourage him all the way, even as the way becomes more and more difficult. The disciples will learn this approach of prayer from Jesus, as the Spirit will give them perseverance and patience to love and love again in faithful ministry.
So another question echoes through our walls – “Do we depend on the Holy Spirit and our prayer connection with God to help us go into the world and make a difference in people’s lives through Christ?” How do we respond when we hear a need? Perhaps, we know that our God connection is a lifeline for all of us followers of Jesus. It is necessary for every individual, every congregation, every diocese, every ministry. It is important to realize that this intensely spiritual experience Jesus has after his baptism happens while he is in prayer. Identifying with sinners in the waters of baptism and holding God in prayer, Jesus will now be claimed as God’s Son. As Clarence Jordan says, “the sky split, the Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove came down upon him, and a voice came from the sky saying, ‘You are my dear Son; I’m proud of you!’
At his baptism, Jesus is ordained as Messiah by God, God who loves him and doesn’t hesitate to tell him so. This powerful affirmation, this calling from God, will sustain Jesus through his time in the desert where he is tempted. This powerful affirmation will sustain him through the joys and trials of his faithful ministry.
My father was a member of the “greatest generation” described by Tom Brokaw. He spent so much of his life providing for his family, a family he dearly loved. But he was never able to say that he loved us, was proud of us, or any other affirmation. So during most of my life, he provided for my needs and loved me in his own way. It wasn’t until about six months before he died that he had a stroke. That stroke freed up that part of his brain that wouldn’t allow him to express his heart and he was able to tell us that he loved us. It is one thing to know it, but something quite different to hear it from the person you love. “You are my child, my beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
So, does it help us to know that God claims us as God’s children and is proud of us for bringing God’s love to all people? I am reading Brene’ Brown’s latest book, “Atlas of the Heart”. Over and over, she states the need for love and belonging. With belonging comes a deeper connection with a larger humanity – our faith community and with God. She talks about our needing empathy to truly connect with others. She clarifies that “empathy is not walking in someone else’s shoes, but rather learning how to listen to your story that tells me about what it’s like in your shoes.” Research indicates “True belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.” To be who God created us to be. To be our true selves!
We need to hear this affirmation from God and from each other. These are life-giving words that every human being upon this earth should hear: “You are my child, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” When Jesus heard those words, they changed his life forever. They will do the same for us, for our children, our neighbors, our spouses, our church family, and as Jesus promised, even our enemies.
Luke uses a few words to share with us the baptism of our Lord. But those few words lead us to the very deep wellsprings of joy. They lead us to identify with all people, to depend upon God in prayer for the strength to live and to love, and to hear the affirmation of God as the source of our calling and purpose for life are the most enduring joys of life. These are the blessings of our life together in Christ as the family of God. We are called to be the hands, heart and feet of Christ. God honors our efforts, the intentions of our hearts. We are children of God, God’s beloved and with us, God is well-pleased.” Amen.