Who are you?

St Andrew’s Anglican Church Indooroopilly 

SERMON 

Baptism of Our Lord 

Sunday 13 January 

Isaiah 43: 1-7 

Psalm 29  

Acts 8: 14-17 

Luke 3: 15-22 

“Who are you?” ©Sue Wilton 

Do you remember your baptism? Chances are, being Anglican, your  memory will need to be prompted by family photographs, because  your parents brought you as a baby to the church for baptism. This  follows early church practices where whole families would come for  baptism when the parents decided to follow the way of Christ. And  maybe on that day the presider said something similar to what I say  when I baptise – that your parents claimed God’s love for you and  that you were welcomed into the family of God. These are important  and beautiful truths, but I think the even more important teaching  that is revealed in baptism homilies is that at baptism we celebrate  the unique person who is now being received into God’s family, and  into their lifetime vocation to become their truest selves. At the  heart of baptism is a naming: not as in the name we have been given  but in our naming as the beloved of God, which is the most  important identity we need if we are truly to become ourselves. 

Jesus’ baptism which we have in today’s text is of course a different  baptism to the one we received. The baptism by John itself is  mentioned almost as an aside in Luke’s Gospel; Now when all the  people were baptised, and when Jesus also had been baptised…and we are to imagine Jesus lining up along with all the other candidates  for this cleansing ritual. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance and forgiveness, and the text seems to me to be at pains to  overcome the apparent problem of John being the greater figure in  this narrative. We are told that John declares himself unworthy to  even “untie the thong of his sandals”- a task traditionally reserved  for a disciple or slave when a male visitor entered the master’s  house. John points to the greater power of the coming Messiah,  predicting what sounds like a ministry of divine judgement and  retribution from Jesus. We were given this section of the text back  on the third Sunday in Advent, and I pointed out then that the  metaphor of a winnowing fork and fire would be important images for Jesus’ ministry, even though the fire is not of the vengeful kind  John was apparently anticipating. Burning away the chaff is about  saving and purifying the grain- not separating the good from the bad and this is a central image for the transformative power of Jesus’ presence in the world as he lives into his identity and the ministry  that flows from who he is and will be. Because of who Jesus is, and  the way his identity is intimately caught up in the very being of God,  his presence brings the energy of transformation and new life.  Identity is at the heart of this passage- who the prophet John is, and  is not, and who Jesus is revealed to be, not just by John’s words, but  by the heavenly voice and the Spirit that descends “like a dove”.  

For this moment of Jesus’ life is a new beginning, being recounted as it is in Matthew, Mark and Luke as the point after which he  commences his adult ministry. Which begs the question, what is  happening in this baptism by John that this event becomes the  launch point for all that follows? Jesus may have been queuing up  with all the other baptismal candidates, but the aftermath of Jesus  baptism is anything but ordinary. The Gospel takes this moment to  bring together the united but relational presence of God in all three  persons of the Trinity as Jesus is affirmed as Son of God, beloved of  the Father and marked by the Spirit’s presence. It is a moment of  revealing the identity of this human being amongst so many other followers of John, and it is from this quiet celebration of identity that  the mission of Jesus is launched and he sets out into the wilderness  with great purpose and direction. It is as Richard Rohr states so  clearly, “When you get your “Who am I?” question right, all the  “What should I do?” questions tend to take care of themselves.”1 

As the community of St Andrew’s we will be spending some time this  year reflecting on “what should we do?” It therefore becomes  important that we get the initial question right, since what we do can  only flow from who we are. Anything else will not only be false- like  putting on the wrong size pair of shoes- but also will be impossible to  maintain. Jesus in this story is prepared for the challenges that will  lie ahead by a clear and loving affirmation of his deepest identity.  Since Jesus comes as the “Son of Man”, better translated “the  human one”, he is not only showing us the divine way to live, but  also inviting us to follow in that same way of being human. We too,  need to hear the same voice Jesus heard, claiming us as the beloved,  with a distinct gift for the world. Our other texts today help us to  hear this same message the Divine voice would whisper by the Spirit.  The prophetic words from the prophet Isaiah are words for each of  us. Some years ago I undertook the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius  of Loyola and my Jesuit mentor at the time gave me these verses  near the beginning of the retreat to meditate on as my own, listening  for the voice of God speaking these words over me; 

I give Egypt as your ransom, 

 Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.  

Because you are precious in my sight, 

 and honoured, and I love you, 

I give people in return for you, 

 nations in exchange for your life.  

Do not fear, for I am with you; 

These words at the time of Israel’s history come as a new and life giving word. Like a river bursting its banks with streams of water to a  land that has been parched and forsaken, the loving phrases of  longing and commitment are breaking what has been a desolating  silence for those in exile. Egypt, Ethiopia and Seba are nations of  great wealth, and the metaphor images both the lengths God would  go to be reunited with the people of Israel, but also heralds a  reversal of the slavery they had known in Egypt. While there seems  to be a shocking particularity in this love of God for one people,  when we consider the grand sweep of the story which points to the  Messiah coming as a light to all the nations, we can see in these  words an even greater and merciful reversal where those nations  who had been oppressors would come now not to be enslaved, but  to be set free. These words of a lovesick God are words for you and  for me, and they can come to us like freshwater to a barren land,  assuring us of our deepest identity as a beloved son or daughter of  God. 

Because here’s the thing. Outside of relationship, we cannot know  who we are. Our self only becomes our self as we are mirrored back  in our interactions with others. Sometimes, as in abusive or  unhealthy relationships, particularly from childhood, what has been  mirrored to us has given us false information; that we are not worthy  of love and loyalty, and we can find ourselves living into that false  identity and our gifts to the world will be suppressed or silenced. The  only truly redemptive relationships are with people who love us as  we are, and this is something for which we all long. The promise of  our baptism is that we are totally loved and accepted just as we are,  and this is what enables us to step into the world as ourselves,  bringing the wonderfully unique gift of our self. Small communities  of such authentic originals will change the world. This happens  because when we receive and return the loving gaze of God, the true  mirror, then we are enabled to look upon others with that same  compassionate, forgiving, accepting gaze. Then we become, with Christ, redeemers of the world. +Amen 

1 Rohr, Richard () Falling Upward

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