Mark 1:4-11 Baptism of the Lord Sunday
Elizabeth M. Deibert 11 January 2015
Lose weight. Get Organized. Spend less and save more. More quality time with family and friends. Learn something new. Quit Smoking or Drinking. Help others more. Five out of ten of us make New Year’s resolutions like these, and of those five who make them, usually only one of us is successful in actually making change. Every year as one rolls into another, we renew our hope that this year we might have the sheer determination to make changes, despite our previous failures. We have all heard that real change requires at least twenty-one days of consistent re-patterning our lives. Real change is possible for most people if it is modest change – not major adjustments or multiple adjustments at the same time. But I’d like to say that real and lasting change is only possible for those who move to a deeper level of understanding how much God loves them by attention to the immersion of Holy Spirit in their lives.
Most of us live with overly critical messages in our minds most of the time. We either think we are not good enough, filling our heads with lots of “should’ves” and “if only” I should have been a better this or better that. I should have lost weight. I should have been a better parent. I should have done better on that test. I should have handled that problem better. Some of us have externalized the should’ves such that it is somebody else’s problem. We are the victim. If only you would do this for me, then I would be okay. If only he, if only she, if only they, because I have no control over my own circumstances. Whatever is wrong with me is somebody else’s fault.
Some of us live with overly proud, self-assured messages in our heads. We reassure ourselves by remembering when people were proud of us. We are hooked on being the best or doing the best or achieving the most, and our identity is wrapped up in that. We are scared to be anything other than diligent, hard-working, and practically perfect in every way as Mary Poppins put it, because if we are not, our whole world comes crashing in. That’s a heavy burden to bear. As we read the Baptism of Jesus story, notice that God says, “You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased” before Jesus has engaged his ministry. What has he done? God is pleased with who he is, more than what he has done.
But once Jesus internalizes the message of Baptism, in every way, he operates from that identity. He heals, he loves, he teaches, he handles temptation and conflict without losing himself. He gives and gives and gives until he has blessed every one of us. John baptized with water, but Jesus with Holy Spirit.
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
Do you fully understand that because of Jesus Christ, you also are God’s son, God’s daughter? That’s what we celebrate in baptism – that you are united with Christ and thereby, God is well pleased with you. It’s not because of anything you have done. No, God is well pleased with you, because God first imagined you, before you were in your mother’s womb, God thought of you and made you. You are the precious handiwork of God. When I was setting up the bread machines for Justin’s service yesterday morning, the Peaceful Potters were in the kitchen molding clay and smiling at their work. God smiled in forming you – just like you are. Psalm 139 says we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that there is no where we can go to distance ourselves from God’s love. If we make our bed in Sheol or the farthest place on the earth, God is there.
Our problems arise when we get hooked by our own or other’s criticism of us. When we get hooked, they can pull us around sometimes so fast we cannot even breathe. I have watched some of you get unhooked. You’ve liberated yourself.
You have a mother or a brother or an ex-husband or child who hooked you with guilt and shame. Or you hooked yourself by telling yourself you are not good enough, don’t work hard enough, do not measure up. Somebody wounded you and if that wound is still pulling you around, I want you to let go of it today.
Take the hook out and get free. That person cannot tell you who you are. Only your Maker can say who you are, and God says, “Beloved child of mine, I love you.” God is not like all those people who have unrealistic expectations of you. God is not giving you love with conditions. God is not just proud of you when you accomplish something. God delights in who you are! God thinks that your innermost being is wonderful! And when you start seeing yourself as God sees you, then you will become the wonderful person God made you to be.
When you understand deeply that your worthiness does not come from working hard to please other people, does not come from accomplishing great things, does not come from anything other than God who made you and God makes no junk. God loves you, and your human condition (a sinsick soul) is healed by a total immersion in the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ. Because of his life, death, and resurrection, we are not distanced from God but one with God.
This is the good news we celebrate in Baptism. This is the reason we baptize infants, children, teens, adults – any time some person or some parent of a child is ready to give their life or their child over to the Spirit, we are ready for baptism because it marks what is already true – that God’s everlasting blessing of love is upon you. We joke about earning stars for our crown, but really, there is nothing you can do to make God love you any more or any less than God already does. That’s the nature of God’s unconditional love – it is perfect and complete.
The challenge is to live fully into that truth. So that’s why we say, “Come to worship. Get involved in the church. Pray and study scripture. Learn and grow and serve.” Because it’s not about earning God’s favor but basking in it, soaking it up. Discovering it anew in deeper and deeper ways – that’s the purpose of the church’s nurture. “Sin happens whenever we refuse to keep growing.” (Richard Rohr)
My brother did something very hurtful over Christmas, but I am trying not to be hooked by it. I am dwelling in the security of God’s love. This hurtful behavior on his part does not need to shape or inform who I am. And it takes some effort on my part, some intentionality about how I will think to stay connected to the Holy Spirit. While it is difficult, I am working with my heart, soul, and mind to forgive him, because deep down, I know that he has done this because sadly he does not see clearly the amazing grace of God. His painful actions are done in the name of God. But when we truly see who God is, we cannot hurt people – not intentionally.
We can tell them we are hurt or disturbed by their actions. We can say where we disagree with them but we do this in love, as Christ would do, not in anger or in cold-hearted judgment. God gives us freedom to choose to obey or to go our own way. When we go our own way, God does not always rescue us from the negative consequences of our destructive behavior, but God saves us in the end. We simply have to stop resisting God’s love. When we see it, we will know it to be the most beautiful, glorious things we’ve ever known. We get glimpses of that even now. The glory of God’s love could be seen yesterday in the way this church surrounded Jim and Martha, and embraced their tears and shed some tears on their behalf. I looked out yesterday on your faces and saw love. We said good-bye to a Justin, a twenty-nine year old man, whose circumstances and choices led to a shortened life. We know that God embraces us, even while we sin, even while we are straying like lost sheep, even while we are making rash deadly decisions, God is seeing us as the wounded, beloved children that we are. Richard Rohr says, in his book Falling Upward, “Every time God forgives us, God is saying that God's own rules do not matter as much as the relationship that God wants to create with us.”
For we belong to God, and God sees us as we really are. God doesn’t pay any attention to the facades we wear for other people and sometimes for ourselves. We put on our fake selves, pretending to be strong, acting like know-it-alls, thinking we are invincible. Resisting feeling hurt,we simply get angry, repeating in some adult version the old “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.” But the fact is, words do hurt, and sometimes the words that hurt most are the ones we say to ourselves with that voice in our head.
Here’s an example, one that I’m willing to share: I have a challenge with being forgetful. I work very hard not to forget dates and details. I try to write them down every time I get an email. It is a little difficult when you tell me things five minutes before or after worship but I try to remember to write them down later and the Congregational Care Team helps me when they can. But truth is, I am quite distractable.
I can be thinking about hundred different things and walk out of my house or my office, forgetting my cell phone or my purse or my computer. But I decided this year, at almost 52, it was time to stop berating myself about this. This year I have written a song to help me remember, and I try to pat myself on the back every time I do remember. Because you know, as kind as my mother is, she used to get very frustrated with me. You see, she started teaching school, when I went to school. So she needed me to remember my stuff, and I didn’t. So she would get very frustrated, when I’d leave my coat or my books or my lunch money. And I developed an identity as the forgetful one. Instead of getting mad when I have forgotten something, I now thank God when I remember something – like when I remembered in January that I had missed a meeting in mid-December, I said “Thank you God for letting me know, so I can apologize.”
I don’t know what kind of negative identity you developed as a child, a teen or an adult, but it is time to lay aside that negative identity. Put it down. Down be defined by it. Stop all the negative – why did I eat that! Why am I so lazy? Why can I not manage my money better? Why am I so stupid, so impatient, so ____! You fill in the blank. Stop all that negative feedback. Get on with seeing yourself in the light of your baptism into Christ, your immersion with the Holy Spirit.
When you get in the shower, and the water runs over your face and your body, remember your baptism and call yourself who you are. Say in the shower, “I am your beloved child. Thank you God for loving me. Thank you for being well-pleased with me.” As you wrap yourself in the towel, tell yourself, “I am God’s holy and beloved. I am clothed with Christ.
I am wearing compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. I can be tolerant. I can forgive. I am ruled by peace. I am blessed and grateful.”
As you do this with regularity, recognizing your belovedness in Christ, you will find that your anger diminishes, your patience increases, and your love for others grows. You cannot hate others if you remember they too are God’s beloved. And they cannot hook you and drag you around emotionally or spiritually, because you know you belong to God who loves you. So just take the hook out, and remember that in God’s love you are secure. You do not need others to secure you. You do not need success to secure. You do not need creature comforts to secure you, for the love of God gives you security.
If you seek security in the love of another human being, you will be disappointed, but not with God. With God is perfect love. So why do we not spend more time thinking about that, developing our understanding of God’s love? Recognizing it, appreciating it, giving thanks for it, and operating our lives from the massive reservoir of that love.
You are completely enveloped by the Holy Spirit. Imagine yourself completely wrapped up in a warm comforter, not too tightly. You are still free. God’s love is not controlling; it is liberating. We are free, free to love back, free to become all we were meant to be. In her book, Return to Love, Marianne Williamson says,
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world….We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Children of God, be fearless, confident followers of the One who is your Light, Jesus Christ. Thanks to Christ’s Spirit at work in us, we know ourselves to be God’s beloved, precious, perfectly delightful children.