Sunday, January 10, 2010

Epiphany 1C: Baptism

Preached by the Rev. John Good at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, January 10, 2010

Just like you and me, Jesus developed an understanding of who he truly was during the formative years of his life, because, just like you and me, he was a human being. He did not have a God switch in his head that turned on the divine knowledge about being God's only begotten Son. He had to go through the inner struggles we all do to develop a sense of his authentic self. My guess is that during his adolescence he began to suspect that his relationship with God was different from that of his friends, and even other members of his family. I believe he gradually began to surmise that he had a closer intimacy with God than those around him.

I think he was concerned enough about this unique relationship that he went to follow John the Baptist for a while in order to wrestle with what today we would call an identity crisis. As today's gospel tells us, it was when he was baptized by John that his suspicions were confirmed. The experience of receiving God’s Spirit while he was praying after that event and hearing the affirmation, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased,"confirmed that he had a unique relationship with the God he began to call his Father. It is not too much to conclude, therefore, that Jesus' baptism was crucial to him for gaining a full understanding of his identity.

I would like to suggest that Baptism can be as crucial to us in knowing who we are and what we are to do with our lives. I know that most of us were baptized before we could comprehend what that means. But as we grew up and were formed in the faith, the meaning of our baptism was impressed upon our minds and incorporated into our identities as adults. Those of us who were baptized as young people or adults have been privileged to incorporate its meanings directly into our adult identities. Regardless of when we were baptized, we are reminded about its importance for who we are and what we are called to do each time we reaffirm the baptismal covenant at baptisms or in special liturgies such the one that follows this sermon. Those occasions reinforce our fundamental beliefs about who God is and who we are in relationship to him, so that we can know who we truly are.

The covenant each of us makes with God in baptism begins with an affirmation of our beliefs about God in the words of the Apostle's Creed. We acknowledge that God's power exceeds anything we can imagine because he is the Creator who made everything in the universe, from subatomic particles to entire galaxies. Yet we also acknowledge that this omnipotent, omnipresent, and omni-everything-else God did not keep his distance from us. God came among us as one of us to free us from death and show us the way to be in an everlasting relationship with him. We further acknowledge that God has given us access to his Holy Spirit, to guide us to truth and strengthen us to love. We believe the Holy Spirit binds us together as a special set-apart people, known as the holy catholic church, and that she incorporates us into a divine family, known as the communion of saints.

Just think about what these fundamental beliefs say about who we are. First of all, they say that we are created beings, which means that we have limits. We have less control than we would like over those things that govern our existence on this planet. However, through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, God has revealed that we are his beloved; forgiven sinners who need no longer fear the power of death which is the most important thing we cannot control. As the beloved of God, we are brothers and sisters of one another in the communion of saints. Finally, we are made members of a community of set apart people, namely the Church, to express our love for God in worship and our love for each other and for all others in caring service.

Who are we? We are God's limited but beloved creatures, brothers and sisters in a divine family, bound together in a community of faith, to love God and one another.

The five promises we make in the baptismal covenant spell out how we will live into this identity:

We will grow in our knowledge of God, worship him, and enjoy the fellowship of the worshipping community.
We will strive to do good and avoid evil, but turn to God when we need to be forgiven after our strivings fail.
We will live in such a way that other people can know the good news about God's love in Jesus Christ by what we say and do..
We will care about all persons whose lives touch ours as if they were Jesus, himself, and we will minister to them as our beloved neighbors.
We will do our part to make sure that all persons are treated with dignity, receive justice, and live in peace.
These are the things people do if they are God's beloved creatures, brothers and sisters of each other, and bound together in the community of faith.

One more thing needs to be said. Jesus’ baptism confirmed for him what was at the core of his identity. All other cultural influences such as his Jewish heritage, his occupation as a carpenter, or his subjugation to Roman rule were secondary to who he was. His identity and vocation as God’s unique Son were central to his understanding of himself. Given the multitude of influences that shaped our lives as our sense of self was formed, there is no guarantee that our baptism lies at the core of who we are. That is something each of us needs to evaluate for ourselves, so that we will understand just how important our relationship with God is to our identity. I intend to pray about that. I hope you will, too.

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