Friday, January 10, 2014

Reflections on the text for The Baptism of Our Lord - Matthew 3:13-17

Read the text here: Matthew 3:13-17
This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased…
The year 1521 was an important and dramatic year for Martin Luther.  This is the year that Luther stood before the assembled German nobility along with the Holy Roman Emperor and refused to recant his teachings and writings.  “Here I stand…” he is quoted as saying.  Immediately following this exhilarating moment Luther was bundled out of the city of Worms and secured in a lonely castle called the Wartburg.  There he languished for almost a year, alone.  To pass the time he took on the task of translating the New Testament into German, but the solitude was very difficult for him.  He was immediately beset by doubts and fears and he felt that he was being attacked by demons who kept up a steady chorus of whispering words of criticism, condemnation and self-loathing.  As the time went on the voices got louder and more intense until finally (as the story goes) Luther picked up the bottle of ink and threw it across the room at his accusers – “I AM BAPTIZED!”  He cried!  And the accusers scattered.  Thereafter whenever he felt beset he would simply cry out – “I AM BAPTIZED!”
In our Gospel text from Matthew we meet again John the Baptist who is calling the people to repentance and baptizing them in the River Jordan.  Today Jesus appears to be baptized by John.  At first John refuses, but eventually agrees.  As Jesus is coming up out of the water the Holy Spirit rests upon Jesus in the form of a dove and a voice from heaven speaks – “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  Then Jesus is led into the wilderness to be tested and tempted by the devil.  “If you are the Son of God…” cries the devil, “then turn these stones into bread… throw yourself down from here… worship me for only I can give you glory.” 
In his baptism Jesus’ identity as the Son of God is confirmed and affirmed.  But immediately that identity comes under attack.  “What does it mean that you are the Son of God,” whispers the accuser, “Doesn’t it mean you can do anything you want; that you are so powerful that you can create your own food out of these stones?  Doesn’t it mean that you can throw off this flawed and vulnerable humanity that you have taken on and never have to worry about mortality? Doesn’t it mean that you are deserving of glory and power and wealth and majesty?”  And to these questions, to these attacks Jesus answers a simple – No – that is not what it means!  You can almost hear an echo in Jesus’ response of Luther’s “I am baptized!” 
For to be baptized is to be affirmed as a child of God, a part of God’s family.  Jesus’ identity was affirmed and confirmed by the voice of God that spoke from the heavens.  This identity is absolute and never changing.  No matter what sinister voices attempt to drown out of the voice of God, no matter what challenges to this identity come his way (and we know there will be plenty of those to come), it all comes down to this simple affirmation – You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased… -  and nothing can change that!
This is true for us as well.  We too receive our identity at our Baptism.  We become children of God – sons and daughters of God.  This is our most important identity in life and it is never changing.  Throughout our lives we will have struggles and challenges to contend with and our identity in the world may shift and change – but our identity as children of God – as beloved sons and daughters of God – will never, ever change.  It is on this that we can depend.  The voice of God speaks at our Baptisms as well – “This is my beloved daughter, my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”  For in our Baptisms we are baptized into Christ and our identity is in him.  In our baptisms we are called to see not only ourselves as part of God’s family but all others who are also Baptized and whom God has also called to be part of God’s family.
But also like Jesus who immediately had his identity attacked, we too must contend with attacks on our identity as children of God and voices that attempt to undermine this identity and calling.  As children we sometimes hear voices that tell us that tell us we are not smart enough, or not pretty enough, or not talented enough, or not cool enough.  As teens, we hear the voices of bullies and those who resort to violence putting us down, calling names; we hear voices pushing us to do things we know are wrong in order to be accepted.  As adults we struggle with those voices that tell us we are not successful enough, or we don’t have enough stuff, or we’re not attractive enough, or have enough money, or we really do need that drink in order to fit in or to relax.  Our identity as God’s children comes under vicious attack from the very moment we are Baptized and we forget that God has already given us an unchangeable identity, a foundation of grace and love that can provide us with direction and strength.  “I AM BAPTIZED!”  Not, by the way, “I was baptized” but “I AM BAPTIZED!”  And this affirmation reminds us of who are and whose we are.
And not only us, but many, many others are also claimed as beloved children of God.  We can easily begin to focus so much on ourselves that we loose our ability to see this identity in others.  We begin to be judgmental – that person is lazy, overweight, ugly, the wrong kind of person, the wrong color and on and on – and God’s voice is drowned out by our own words and actions.
I AM BAPTIZED!  We are reminded today that we have been claimed by God, accepted into God’s family as children of God, through Jesus.  We have been washed clean of our sinful self-centeredness by the waters of Baptism, we have been anointed by the oil and marked with the cross of Christ forever and we are called to let our lights shine forth.  In the small catechism Luther is quite clear that Baptism is at the foundation of our lives as Christians and he encourages us to constantly find ways of remembering, recalling, and making present now our baptismal experience.  The feel of water, the making of the sign of the cross all help ground us in our identity as children of God.  You are God’s beloved, with you God is well-pleased!  I AM BAPTIZED! This is who you are – a beloved child of God!
Art by the incredible artist - HeQi
This sermon was inspired by a chapter in "Pastrix" by Pr. Nadia Boltz-Weber

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