The Baptism of JesusMatthew 3:13-17 (NRSV)
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Today we remember Jesus’ baptism. I wonder, does anyone have a favorite part of the story? Is there one part of the story that stands out to you? Maybe your favorite part was the discussion between Jesus and John the Baptist, when John worries that he is not good enough and Jesus let him know that he is. Or when Jesus came out of the water and the heavens opened and Jesus saw God descending like a dove. Or it was the voice that came from heaven saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Or maybe it was the unexpectedness of the whole story, and how Jesus humbles himself to be just like everyone else at the river that day.
Well, I have to tell you, I like all of those parts, but the part that I love most about the story of Jesus’ baptism is a part that I think we sometimes overlook, not only in today’s story, but in our everyday lives. You see, my favorite part of today’s story is about God’s love. You know, that unconditional love that we talk about every week here in Oldtown. God really shows that unconditional love in today’s story because, before Jesus performs any miracles, before he heals the sick or walks on water or begins to preach and teach the crowds, God reminds him that he is loved. That he is beloved. That he is God’s Son. And God tells Jesus that not only is he loved but that God is well pleased with him.
Aren’t those all encouraging words that we would all love to hear? The truth is, we often say nice things to people about things that they have done. Like, “Josh I love the picture you drew!” Or “Ed, nice job on the yard sale!” “Kris, what beautiful table runners you made for the fair!” Or “Carolyn, your salad dressing is delicious!” But the difference in today’s story is that God told Jesus that he was beloved, that he was God’s Son, and that with him, God was well pleased, before Jesus did anything. So it wasn’t the things that Jesus said or did that made God love him; God loved him before he was even born.
The good news, my friends, is that the same is true for us because we are all children of God! Each and every one of us! And God loves us and is pleased with us just the way we are.
But how can that be? I mean, sometimes we make mistakes, and sometimes our choices are far from nice. Sometimes we get lazy and we don’t work to our potential. Or we say and do things that we shouldn’t. But here’s what today’s story teaches us. Before Jesus begins his ministry, before he begins to heal and teach and preach, through his baptism, Jesus knows who he is. He is God’s beloved and God is already well pleased with him. So, to put it simply, his identity comes not from the work that he is about to do, but from the relationship he has with God.
Did you hear that? Jesus’ identity comes not from the work that he is about to do, but from the relationship he has with God. I wonder, how many of us can say that about ourselves. Folks, this is the part that many people struggle with. I mean, it makes sense in our heads, but we have a hard time really believing it in our hearts. All our lives, we have had to prove our worth. If we get good grades, we’re good students and our parents are proud of us. If we keep practicing the piano, we learn to play, and people are impressed by our talents. If we work hard, we get the reward. If we give of ourselves, we are recognized as good.
But friends, we all know that sometimes, God tends to turn the world’s understanding upside down. And when it comes to our faith, who we are is all about our relationship with God because God created us! God made us to be who we are, and God filled us with gifts and passions to share with the world.
I wonder, how many of you have ever heard of the word “vocation?” A vocation is like a job, right? Well, yes and no. Yes, a vocation has to do with the work that we do, but a vocation is a little bit different. When we do a “job,” we perform skills in order to get approval from our boss and to complete a task, right? Well with a vocation, it is something that our heart is a little more involved in. Because as Christians, we believe that a vocation is where our faith and our relationship with God lead us, as we share the gifts and passions that we have been given.
When we follow a vocation or a call, it’s not about getting approval or finishing a task, it’s about sharing a gift or a light or a joy that has already been shared with us. Parker Palmer, in his book, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation wrote: “Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks–but we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.” (pp. 15-16) And Frederick Buechner a well-known theologian said: “Vocation is the place where your deepest gladness meets the world’s deepest need.” I love that one! “Vocation is the place where your deepest gladness meets the world’s deepest need.”
We can’t forget our storybook today, When God Made You, because in it we are reminded of the same things that the story of Jesus baptism taught us. God loved us from the very beginning. We are all children of God, made in God’s image, and God calls each one of us, to be who God created us to be, “to be hopeful and kind, with our heart soul and mind. To be a dreamer of dreams, in big and small themes. To be a mover and shaker, a lover of nature, a builder of bridges, you the peace maker. To view others as sisters and brothers and to live by three words: love one another. To be confident, strong and brave too Because you being you is God’s dream coming true!”
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, know that you are loved. Listen to your heart, and search within yourself to find where your deepest gladness just might meet the world’s deepest need. And then go for it! Truly being who God created you to be!
My Friends, may it be so, thanks be to God, Amen!