I wonder if you remember your baptism. I know some of your do, some of you were adults when you were baptized. Most of you probably don’t, you like me were probably really young, infant even. I have had the privilege to baptize a some young people and infants, I have been present for many more. And never once has a bird showed up. Might be because we’re inside and some of the old churches just had bats flying around and not doves. I think the metaphor would be different.
Our gospel writer whom we call Luke, not the apostle we’ll meet soon. Luke was writing as best a history he could, he collected stories, wrote the narrative we have now for the gentiles, like him, which might be why the baptism of Jesus is so short in this gospel, unlike over versions.
There is so much more written about John and almost more written about the political leaders at the time—rooting the story in a time and a place, an empire and an ideology, a type of religious practice and a theology. We hear the names of the governor, the high priest, the emperor—their statuses in the world, the power, their place, their responsibilities. We learn what make these men important, or, at least what they think make them important, or what they want us to believe makes them important.
When John, son of Elizabeth, and I guess Zachariah, when John seemed to come out of nowhere in the wilderness and wild and woods. I’m sure the priests asked, “Isn’t this Zachariah’s son? Zach was so quiet.” Here John is, crying out, pointing fingers, calling out, pulling no punches. And people are showing up. The average people, the tax collectors who were actually paid by more wealthy people who were able to “rent” things like roads and then tax the people to use them, and you know they weren’t paid well, they were in the middle and it wasn’t really surprising that they tried to make the system work for them. The soldiers who showed up were stuck between the commands of the powerful and the masses of people, needing to keep the peace, by any means necessary—but they were suck somewhere in the middle too. The average people, the tax collectors, and the soldiers, all stuck in the middle. All these came to hear John, to imagine the world he was imagining, to be baptized.
Jesus came to the Jordan to hear John, to imagine the world John was imagining, to be baptized.
John called them to repentance. John is rooted in first century Judaism and repentance and sin is a little different. First, there is no original sin—the idea that each is born into sin because of the actions of Eve, mostly just Eve, in general, that’s not how that story is interpreted by Judaism. Sin was breaking the covenant the people have with God, the covenant that explains how the people will be in relationship with God and each other. It is falling off the path, losing the way, and repentance resetting the direction, realigning the arrow, setting the right direction, setting your place and you way in the world.
When all these people had been baptized, Jesus was baptized also, almost like an afterthought, but also, he was clearly like those other people: those average people, those tax collector, those soldiers.
Until he wasn’t. because when it was over, and Jesus was in prayer, God said that this Jesus is God’s child, is adopted, is beloved, brings God happiness.
And let’s deal with Jesus and all the things that he has done. I know what you might be thinking: Jesus healed people, spoke up for them, defended them, raised someone from the dead; but, not yet. At this point in our narrative, Jesus hasn’t done any of that yet. He’s been mostly likely been working with his dad, not that one, the Joseph one, maybe running the family business, taking care of his family. For what was around 20 years, since Jesus was left behind in Jerusalem, there was nothing to write about, so maybe Jesus had been average, too.
And yet, into that moment God showed up. Called Jesus beloved, brings God happiness, already, before the miracles, without the preaching, just because.
Here is a bit of truth that is a vast over assumption: pastors after fall into 2 categories: narcissus who can do no wrong, or those who are clinging desperately to grace in the hope they might be found worthy of it. I fall into the latter. I have spent YEARS trying to do the things, or not do the things, that would make me worthy of God’s grace and forgiveness—the right prayers, more prayers, reading my Bible more or consistently, devotionals. I have so many books bought with the best of intentions. I have beat myself with shame and every unkind word anyone has ever said to me, or I could imagine someone saying—which is usually worse than the reality.
I haven’t worried about this so much lately, right now, it’s that I’m clearly not doing enough or maybe I’m doing it wrong or someone else is doing it better, not better, correctly. Do I have worth or value in society? Is my life worthy or do I have value if I’m not doing ALL of the things? I’m not telling you this because I need anything from you. I’m saying this, because I don’t think I’m alone. I don’t think I’m the one who has wondered what does one need to earn grace and have I already done too much wrong or not enough good? Have I believed enough? Do I doubt too much? And these days have been particularly difficult for all kinds of people who might be asking the questions: What if I can’t do it all? Work from home at the highest standards, support the kids working from home, keep up on the home, and take care of myself?
It was Mr Rogers who said, “It’s really easy to fall into the trap of believing that what we do is more important than what we are.”
Into the moment of Jesus’ baptism, when he had no proof, God calls him Beloved. That is baptism. In our moment of baptism, God named you, claimed you as God’s own. Not because of anything you have done, not because of who your family is, not because of your status, power, wealth. It’s not tied to your position, not if you were the governor, emperor or priest; it is not tied to what you have, not if you have palaces or armies. Your value is not found it what you have or can accumulate, position, or accomplish. Your value, your worth, who and who you are, what gives value and makes your worthy is written in to the fabric of world, and celebrated in baptism. This is why we baptize babies, because it isn’t about what you do, it’s about what God has already done, that God has already named you Beloved. You are worthy, you have value, you are beloved.
I truly believe this, but just a couple of days ago, the President told insurrectionists and domestic terrorists that “we love” them, so I think it’s important that we finish the Mr. Roger’s quote: “It’s really easy to fall into the trap of believing that what we do is more important than what we are. Of course, what we are ultimately determines what we do!”
See, our baptism isn’t about washing clean of some original sin, it’s about embracing that we are Beloved, it’s a public declaration of who and whose we are, it’s about living the life we are called to by Jesus, that is also revealed here in John’s preaching and proclaiming to the average, every day, middle of society people, the people like you and me: don’t accumulate more than you need, be generous, trust your community will be there for you, be fair, don’t cheat, don’t be a bully, don’t be corrupt or corrupted, don’t use anger and violence as a means to manipulate.
Simple enough right? These are the practical steps of doing justice, loving mercy, walking the path of God, with God. That is what Redemption is about, walking this path even if we have wandered into the wilderness, or a different road, or just stopped moving, redemptions is about returning to the path, because we remember and embrace anew or again that we are named beloved, because we are children of God no matter. No matter what you have done or left undone, no matter what you are accumulated or lost, no matter your title, status, bank account, history. Baptism, and every time you remember your baptism, is a chance to hear again God whisper into your ear, You are my beloved, in you I find happiness.”