Our Identity: God's Beloved Ones
Jan 12, 2020
Did you notice the baptism maps on the bulletin board next to the church nursery, across from the Meeting Room? Quite a few of you have added a pin to the maps (one for the world, and one for Ohio) and added the location and date of your baptism to the lists posted there. If you haven’t done so yet, I hope you will. And, if you have not been baptized, but would like to consider it, let’s talk!
That pin on the map tells some of your story. For me, it indicates that I was only two months old when I was baptized, that I lived in North Platte, Nebraska, and that my family attended First Lutheran Church. If I take the story a step further, it is to tell you that I was born and raised in North Platte, that First Lutheran was my Dad’s family’s church and the location of many family baptisms, confirmations, and funerals through the years. And, my Grandpa Hansen was known for providing the altar flowers from his garden in the summer.
My identity is connected to my baptism story – or, for some, lack of a baptism story. That’s true for each of us, in different ways, but there’s one commonality, which I’ll get to momentarily.
First, though, let’s pause to consider Jesus’ baptism recorded in Matthew. There are two important realities of which we should be aware as we study Matthew. One is that every story in Matthew’s Gospel is a story about God, even though God is often hiding in the background. And, the single most crucial thing that Matthew’s gospel wants to say about Jesus is that Jesus is God’s own son. Both things clearly occur in today’s account. In fact, they happen simultaneously; God is certainly present in the voice which proclaims the important message about Jesus: “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Matthew’s account is short and sweet, so much so that commentator Scott Hoezee wonders if John the Baptist was in a daze afterward. Commentator Hoezee surmises that even though John agreed to baptize Jesus, after initially objecting, he did not “get it.” What exactly does Jesus mean when he says, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness?”
John might have asked himself why, writes Hoezee, Jesus would let himself be so anonymous and like any other person? Where was the fire, the axe, the razzle-dazzle John had been hopping up and down screaming about for so long? Remember his famous Advent proclamation: “You brood of vipers! Who told you to flee from the wrath to come?” And, “Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” He told them that the one is coming would baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit … that’s Jesus…the one who on this day, is so humble.
Evidently, John did not quite grasp that Jesus had cast his lot with humanity. John the Baptist expected Jesus to be more powerful. “John the Baptist wanted,” to quote Commentator Hoezee, “Jesus to take over the preaching that day, to fill the air with words even more fiery and images even more arresting than John’s own sermons had contained. But Jesus declined.” (1)
It seems as though Jesus’ baptism was one of many that day, and that the voice of God was heard only by Jesus, and perhaps John, but not by the others who were also being baptized. In that case, his baptism was not all that noteworthy - that is until later when it was put into the context of his ministry, death and resurrection. Perhaps the same thing is true of the baptisms we witness here at Faith Lutheran Church.
Oh, it’s a special day for the parents and family of the one being baptized, or if the person is older, for that individual. But, the rest of us – even though we promise to support the newly baptized in their faith journey – may silently sigh, annoyed that the service will be longer and not expect anything unusual to happen.
And, yet, consider this: the Trinity is present; the Holy Spirit descends; sin is forgiven; faith is dispersed. As Scott Hoezee says, “God’s voice issues the decree of adoption into the divine family.” (2) And, as I say during every baptism, “You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, and are marked with the cross of Christ forever.”
Something truly HOLY is happening. In baptism, we are given a name – BELOVED. And, we are given an identity – LOVED and FORGIVEN CHILD of GOD.
In my case, I’m a loved and forgiven child of God who happens to have been born in western Nebraska and baptized at a Lutheran church. Contrary to what I said earlier, that’s not so much my identity as what describes me, along with the fact that I’m a pastor and I look like my mother’s side of my family and I like hiking and jigsaw puzzles. Each one of you has things that describe you too.
But, what defines me – us, all of us - is our family name: God’s child, which is accompanied by the promise of on-going forgiveness of sin and a relationship with God.
Today we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord. It’s a great day for a “Sunday Funday,” which will bring us together for food, fellowship and more focus on baptism.
And, we experience) the holy as Samuel, Kassian, and Loukah were baptized; these little boys can be described as cute as the dickens, as each having two brothers and two sisters, and as being baptized on January 12, 2020, at Faith Lutheran Church in Akron, Ohio. BUT, their primary identity, what defines them, is that they are BELOVED; loved and forgiven children of God.
This is a day to remember this: who you are grows out of whose you are – God’s beloved ones. AMEN