Let me begin by saying what a joy it is to welcome my mom and dad to our worship service this morning. There’s something to be said about a son preaching and proclaiming to his parents. This isn’t anything new to them. They have sat through many of my sermons before. And as I youngster, I certainly preached and proclaimed all sorts of stuff to them…most of which were demands for things I wanted.
I’m sure if you asked they would be more than happy to share some embarrassing stories about me. And I’m sure I would be even happier if they didn’t. The way I see it, there are just some things you don’t need to know about your pastor. Sort of like how there are some things (JH) doesn’t want me to know about him. Which is proof that we don’t have to know everything about a person in order to like them, do we?
Take Jesus for example. Today we celebrate the epiphany of his baptism. It is here God reveals Jesus’ divinity to the world. And yet I can help but wonder why it took so long to reveal this information. Here in the wilderness, in the Jordan River we meet Jesus, the man. The living Messiah, our Lord and Savior.
The Bible seems to skip over most of his childhood. It’s funny how there are no tales of weird emotional mood swings; no records of him dealing with pimples or peer pressure; nothing about him being totally embarrassed by his parents. There’s not one single account of Jesus sulking in his bedroom wishing that “someone would just understand him.”
Maybe if we knew about those awkward years during puberty, Jesus might seem…well…too human for us? Luke gives us one quick snapshot of a precocious 12 year old who is holding an intense Q&A session with the Rabbis in the Temple. But that’s all we get.
Jesus, the boy, is like you and me. He has a story. But from birth to baptism, we don’t know much about it. Yet for some reason God rips open up the heavens and declare, “You are my Son, the Beloved. In you I am well pleased.” Have you ever wondered what he did to please God?
I will never forget the day my father and I were hiking in the Hollywood Hills. It was during a time when my…personal life was in turmoil. It seemed like everything I had created was falling apart. I was living in a cloud of darkness, where everything seemed hopeless.
It was on this walk my father confessed he didn’t know how to help me because he had never experienced what I was going through. Then he added, “But you are my son, and I will walk with you through it. No matter what.” This was an epiphany moment for me. Those words would change the course of our relationship forever. They would mark the beginning of something new and wonderful.
Here I was… lost in a wilderness of despair…only to discover the Hollywood Hills was my Jordan River. The tears that flowed down my face were the waters of my baptism. And echoing across the canyon, I heard my father’s voice calling out to me. “You are my beloved.” My new life began to take shape. I had a purpose.
Perhaps the gospel writers jumped over the early years to teach us how baptism marks the beginning of our faith journey, not in the middle or the end of it. It’s a reminder that we don’t need to have everything in order, to benefit from it. In fact, the less perfect it is the better. All we need to do is grasp the concept of God’s grace. In other words, no matter what your story is, God wants to be a part of it. God is the parent who stands with us and walks with us.
While our heavenly parent might not approve of everything we do, God still loves us…no matter what. God’s grace tells me this, that even though I am flawed, I am loved and cherished. Christ burst through creation to proclaim the good news of this amazing grace, and to teach us how to live it out by being faithful to the One who gives it to us in abundance. Did Jesus need God’s redemption like we do? I don’t know. Maybe all humans need it. After all, why would a sinless person need to be baptized?
In Matthew, John the Baptist actually tries to talk Jesus out of it. And in the Gospel of John, the writer bears witness to the Spirit descending like a dove upon Jesus, but it does not mention the actual baptism at all. However different they might be, each of the four gospels end the same; with the Father’s divine blessing being placed upon his Son in whom he is well pleased.
So what had Jesus done up to that point that made God so proud?
Luke gives us a clue in the previous chapter when Jesus, the boy, is in the Temple. In chapter 2, verse 51, the author writes, “Then he went down with (his parents) and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them.” Jesus was obedient. Even in his teenage years, he did what he was told! This would be the defining mark of Christ throughout his entire ministry…A mark which seems to begin at this baptism.
William Willimon writes, “How wise of the church, after the sappy sentimentality that inundates Christmas, to turn us towards talk of obedience in Epiphany. Before we meet Jesus the compassionate healer, the wise teacher, the fierce prophet, we meet him as fully obedient to God rather than to the whims of the carping crowd.”
Luke tells us Jesus was obedient to his earthly family…as well as to the Jewish laws and customs. More importantly, he was obedient to his heavenly parent; doing the will of God, even when it meant sacrificing his life to do so.
What does this mean for us? The entire Bible…is a story…that calls us into obedience to God’s will. And there is an important reason for it: God looks to you and me to be the faithful presence of truth and love in the world. Jesus’ baptism is an epiphany moment in that it gives witness to the world that he belongs to God. After the waters are upon him, Jesus gives his life to do the work of God in the world.
At our own baptisms, we too are sealed into the body of Christ, confirming within ourselves who we are called to be God’s beloved Sons and Daughters. Each one of us is given the same relationship with the Father, each of us… the same power of the Spirit that Jesus himself knew. Therefore, each one of us bears the same responsibility. Our baptismal water is an outward sign of an inward promise we make with God, and the church, to walk as Christ walked.
And so as we think about our baptism, or our desire to be baptized, let us turn to the words of Bishop, Desmond TuTu, who reminds us so poetically, the very water in our baptismal fonts, is the same of that in the largest oceans…Each is made up of single drops of water.
We all have a different story, yet we all share the same grace. So let us take that grace out into the world as the true expression of Jesus Christ, longing for the day we can hear our holy Father say, “When I was hungry you fed me, when I was thirsty you gave me drink. When I was a stranger you let me in. When I was naked you clothed me, when I was sick you comforted me, and when I was in prison you visited me. For doing that in my name, my beloved child, I am well pleased.”
Let us pray. Abba, God. Through your Son, you have taught us the way of peace and love. By your Spirit you have empowered us to be faithful to do your will. Send us now…out into the world…to be your light and love, so that the world can understand the glory of your amazing grace. We ask this in Christ’s name. Amen.