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The First Sunday after the Epiphany - The Baptism of Christ
January 13, 2013
The Gospel: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Sermon: "Who You Are!"
The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
Watch the complete video of this service on our YouTube Channel
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Who You Are!
Back in high school, whenever I would leave home to go out or on a date, my mother would bid farewell at the front door with these weighty words, “Don’t forget who you are. “
Now, every parent understands what she meant. She did not mean that I was somehow in danger of forgetting my name and street address. She meant that I might forget who I was. “Don’t forget who you are,” was her maternal benediction as I left home.
Sometimes it’s difficult, amidst the conflicting claims and confusion of names, to remember who we are. We are forever answering to some false name, forever misunderstanding who we are and by whom we are named. It is easy to forget.
The search for the self, the quest for one’s identity can become an all consuming drive. All around us there are myriad causes, groups, philosophies, and cults that are more than willing to tell us who they think we should think we are. “Who am I?”
“You are mostly a sexual being,” the movies, reality shows, and pop songs tell us, lusting and being lusted after. “Your body is your most important possession; nurture it, love it, display it, caress it, show it off, indulge it“! “Who am I?”
“You are mostly a brain, mostly a rational, thinking, reasoning being;” absorbing facts and figures, going to school-endless school, bowing down before the temples of Athena, living only to learn, not learning to live. “It’s not who you are but what you know!” we are told through seeming endless years of education. “Who am I?”
“You are mostly maker and spender of money, capitalist, doer, producer, consumer of finished goods and services that drive the economy;” the advertisers and economists tell us. “Who am I?”
“You are a self-centered, autonomous, self-made being,” this secularized world tells us. “Nobody will look out for you but you. You are the most important project in your life; nurture, care for, and love your adorable ‘me.’ Look out for number one, satisfy, soothe, make happy, thrill, care for your lonely little ‘me.’”
The truth is that the identity question of “Who am I?” is no longer over and done with by the old traditional age twenty-one. I know people in their thirties, their fifties who still ask the question, still experiment with their lives, mixing in this and that, hoping the whole thing will jell before it blows up in their faces. They do not answer always to the same name, because the names keep changing. Like Proteus, the hero of Greek mythology who could change his shape at will, we continually change our shapes to suit the situation; going through endless Protean metamorphoses as the situation demands.
But, to the pressing “Who am I?” question, the Church says, “You are one who has been baptized.” Why that answer? Because wrapped up in Baptism is God’s answer to that most necessary quest.
On this second Sunday of the New Year, the first after the Epiphany, our lesson from the Gospel according to Luke focuses our attention on the place of Baptism in our lives. Jesus came to be baptized by John. It was a dramatic moment. For there came a voice from Heaven, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.”
Baptism has always been at the heart of the Christian faith. It is a sign and symbol that we belong to Christ. It is a requirement for membership in the Church of course. But more importantly, it is a sacrament, an act of God, a means of grace. In the reflecting waters of Baptism we discover the image of who we really are. In these next few moments let’s consider just three of the answers Baptism gives us to that question, “Who am I?”
And let’s begin with this: Who are you? You are someone to whom a name has been given. “What is the Christian name of your child?” the priest asks when a child is brought to the font. This act of christening is the bestowal of the Christian name (as opposed to the child’s family name) upon the child by the Church. In ancient times, the Church literally named the child, often in memory of some favorite saint. The naming is reminiscent of the time when a person’s name was changed after a conversion experience or some dramatic change in life.
Life becomes a long process of trying that name on for size, growing up into it, answering to it, giving it meaning by the way we live our lives. At first, a big name like William, Catherine, Elizabeth, or Arthur will sound strange when set upon a tiny infant. But the child will grow into the name, filling it out, until one day it feels natural, it fits, and we could not imagine that person with any other name.
Whether one’s name is actually first given in the rite of Baptism or not (which is usually not the case today), Baptism continues to be an occasion for naming. At Baptism we are given the name “Christian.” That name, at whatever age it is given, is a gift—unearned, unmerited, undeserved—like salvation itself.
In so doing, the Church makes a radically different statement about who you and I are and how we get to be who we are. We are telling the baptized person that his or her identity is a gift, a corporate endowment of the Church, something bestowed upon us by grace from God. We, who have been taught of late that identity is an arduous discovery, the end result of rooting about in the dark recesses of our own egos, or our fleeting glimpses of ourselves as we drift from one momentary high to another, will be shocked to learn that identity is given rather than earned.
We did not “discover” our identity as a member of a human family, nor did we earn our family name. We got them as gifts. We learned who we were through the day-to-day love and care that our families showed us. We learn what it is to be called by the name “Christian” in the same way. Give the new Christian time and he or she will grow into the name and it will fit well. Who are you? First, you are someone to whom a name has been given.
Second: Who are you? You are royal. Baptism says not only that we are the ones to whom a name has been given, but also that we are royalty; daughters and sons of the sovereign ruler of the Universe.
We sin, of course. And we live less righteously than we should. But our sin, our unrighteousness is significant and troubling only because we know that we were made for something better. Our sin is noteworthy, our inhumanity is blasphemous, only because it does not befit the character of ones so worthy! Worthy, because we have been made worthy; bought, adopted, made heirs, elevated by the Sovereign of Sovereigns.
Across our land, most especially in our black churches, this awareness has been a well known chant, especially in worship. The “I am somebody” chant has been made famous for some time by those who have carried it out to other places, but it originated in the Church. In the Church, where it started, it goes like this: “Once, I was nobody. But now, thank God Almighty, I am somebody!”
The Christian message is not that we should try hard to “Act like somebody.” The Christian message is, “You are somebody.” You are because God, through Christ, has declared it so. That is why the Church does not rest so long as even one of God’s heirs is in misery, or hungry, naked, oppressed, persecuted, or lost. We do not rest so long as any institution, government, party, or person seeks to warp, distort, or deny God’s royal image in any of God’s children. Who are you? You are royal; a son, a daughter of the Sovereign.
Finally: Who are you? You are one with whom God walks. The great reformer, Martin Luther, had his hours of profound doubt and despair. In such hours he would face himself and the Tempter with these words, “Baptizatus sum, baptizatus sum”: I have been baptized, I have been baptized. Baptism is a reminder to us that we are not alone in the world. Just as Jesus heard those words at his baptism, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased,” so we too hear God’s voice: “You are my own. I am with you. You are not alone.” In times of our doubt, inner turmoil, hopelessness, and confusion, we too, would do well to touch our foreheads, where the sign and seal of Baptism was made, and remember that we have been baptized.
God has promised that no matter what happens, no matter how good or bad things may be, regardless of our joy or sorrow, God will not leave us nor forsake us. That is God’s promise to each of us. It goes part and parcel with our baptism.
To understand Baptism is to finally know “Who you are.” So, the Church is here this morning to remind you and me, so that we might remind each other, that God has named you and claimed you and seeks you, and loves you with only one good reason in mind; so that he might love you for all eternity. Remember your baptism, and rejoice. You are God’s somebody! You are God’s own!