1, Mark 1:7-11)
And just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw
the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And
a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well
pleased.Ē (Mark 1.10-11)
is the first Sunday in Epiphany. Epiphany
is the season in which we celebrate the
manifestation of Christ to the world.
During Epiphany, our gospel readings focus on the
events in the life of Jesus that reveal his divinity to us and also give
evidence of his oneness with God.
we begin that today with his baptism and the parting of the heavens.
As Mark says, the baptism of Jesus was the beginning of the good
news of Jesus Christ. Mark begins
his gospel account not in
knows how Jesus was known prior to this event.
There are virtually no reports of Jesusí first 30 years.
I assume that he was known as the son of the Joseph the carpenter.
But suddenly, at this moment in the River, a new identity is publicly
bestowed on him.
heavens split and a dove comes down and God pronounces Jesusí identity as none other than
Godís own beloved Son Ė the one for whom
the world has been waiting. And that
new identity would define and guide everything that Jesus did until his death.
do you think about when you consider your
identity? When somebody asks you who
you are. Not just your name
Ė but who you are.
What do you say? How do you
identify yourself? How does that
identity shape your thoughts and actions?
thought a lot about identity this last week.
it is true. My daughter Anny and I
went to the Rose Bowl to witness the most exciting and thrilling college
football game of my life. And we
were there with about 100,000 other people who also came to be part of the
spectacle. Think of that Ė almost
twice the population of our city, gathered in one place.
the thing that was really special was that all the way through our trip, from
the plane ride to L.A., to walking around town before the game, to all of the
pre-game tailgating parties, the game itself, and then for the trip home,
everyone made very sure that their school identity
was very clear.
you were for
when we met other orange-clad
if it was the other guys, the ones in yellow and red, then it was very
different. We were polite of course,
but automatically more wary and slower to speak up.
could have come to the river as one who was
special Ė as one who was set apart. In
fact, as the one without sin, Jesus did not need to go to the River at all.
Yet he came. And when he
came, he did nothing to make himself different.
Did nothing to identity himself as
somebody more important or better than the others.
He didnít show up in white flowing robes or wear a sign or try to tell
everyone that actually he didnít need to
be there. That he, you know,
was in fact without sin.
he just took his place in line and waited with the others for his turn to be
baptized. Stood there in the same
muddy water with the tax collectors and the drunks.
With the thieves and the adulterers.
it apparently did not bother him in the least to be included with the sinners
who were in line with him. Did
not bother him to be mistaken as one of us.
fact, that was the point. Jesus went
to the River as one of us,
so that we could be one with God. Jesus
waded out in that river Ė not for himself Ė not because he needed to repent. He
did it for us. Did it so that our
baptisms would be forever linked with his.
I am struck by the contrast of Jesus
being so willing to be included with the sinners, when we in the church so often
try to do the opposite.
Just as I made sure by my attire, that
nobody could possibly think of me as an USC fan, we often try hard to
disassociate ourselves with the idea of being sinners.
We donít want to think in terms of coming to church because we need to be forgiven for our sins.
We come because, well you know, we like the worship. Or the music.
Or we want to see our friends.
God forbid that we
would be mistaken as one of those sinners in
the river. One of those, who like
Jesus, came to repent and to be washed clean.
No Ė thatís a little to close to home for our comfort.
Another story about identity.
As a former frequent flyer, one who has
a gold American Airlines card that identifies me a million-mile flyer, I am used
to some of the conveniences that are offered those who fly often.
Like being in the first group to board, or getting to upgrade in class.
Sometimes I wish that I could wear my lifetime gold card on a lanyard
around my neck (like we did our Rose Bowl tickets) so that everyone could see
that I am somebody special. Not just
a nobody passenger.
Of course the airlines always make sure
that the perks that you get really donít cost them anything.
I mean cutting in line or sitting in an otherwise empty seat are free
ways for the airline to make you feel special.
But when you actually want something extra, it is
different. On our return Friday
night from LA, our flight was delayed and our connection in
As we were flying, I thought about how little
that gold card really meant. In
fact, so many people had them, that I should have known better that to think it
actually made any real difference.
And then I remembered the one time that
I actually did get special attention. Some
years ago, I was on a long transpacific flight back to the States.
The flight was very full, and I was sitting in business class.
Getting special business class treatment of course.
And a young woman, who looked to be Malaysian, and who had a small baby
was in the seat next to me.
After take-off, a man who I guessed was
her husband, came into the cabin and talked to her for a short time before the
attendants sent him back to his seat. Evidently
they could only afford one seat in business class, and she was using it in order
to give more room for their baby.
I thought about their situation for
awhile, and then I called an attendant over and asked her to find where the
husband was seated. Because I wanted
to give him my seat. She was
surprised, no actually stunned, that I would trade my seat in business class to
a stranger, for one in the coach section. Especially
on a long international flight. But
thatís what I did.
During the rest of the long flight an
attendant from the front cabin would come back and check on me every hour or
two. Making sure that my legs
didnít fall off, I guess.
And after we landed and were taxing
toward the gate, the senior stewardess came back and thanked me again and gave
me two bottles of wine to take home.
And all I had done was just go back and
sit where about 250 other folks were sitting.
It really was nothing special. But
it probably was the only time I that I truly got special
did not do anything special.
He just joined the others to be baptized by John.
Yet, the ďheavens opened and the
Spirit descended like a dove on him. And
Godís voice came from heaven said, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you
I am well pleased.Ē
had done absolutely nothing of significance at this point in his ministry.
publicly pronounces that Jesus is the beloved Son of Man with whom God is well
pleased. And by extension, we
receive that same statement of grace at our baptisms also.
The affirmation that we are loved as children of God regardless of
whether or not we have accomplished anything of significance is the very essence
of Godís grace.
are not recognized and forgiven because we
are loved and appreciated by God for who we are ĖGodís children made in
Godís own image Ė just like Jesus is.
just as Jesus had his identity proclaimed at his baptism, the same is true for
us. Our baptism Ė our membership
in the Body of Christ Ė gives us our identity.
It stamps us as Godís own and calls us into Godís future for us.
Into Godís future for us.
that identity (our identity as Godís own)
must define and guide everything that we
do for the rest of our lives.
Because this is the feast of the Baptism of our Lord, but also because we need to remember our identity as children of God, it is both traditional and appropriate that we renew our own Baptismal vows. And that is what we will do in a few minutes. And as we do that, we want to really listen to our words. We want to hear our promises and commit ourselves to live into them.
Promises to continue in fellowship with each other, and in the breaking of bread. Promises to proclaim by word and example the Good News of Jesus Christ. Promises to seek and serve Christ in all persons. And promises to strive for justice and peace among all people.
That is what defines us as a community. It is the unchanging part of who we are together that gets us through our time of transitions.
It is what sustains us Ė what helps us grow in relationship with each other and with God as we struggle together.
It is our identity.