Sunday, January 27, 2013

Beginning Beloved

Tonight we are baptizing Soren, Svea and Sigrid.  In the mystery of this moment of baptism, God claims us and marks us as Christ’s own forever.  Our journey to discover what this means in our life, how we are meant to share in God’s plans for the world, begins here at the font.  Here the Spirit indwells us and beckons us to follow.

There is nothing magic about baptism.  Pouring water and speaking words doesn’t save us or change us.  We come here as people who doubt and argue, who suffer pain and fear, who betray and let down those who love us.  And let’s be honest, we leave the same way.  But we baptize anyway.  Why?

   Because baptism is not about our attitude, or worthiness or our earning anything, it’s not about the words said or water used; it is about God.  It is about God who created the whole world saying, You are my beloved, and you belong to me, and have I got some plans for you!  And for this reason, who we are, and whose we are – as a community and as individuals- flows from this place.

In our scripture tonight we see Jesus’ baptism. Don’t blink or cough, though, because you’ll miss it.  In Luke’s telling Jesus shuffles into the river with all the others and is baptized right alongside the rest of them.  A peasant man, son of a carpenter from a small, no-place town, just like everybody else in one way or another. 

Nobody around him gave him a second glance, or wondered to themselves, Hmmm, could that guy be the Messiah we’ve been waiting for? No, of course not.  They were all too busy gazing at John, all passion and fire, prophecy and drama, and speculating that perhaps HE was the chosen one.  John, who preached fire and passion like a prophet of old and lived off the grid; he fit the Messiah mold.

But instead the Messiah they’d been waiting for wanders into the waters of salvation right alongside them, and submits to the ritual of repentance and cleansing.
John raises his head from the mucky river to the converts lined up in front of him and meets eyes with his cousin, the Chosen One, and he quite understandably balks. Wait, I can’t baptize you! He says to Jesus. You should be baptizing me!  What need do you have of repentance? How can I pronounce over you forgiveness of sins?  What is even going on right now?
But Jesus insists, and a baffled John goes ahead and baptizes Jesus just like everybody else. 

Afterwards, when this unremarkable, wet and dripping baptized man slogs out of the river back onto the muddy shore with the rest of them, something kind of dramatic happens.
The heavens tear open, and the Holy Spirit dive bombs him, (like a dove), and a strong and clear voice announces in the hearing of the startled and perplexed onlookers, “You are My Child, my beloved, I am delighted in you!” 

Before Jesus can begin his public ministry, just before he is sent into the wilderness and struggles against temptation, and in his first appearance since his childhood disappearing act in the temple while his frantic parents searched for him is this moment, this moment that defines him, that sets the trajectory for him, that starts his vocation, this moment when God says outloud, “You are my beloved, I am so thrilled in you.”

What a blushingly extravagant thing to be called, beloved. My beloved.  The one I love, the one who belongs to me, my beloved, my joy and my love!  I wonder what it would be like to live as a beloved?  How does being “beloved” shape you? 
Who are you?
I am beloved; I am my parents’ beloved child. I am my sweetheart’s beloved.  I am a beloved friend, sister, grandson.  I belong to someone who adores me.  
When you are beloved, and you know it, that is foremost who you are; everything else comes from that place and returns to that place, that you are loved. Love transforms us with its extravagant abundance.  It makes us brave; it makes us strong.  It makes us generous.  Being loved makes us able to love other people.  It connects us to others.  Belonging is the place it all begins.
Because I am loved I am not alone, I can face hard things, I can risk joy and risk hope and risk being honest and real.  Who are you?  I am beloved!

This claim of God over him is the beginning for Jesus to fulfill God’s calling and ministry to the world.   He goes from that place as God’s beloved child, sent by God and with the power of the Holy Spirit guiding him.  
Jesus’s ministry does not begin in might and power, in some kind of holy inauguration or sovereign swearing in ceremony that recognizes his authority or his worthiness.   God doesn’t speak down over him in front of a respectful audience of leaders and important figures, “You are my representative; I am counting on you.”  
Jesus’ ministry on earth begins in coming just as one of us, with us, bearing the weight of human repentance, the need for God’s mercy, the hope of God’s grace and leading.  It begins with being washed in the waters of new life, and being named in God’s love.  I choose you. You are mine.  You are my beloved, and I love you.
God has come to share our place.  And we are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection.   Martin Luther calls this “the happy exchange.”  That in Jesus God takes on everything it means to be human, and in exchange gives us everything it means to be Christ. 
So what’s ours in this glorious trade-off is being in relationship with God, being free to love God and one another, being empowered to share in God’s work of healing and hope.
And in exchange, Jesus takes this into himself our weak and selfish humanity, death in all its ugly forms: injustice, atrophy, corporate evil and personal pain, all that we do to ourselves and each other, all that separates us from God and threatens to destroy us.

We have a picture on Owen’s bedroom wall.  You kids saw it last week, when Owen brought it to Sunday school show and tell.  It is framed, with a date on the bottom, March 6, 2005.  In the picture a short, stout cheerful looking woman in a robe holds a small boy in white in the crook of one arm, his perfectly round head front and center and his face hidden from the view.  She is saying something, and her other hand is cupped, above him, water dripping down from the backs of her fingers.  Owen’s baptism.  We placed the picture directly across from his bed.

Owen struggled for a while when he was very young with terrible nightmares.  Frightening visions that made him feel unsafe, alone, terrified to be in his room at night.  We tried to comfort him in various ways, praying for him, cuddling him, leaving the door open and the hall light on. 
We told him that Jesus was with him, and this just frustrated him.  “I can’t see Jesus!”
We told him angels were there and that just freaked him out.  “I don’t want them in here!”
Finally, we told him the story of his baptism.  “You belong to God,” we said, “You’ve been baptized.  Jesus’ love is stronger than death; it broke death, forever, and you belong to this love.  When you feel afraid, when things seem big or scary, look at this picture.  This is your baptism.  Do you know what this means?” we asked.  And then he first heard the mantra that has become our children’s’ comfort in fear: “Death can’t get me because Jesus has got me.”

And in years to come, when Owen doubts himself and his parents and questions the things he has been raised to believe, when life knocks him down and breaks his heart, that picture on his bedroom wall is testimony that no matter how far he goes, no matter how lost he feels, no matter how hard he fights it, no matter how loudly he may shout “NO!” God has already said Yes.  It is irreversible and permanent. He belongs to God.  That is whose he is.

God has claimed the whole world and the promises of God are for all.  All creation and every person who walks the planet belongs to God.  But we sit here as a people with that promise poured over us, and spoken onto us – many of us before we could speak ourselves - and embraced into us by those around us.  When you and I were baptized, belonging to God became what defines us; our identity is now rooted in that reality.  That is whose we are.
And when we die, our baptism will be complete, we will be fully united with God, in Christ, where we belong, in the arms of the one who calls us beloved.  In life and in death, we belong to Christ.

Baptism doesn’t take away the questions or spare us the pain.  It doesn’t exempt us from hardship or shield us from evil.  Baptism tells us that no matter what happens we have this hope and promise: we belong to God.  We are God’s beloved.  And Death can’t get us because Jesus has got us.
As Paul says,  “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

And just as it was for Jesus, baptism is the beginning of our ministry.  God chooses us to participate - we are drawn into God’s purposes sent out in God’s power.  So we get to bravely live out our identity and calling as God’s beloved children- that is who we are.  Our lives get to be part of God’s work of loving the whole world.  As a people claimed by God-with-us, and led by the Holy Spirit, we get to fearlessly embrace a world being redeemed by God; and we get to continually seek to join in the miracle of redemption - in all the prominent and quiet ways God is accomplishing it  - until Christ returns.  We live out our faith by entering in, not backing away from other’s pain or suffering, not fearing our own doubts or failures, but even in our very weakness speaking up, reaching out, stepping in, right alongside one another, where Christ is found.

Our journey begins here at the font; who we are and whose we are- individually, and as a community - flows from this place.   And so, Soren, Svea and Sigrid, we are so excited to speak these promises over you tonight, and welcome you into this calling, as you are claimed by God, who says, “You are my beloved, I am delighted in you, and have I got some plans for you!”

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