Baptism of Our Lord

(Isaiah 42:1-9   Psalm 29   Acts 10:34-43   Matthew 3:13-17)

“Myselfie –God’s Beloved Child”

Toward the end of each calendar year, Oxford Dictionaries chooses one new word that they crown “Champion Word of the Year.”  The “Champion” in 2013 was the word, “selfie.”  Yes, you heard correctly, “selfie.”  A “selfie” is a photograph taken on a cell-phone camera of oneself by oneself but usually not for oneself—usually meant to be sent far and wide.

 I don’t like the word. I don’t like the idea of the word.  I don’t like the sound of the word.  The word “selfie” seems embarrassing to me, on the baby-talk side of talk.  I don’t know if the word is here to stay or not, but I think I will find it difficult to use it in a sentence.  “Me, Myselfie, and I” –not sure how I could use it!  “To thine own selfie be true” just does not sound like good Shakespeare to me, either.

But I can’t find anything about “selfies” in Luther’s definition of Baptism. 

Listen to Martin Luther“Baptism is not merely water, but it is water used according to God’s command, and connected with God’s Word:  [Matthew 28:19] “Get beyond your “selfie,” go make disciples of all nations….”    Baptism is for the sake of life in Christ and in the Body of Christ, the Church.”1

Discipleship….death….repentance…..forgiveness…..neighbor…..Body of Christ…the responsibilities of Baptism are all about getting beyond our “selfies.”

The Baptism of Jesus has always been one of the most difficult Gospel stories from the time of the earliest Christian communities because it forces the question, “Why did Jesus need to be baptized by John at all?”  Surely, it wasn’t for the forgiveness of sin?  So why?    

Each Gospel writer seems to give a slightly different reason, but what I think to be most important is that all four agree on two thingsFirst, in all the accounts, there is a giving of the Spirit.  A voice from heaven pronounces Jesus to be God’s beloved Son, a child with whom God is most pleased.  Whatever else Jesus’ baptism may mean, it is certainly the place where Jesus learns definitively and most clearly who he is in relationship to whom he belongs.

The second important point to note is that Jesus’ baptism precedes the beginning of his public ministry.  In John, he immediately begins to call disciples.  In the other three Gospels, Jesus goes to the desert, and when he returns, he begins calling his followers.  In all four Gospels, it is crystal clear:  the gift of identity precedes mission.  Once you truly know who you are, you are ready to be a disciple!

If we were to read further in Matthew and Luke  when Jesus goes to the desert, the first thing we hear from Satan is his calling into question Jesus’ relationship with His Father. Satan questions Jesus’ identity:  “If you are the Son of God…..” 

This is where these stories of Jesus’ baptism become our stories.  In baptism, we are blessed with the promise of God’s spirit and given a name, and that name is Christian; we are marked with the cross of Christ, sealed with the Holy Spirit, and named a beloved child of God forever.….and sent out with a mission!

We can only truly live into the mission God has set before us to the degree we hear and believe the Good News that we, too, are beloved children of God.  That no matter where we go, God goes with us.  That no matter what we may do, God is for us and will not abandon us.  How else can we risk dying to self to live the Gospel?

I think of the film, Philomena, an account of a woman who travels across an ocean to say to a child she bore fifty year ago, that he is her beloved child.  And the miracle of her own survival, after horrible shame and mistreatment, is deeply rooted in her sense of herself as Beloved of God.

I think of the film, Twelve Years a Slave, where the lead character clenches that name—Beloved Child of God— to himself through years of hell.

I think of Pope Francis as he presses that name—Beloved Child of God—with his lips onto every broken body he kisses in St. Peter’s Square.

But before the ending of the baptism story, there is a “sending forth”, if you will!

Jesus comes out of the water to a vision—our translation says: “suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove.”  I think this translation is way too gentle and passive.  It is much more accurate to the text to read it as, “the heavens were ripped open.”  And it is not just a little bird flying down. 

What is really happening is the time has come for justice to come streaming down to earth!  At this moment of Jesus’ baptism, a prophetic longing is realized.   I’m betting Jesus sees more than a bird.  I think he sees it all.  He sees how good the world is—the untamed power of all creation.  He also sees how sinful the world has become:  alienated and degraded, hostage to the powers of greed and domination.  And he hears the voice which affirms his identity and therefore demands the end to business as usual.  It is his commissioning by the One who refuses to give up, refuses to compromise, and refuses to leave us stranded.

I would say, this moment could not be more incredible for Jesus; and it is no less incredible every time we baptize a person 2000 year later.  Every Baptism is incredible as we listen for the voice “You are my daughter!  You are my son!  You are my beloved!”  Move beyond your “selfie” self as you are joined to the mission of Christ, the mission of justice in the world. 

In Holy Baptism, we are set in the midst of the world, for the life of the world!  We are set in the midst of the world for the life of the world!  For the life of the world!  For the life of the world!   Amen.

  1.  Lutheran      Book of Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1978),      121-124.
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