Baptism of our Lord 2013
A few years back Sarah and I had the privilege of meeting George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury. As we were introduced I remember struggling to find the words and whether or not I should introduce myself as ‘Stace’ or my middle name ‘Timothy’ or what other ways I should define myself—‘rector,’ ‘pastor’ ‘priest.’ Father of Macrina and Caroline? And how do you address the Archbishop of Canterbury? ‘Your Grace?’ ‘Father?’ ‘Bishop?’ George? He was very gracious of course but it got me thinking, do we really know who we are? Is it indelibly tied to what we do?
Do you know who you are? Do you have a clear picture of your identity as a human being? What is the difference between who you are and what you do?
When Jesus comes to the waters of baptism it seems clear that he knows what he is about. Why does Jesus need to be baptized? To totally identify with fallen humanity. The Orthodox bless the waters on Epiphany because they see Jesus’ baptism as preparing the way for all baptism. The waters are forever changed because the Son of God has sanctified them.
Jesus knew what he was about. He came to save humanity through his birth, life, death and resurrection. His baptism is a piece, ‘to fulfill all righteousness.’
But there is a difference, even for Jesus, in what he was clearly called to do, and who he was. Though for him there was no dichotomy.
We wrestle with this dichotomy all of the time. Do I find who I am in my work? That means either that work is the essence of who we are, so we sell out completely to it, or that it is the necessary toil of life and that we would really rather be retired and laying on the beach.
Jesus was given his mission from his Father, but at his baptism he was also given his clear identity. ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’
Sandwiched around this declaration are other pointers that Luke reminds us of. The verses we skipped today talk of John being imprisoned by Herod because John rebuked Herod about his adulterous marriage to his brother’s wife. John is taken out of the picture, Jesus becomes the clear focus of the story. After our passage today is a long genealogy that goes all the way back to Adam—Jesus is the clear focus of history. All the patriarchs and matriarchs of the faith point to him. He is the center of history.
But back to the declaration, ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’
It is interesting that when you read the gospels, you are confronted with Jesus’ own question, ‘who do people say that I am?’ In the gospel of John there are interchanges between Christ and the religious leaders where they flat out ask, ‘who are you?’
The temptation of Christ by Satan centers not around trying to get Jesus to do something bad, but by the question, ‘If you are the Son of God…’
Henri Nouwen says, ‘Jesus came to announce to us that an identity based on success, popularity and power is a false identity—an illusion! Loudly and clearly he says: “You are not what the world makes you; but you are children of God.”
How did Jesus know the Father’s voice compared to the others? What about the voices that were there to make him fall?
Luke and I just finished the ‘Magician’s Nephew’ by C.S. Lewis. It is the prequel to the other Narnia books and takes place at the inception of Narnia itself. The ‘magician’ is old uncle Andrew who has discovered some rings that take him to other worlds. Digory, the nephew, ends up using the rings with his friend Polly and through a variety of events, they end up in Narnia as it is being created by Aslan. Uncle Andrew ends up there too. Uncle Andrew, though, is not at all comfortable in Narnia. The animals talk, but he is so terrified by them and so full of contempt for Aslan, that all he hears is growling. He is unable to hear. He cannot hear what is really there, he cannot discern between one voice and another.
Back to Jesus. At one point in the gospel of John, the Father speaks to Jesus, but there are those who hear only thunder. They are unable to hear, and unable to listen, unable to accept the identity of Jesus.
The gospels are clear in their presentation of Jesus as God’s Son. Who he is and what he does are in perfect congruence. Jesus never questions his identity.
But what about you? If Christ has come to bring us salvation, how does that affect who we are and what we do? How does is affect your identity?
The center piece of the gospel is not only that Jesus saves us from sin and death, but that, as Paul says, we become a new creation. Through Christ, we become by adoption, sons and daughters of God. We are not sons and daughters in the same way as Jesus, but sons and daughters nonetheless.
What are the implications of this?
There is a hymn in our hymnal#664, called ‘My Shepherd will supply my need.’ The last verse reads like this:
The sure provisions of my God attend me all my days/oh, may thy house be mine abode and all my work be praise/That would I find a settled rest, while others go and come/ no more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home.
‘No more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home.’
There is a contrast between living life looking for an identity in whatever, and being a child at home in the house of God. A stranger lives life looking in from the outside, a guest is uncomfortable and self-conscious about being in the master’s home. What does a child do at home?
Luke, for example, when he is at home is so comfortable in his own skin. From the time he gets up to the time he hits the sack, he has a constant tune going through his head. He is truly at home in his home.
Listen to how Psalm 131 puts it:
2 I do not occupy myself with great matters, * or with things that are too hard for me. 3 But I still my soul and make it quiet, like a child upon its mother’s breast; * my soul is quieted within me.
The center of who we are as Christians is that we can say that we serve the unique Son of God, but that we also sons and daughters of God. We are like that child in total security and peace.
We don’t define ourselves by anything but what we are in Christ. We don’t become arrogant but as children of God we never live in self-abnegation.
Henri Nouwen again:
“Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.’ Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.”
In Christ, we are always the ‘beloved.’ The essence of who we are has very little to do with doing stuff as it does with our relationship to God. Our relationship to God in Christ is the definition of who we are, nothing more and nothing less.
We are going to do our healing prayers today. It strikes me that many feel in relation God more like a stranger or a guest and not like a child at home.
Stillness of soul and quietness of heart and contentment is elusive to many.
When you come to the altar rail, bring that desire to feel at your core a beloved son or daughter of God.