Can you hear me now?

A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church

Jan 15, 2012 for Baptism of the Lord

Gen 1:1-4

Mark 1:4-13

The Christian New Year didn’t begin on January 1. We began our liturgical New Year on the first Sunday of Advent, right after Thanksgiving. Our year begins in preparation for Jesus’ birth and Christ’s return. After Christmas, we moved to Epiphany and today, before we head into the Common Time of our calendar, we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus by John in the River Jordan.

We talked last week about how the gospels didn’t agree on the details of Jesus birth and early life, but they all agree that Jesus was baptized by John and they agree that his baptism inaugurated the beginning of his public ministry.

So, this morning, we’ll consider Jesus’ baptism and we’ll consider our own.

John the baptizer was preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. And Mark tells us that everyone came. Which seems sort of odd to me. I imagine you could draw everyone to the opening of a nightclub if George Clooney were going to be there. But I have a hard time imagining everyone coming to repent of their sins.

But, there they were. And John had told the crowd, “I’m only baptizing you with water. Someone more powerful is coming after me and he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

But then that someone more powerful shows up, not to baptize, but to be baptized. And there is nothing in the text to suggest that he went to the First Class check in line either. It appears that Jesus showed up in the midst of everyone else from Judea. And after standing in the long line, he was baptized by John. The text doesn’t even suggest that John recognized Jesus when he saw him, as the person to whom he’d been referring.

Until the baptism.

Because after his baptism, the heavens were shredded apart and the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dive bombing pigeon.

And the voice. A voice from heaven says, “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.

Yet another one of those moments I wish I had been there to see for myself. What did everyone else hear when the voice spoke? And did it scare the dickens out of them?

Some how, some way, the separation between earth and heaven collapses at the baptism of Jesus. Almost a reversal of the creation account in Genesis 1 when the earth and heavens were separated.

In the beginning, God.

The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while the spirit of God swept over the face of the waters. Then God spoke. “Let there be light.” God speaks light, and with that light, we gain the ability to see the chaos that has been swirling across the face of the deep. God speaks and there was light. Light and Darkness are separated. God speaks and order appears, chaos abates.

God speaks creation in Genesis as the Spirit of God moves across the waters. And then, as Jesus comes out of the waters of baptism, God’s spirit again moves across the waters, and God speaks words of blessing. “You are my beloved. In you I am well pleased.

One very radical notion we hold as Christians is that in baptism we are joined with Christ in his baptism. But how many of you (no need to raise your hands) hear those words, “You are my beloved. In you I am well pleased” and believe them?

Because you should.

But it is my experience, in the way we treat each other and in the way we treat ourselves, that we don’t. We have a hard time internalizing this message from God.

I wonder if part of the reason this is so hard for us is because we have a skewed notion of what our lives would look like if we were God’s beloved children in whom God was well pleased.

To be God’s beloved child ought to come with some impressive perks, right?
Free lattes at Starbucks
Discounts at the mall
First Class upgrades on flights

Okay, I’m kidding. Sort of.

But I think we look around at the average-ness of our lives as evidence that we aren’t God’s beloved children.

If God really loved me, I wouldn’t be having these family problems.”

“If God really loved me, I’d be thinner”.

“If God really loved me, my mom wouldn’t have cancer.”

But did you notice what happened in the story we heard this morning?

Listen again:

And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan.

God’s beloved Son, with whom God was well pleased, IMMEDIATELY drove him out into the wilderness, to be tempted by Satan.

Don’t you think, just maybe, that this passage ought to, once and for all, let go of the notion that being loved by God means that life should be easy?

I know there are pastors out there who will tell you that if you are faithful to God, God will bless you with riches, health, and apparently anything you want.

Don’t believe me? Listen to these words from Joel Osteen:

“If you develop an image of victory, success, health, abundance, joy, peace, and happiness, nothing on earth will be able to hold those things from you” (p. 5 Joel Osteen, Your Best Life Now)

“You will often receive preferential treatment simply because your Father is the King of kings, and His glory and honor spill over onto you” (ibid, p. 40)

And since 40,000 people worship at his church each week, it seems that the message must be fairly attractive.

But it isn’t biblical.

And a voice came from heaven,

“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan.

Yes, we are blessed by God. Yes, we are beloved children of God. Yes, it is right to cry out to God for healing, and for intercession.

But being blessed doesn’t mean you are going to get a new flat screen TV or that the problems of the world are going to pass you by.

Being blessed means that when you are in the wilderness being harassed by Satan, you should remember this—God has been there before.

Jesus of Nazareth knows exactly what it is like to be in those moments of pain, struggle, and heartache. Because he has lived it. He knows the high of seeing the heavens torn apart and hearing God’s voice call him beloved. He also knows the lows of wilderness struggle.

But if we stop trying to prove that we are blessed, that we are God’s beloved children, based on how much money we have or how healthy we are, then what does it mean to say we are God’s beloved children?

When God’s voice comes down from Heaven, proclaiming divine pleasure, what does that mean?

For me, it helps me to go back to the passage from Genesis. At creation, when God speaks and the world is created, God also pronounces that God’s creation is good.

We are a part of that good creation. And when God’s voice speaks again at Jesus’ baptism, God expresses divine pleasure in who Jesus was and how he lived his life.

So, to join with Jesus in his baptism, we also hear God speaking for us. Not to the exclusion of someone else. But God is speaking for us, individually and corporately, to live into our role as beloved children of God.

What would be the possibilities if we treated ourselves and treated everyone else as if our baptismal promises were true?

How would this congregation be different?

How would the world be different?
Baptisms often seem to be cute and innocent events. Sweet babies in their grandmother’s gown, adoring family all around. And that can be a part of baptism. But we should remember that baptisms are not tame events. At baptisms, God breaks into our world, shredding the barrier between heaven and earth. We come up out of the water as new people, reborn and claimed as Christ’s own for the world.

When God speaks, we should pay attention.

Listen to the words of the Psalm assigned for today:

        The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD, over mighty waters.
The voice of the LORD is powerful;
the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.

The LORD sits enthroned over the flood;
the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.
May the LORD give strength to his people!
May the LORD bless his people with peace!

For the past few years, on this day, we’ve done a renewal of Baptism. We don’t re-baptize people, because God’s work doesn’t need a re-do. But we do remember what happened at baptism. We listen, again, for God’s voice.

Today, I invite you again, or for the first time, to come forward as you are able and to take a drop of water from the font, so that you may remember your baptism. So you may remember the voice of God calling to you to live as a beloved child. If you are unable to come forward, ask your neighbors to bring one back for you.

This week, I invite you to take home your baptismal stone and remember your baptism. To consider that you are God’s beloved child in whom God is pleased. To look for the Spirit of God moving across the chaos of our lives. And to listen for where God is speaking today, creating all things new. Amen.

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One thought on “Can you hear me now?

  1. What an incredible message. I spent this week pondering Oprah’s interview of Joel Osteen just this past week, and I think for fundamental Christians there were several gotcha moments. But for those who are mesmerized by his cult message and good looks, and charisma, it’s so very very good, because all they really need to do is go see him each week for their fix. They don’t have to work on being nice to their neighbors, or kind to those whose politics we eschew. They don’t have to cross reference scripture because they’ve got a good looking man with slightly crooked teeth and a very powerful blonde wife to assure them that everything is theirs since they believe in Christ. I’ve watched him and watched him, and trust me, this guy is tricky.

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