Pastor Annabelle P. Markey
Year B – Baptism of Our Lord Sunday
Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA – January 7, 2018
Happy New Year! As we begin 2018, many of us have engaged in that traditional New Year’s activity – the setting of resolutions. Yes, as we enter the New Year, we see it as a clean slate. It’s a time for do-overs, for new starts, and for something better. It’s like that super catchy pop song, “Brand New” by Ben Rector that we’ve all probably heard somewhere:
Like when I close my eyes and don’t even care if anyone sees me dancing
Like I can fly, and don’t even think of touching the ground
Like a heartbeat skip, like an open page
Like a one way trip on an aeroplane
It’s the way that I feel when I’m with you, brand new
It makes us feel like the world is brimming with all kinds of wonderful new possibilities! I’ll be thinner! I’ll clean the house more! I’ll start a new hobby! I won’t drink so many caffeinated drinks! I’m gonna be amazing!!!
Well, in an effort to speak the truth, I’m going to tell you some bad news. Only 8% of people who make resolutions actually succeed. Whomp Whomp We all know gyms and weight loss programs bank on this! Part of our lack of success is because our goals are too lofty and/or also too nebulous. Part of it is because we don’t find ways to keep ourselves accountable or because we stop believing we can actually do what we set out to do.
In the church calendar, we have entered the season of Epiphany. Yesterday was the Epiphany of the Lord, a day when we recall the story of the magi, journeying from afar to worship God made manifest and revealed in human form. Today, we hear the story of the baptism of Jesus, which tells us who Jesus is – God’s own Son, the Beloved, with whom God is well-pleased, the One who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Throughout this season, we will hear stories of Jesus’ life and public ministry. These stories not only identify who Jesus is, but they also invite us over and over again to “come and see” and to “follow” Jesus. They invite us to see where God is made manifest in our lives today. They summon us to grow in our own faith as we hear about who Jesus is and listen to his encounters with others. In many ways, the season of Epiphany beckons us to come, have a seat, and hear the story of the Gospel as if it were brand new. To journey with Christ and the first disciples, rediscovering what faith looks like in our own pilgrimages through life.
It’s in this context – in the contours of who Jesus is, who we are, and our discipleship – that we should look at what it means to start a new year. Many times, looking back on the previous year involves how we have failed and fallen short. But there is also celebration and goodness. In Genesis, God declares us “very good,” a beautiful part of God’s creative work. In baptism, over the sins and messes of our lives, the tangled relationships and the wounds we carry and inflict, God’s Spirit hovers and brings new life. Mark tells us that in Jesus’ baptism, the heavens are torn open and that Spirit descends on him like a dove. That same Spirit descends on us in baptism and clothes us with gifts and power from on high so we can participate in God’s creative and redeeming work.
We have heard we are to return to our baptism every day. As people who continue to sin, we return to the waters of forgiveness to be washed and made new, again and again. But we also remember our baptism because in it, our core identity, our true selves, are revealed. We are beloved children of God. We are forgiven, redeemed, gifted, and made new in Christ Jesus. That is who you are.
This baptism account in Mark takes place right at the beginning of the Gospel. Before Jesus speaks or does any miracles or signs or confronts anyone or attracts followers, God proclaims him the “beloved” with whom God is well-pleased.
In baptism, God declares to each of us: “You are my beloved. With you, I am well-pleased.” Before we do or fail to do anything, we are loved. Before we try to be successful or to achieve anything, we are loved. Before we try to rely on ourselves or our own goodness, we are loved. We are God’s own sons and daughters.
Which brings us back to our New Year’s resolutions. There are a thousand things I’d like to improve on or fix with myself. And things that definitely need work, there’s no denying that. But what if our resolution as we enter into this time of light – this time of God made manifest in the person of Jesus and made known to the nations – was to see ourselves the way God sees us? As beloved? The early Christians spoke of water baptism as enlightenment. Being our true, dearly beloved selves in Christ would be quite enlightening and illuminating, wouldn’t it?
Beloved. Be. Loved. I think one of the hardest things to do is to really live in the reality of that identity. I think it is far more tempting to want to try to focus on or fix the superficial things. Working out, eating better, and cutting back on tv are great and important, but God wants to effect even greater, more substantial transformations in our lives. And this looks like uncovering who we are in Jesus Christ. So what if we let ourselves be loved into our new identities? What if we allowed that Spirit we were gifted in baptism – that same Spirit that ordered the messiness and chaos in creation – recreate us? Can we let ourselves rest in the goodness that is the truth that we are God’s beloved? Or do we resist that somehow?
Maybe we resist because we know that God knows us inside and out and might push us beyond our comfort zones. Maybe we resist because we don’t really want this new, true identity – we’re pretty happy with who we are now because we’re used to it. Maybe we resist because we feel because we know ourselves, warts and all that we’re unlovable. Maybe we even feel like we’re undeserving of God’s love. It is only in prayer and in spending time with God that we can begin to uncover where our resistance and defenses lie. And I would advise you to ask God to reveal that to you.
As Richard Rohr says, “Even as we recognize our imperfections, we can take real delight in ourselves. We have dignity and value by simply being Who-We-Really-Are-In-Christ.” That’s the place from where we can make resolutions. Because the fact is that even though we have all sinned and fallen short, God desires to show us God’s love. God has been doing it since the beginning of time, calling creation “good,” patiently dealing with God’s people when they went astray, and sending Jesus to show us what God’s love looks like – love in the flesh. God wants us to live our lives knowing that we are deeply cherished and loved. And because of that love, God wants to help us uncover who we really, truly are. As Meister Eckhart says, “let God be God in you.”
God’s Spirit dwells within you, always drawing you to God, reminding you of Christ’s love and forgiveness, and empowering you to be a part of God’s kingdom come to earth. In this Epiphany season where we are told again who Jesus is for us and we are invited to follow, I challenge all of us to pray about these things: “can I ‘wade in the water’ of God’s tremendous love for me? Can I spend time this year exploring what it means to be God’s beloved child? How might that change my life and relationships with others and the world around me?”
It is 2018. It is a new year. With that, we feel the urge to turn over a new leaf. Brothers and sisters, know this: in baptism, God has already claimed you as God’s own beloved child and you are a new creation in Christ. God will always love you and will always be making you new. Be. Loved. Thanks be to God. Amen.