The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
First Sunday after the Epiphany
Jesus gets baptized by John. The early church was hard pressed to explain why Jesus needs to repent and be baptized. Even though John is a professional baptizer, what’s Jesus doing standing in line like he’s a sinner? Jesus should baptize John. In fact John tells him just that. Jesus insists John baptize him – to fulfill righteousness, whatever that means. Jesus gets into water contaminated with our sin to show he’s a friend of sinners, willing to go where we are, and saving us by not leaving us there. Jesus brings us into right relationship with his Father, something we’ve never been really good at keeping – for long.
All heaven breaks loose as Jesus comes up out of the water. Divine spirit descends on him like a dove. A voice from nowhere and everywhere at the same time, confirms Jesus is God’s Son, begotten not made, pleasing, and beloved by the Father. I imagine Jesus already knows who he is. So this announcement must be for us – and anyone who longs for God and can accept His child.
Jesus tells us to invite people to repent and be baptized, too. It’s important, because people will forget who they are. How easy it is to lose our identity – get lost – in all the whir of voices that want to define us: parents, society, bad tapes playing in our heads. God’s still, small voice gets crowded out. In baptism God restores our identity – speaks rather clearly and raises us up as his beloved. That’s now who we are. Yet we know some water, a little oil and a certificate won’t automatically make us look or act like a beloved child. It takes our time and effort, in cooperation with God’s spirit to shape us into who we are.
When I was six, I told my parents I wanted to play the piano. My aunt, an accomplished pianist convinced them – “Go ahead and let him try.” A piano was bought and delivered. Beaming with great joy, I excitedly sat at the bench and plunked keys. No one recognized what to me sounded like Mozart. Just sitting in front of a piano and pressing keys no more makes me a pianist than being baptized or confirmed automatically makes us think and act like one of God’s beloved. We may be God’s beloved but it’ll remain well concealed.
We baptize infants who will one day learn their parents and godparents committed them to a peculiar way of life before they knew it or could decide if they want it. Others who are older can decide for themselves to follow Jesus and be baptized. Regardless of whether we walk or are carried to the font, baptism is a response to God’s invitation. We come as individuals to be washed, yet we’ll need others to help us learn what living as God’s beloved means.
Baptism is a beginning, not an end. At the beginning you get asked six questions. If you keep coming to church faithfully, you’ll continue to be asked these questions, because we soon will forget what we’ve said. Will we repent – let go of what keeps us from God; reject evil and harm to others? Will we keep promises: to bear the good news of God’s love for all in our words and deeds; seek to serve Christ in all persons, not some – love neighbors as we love self; strive for justice and peace among all people; and respect the dignity of every human being, those we don’t like, and even our enemies. We repeat promises because we won’t automatically notice when we fail to see Christ in another. We’re too busy trying to protect ourselves. Living as the beloved is hard to do and never to be taken for granted.
And whether we succeed or fail in keeping our part of the baptism deal won’t make us any more or less God’s beloved. Jesus could succeed – it’s in his genes. We commit to continually being self-aware, repenting, letting go, turning back to God, forgiving as we are forgiven. That’s the life of the beloved – if you want the identity in more than just name.
Theologian and storyteller John Shea says after baptism, Jesus goes out empowered and identified as God’s unique, beloved child to awaken others to who they are, the beloved. We participate in Jesus’ life as we help others awaken to their belovedness. To awaken others, we must experience ourselves as truly beloved, or they won’t believe us.
We need awakened souls to walk this journey with us. The church at its best is God’s people busy loving, forgiving each other, pointing each other toward the God who says we are beloved, so we can awaken all who long to know they are beloved. Too many members of churches have fallen back asleep, forgotten who they are, or never really awakened.
Today we promise to support Claire in remembering she is God’s beloved. That’s right there in Baptismal Rite – a question I ask you. And I assume when you say, “I will,” we mean it. Trevor and Nicole, that means we will help you. That’s why we pledge our money, time, energy and ourselves to teach God’s stories, so the newly awakened will begin to believe they really are beloved. Our mission and purpose is to help parents create home where God’s love fills the air. The first and last thing children hear each day – “You are God’s beloved.” After awhile, they’re likely to catch on. And youth and adults who come to learn of and grow in Christ with us – need to see in us how the beloved of God think, live, act, and treat each other. Today Claire, even if she doesn’t yet know it, begins life under a new reign. One day she’ll know this as the day God names her “beloved.”
And we aren’t here to just sit on pews and watch. We are God’s awakened, commissioned to awaken others – the hurting, lonely, forgotten, even enemies and sinners – “You’re more than you think you are. You are God’s beloved child. Welcome home!” I really hope and think we believe that. Today, Claire is your day, beloved one of God.