We belong to each other because we first belong to God…. a sermon for Baptism of our Lord

Text: Mark 1: 4-11 Baptism of our Lord (B)

“We belong to each other!” In one of her many famous quotes Mother Theresa said: “Today, if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. Peace and war begin at home. If we truly want peace in the world, let us begin by loving one another in our own families.”  While Mother Theresa may have said it first, this quote has seen something of a popularity resurgence through the voice of Glennon Melton, the blogger and writer of Momastery, famous for her sacred vocation of truth telling and hope spreading. Momastery’s webpage describes itself as, “It’s a place to listen and be listened to. It’s a place to make mistakes and say I’m sorry. It’s a place to practice forgiveness. It’s a place to stop making motherhood and marriage harder by pretending they’re not hard.” At the bottom of her web page scrolls the famous quote from Mother Theresa, “Remember, we belong to each other!”

Relationships are so important. In friendship, in marriage, in family life we live as stewards of the relationships with which God has richly blessed us. Momastery’s essays  I think are so popular because she captures this holy element in family life that many of us miss as our days fly by in the flurry and mundanity of soccer games and sesame street.

I was at our synod’s headquarters earlier this week for a discussion on year-round stewardship and the first thing we talked about was the importance of separating the word stewardship from the narrow definition most people think of when it’s mentioned. Stewardship is not just about how we give financially to the church, but truly how we respond to God’s grace by caring for all the blessings that God has given us! Our families, our relationships with our friends, our partners, our colleagues, how we care for and strengthen our relationships with the support network God has granted us –that’s all stewardship!

Most people do not think of relationships as a form of stewardship. Indeed, I never did until my last year of seminary. At my final candidacy interview they asked me how my family lives out our understanding of stewardship. I was about 8 months pregnant with Evangeline at the time, my husband and I were both full time students. I became very nervous. “Great,” I thought. “They’re going to send me home because we have no income from which to tithe.” I swallowed and answered honestly. I said something to the effect of, “We give generously to the church when we have income to do so. We practice stewardship of creation by always recycling and being conscious of our energy consumption. We eat at least 1 meatless meal a week. We use cloth diapers and shop at thrift stores. We volunteer our time wherever we can, but we’re just not able to do as much as we used to since having our son.” Of all the questions, that’s the one I was sure that I failed. They sent me out to deliberate and when they called me back in they told me upfront that I was approved for ordination and then offered follow up responses to some of my answers. I was sure that they would say something about my answer on the stewardship question and I braced myself, but their response surprised me. A pastor from Delaware told me –with gentleness in her voice- that my understanding of stewardship far was too narrow. She said, “It sounds like you’re only thinking of stewardship in financial or ecological terms, and it sounds like you feel guilty that you can’t do as much as you used to. Stop. Raising your children, especially young children, is a matter of stewardship. They are gifts from God, and gifts God has given you to raise up faithfully and to love and to put your time and energy into. You feel guilty that you’re not doing enough, that you don’t have time to do all that you used to, but the truth is you’re faithfully stewarding more than you realize as a mother, wife, and student.” Wow. So, I was a steward of relationships and I didn’t even know!

We belong to each other because we first belong to God.

God named us and claimed us as sons and daughters at Baptism, and God gives us to each other as brothers and sisters, as blessings to cherish.

We celebrate today the Baptism of our Lord and remember our own Baptismal relationship to the One who created us, redeemed us, and continues to enlighten and guide us.

According to Mark’s gospel, Jesus came to the Jordan, out to the wilderness, to be baptized by John. Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan marked the beginning of his ministry, it marked a transition of sorts, but it was different from the Baptisms of repentance which John performed. Mark writes “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.”

Jesus was the first to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit at Baptism, the same Holy Spirit which each of us received at the font. This is the same Holy Spirit which binds us together as family -the Spirit of belonging which creates of us a community, the living body of Christ. We belong to each other, and the Holy Spirit, which enlivened our Baptismal waters, is the glue which holds us all together and empowers us in the ministry we share.

In Baptism, God proclaims both publicly and personally to each of us that we are beloved. Mark’s account of Jesus’ Baptism differs from the ones found in Luke and Matthew. For Matthew and Luke, we hear a public pronouncement from the heavens: “This is my beloved son.”  In Mark, Jesus hears a personal word: “YOU are my beloved son.” So, too, at Baptism God claims us in the midst of worship with our community of faith gathered around… and God claims us personally as we are marked with the cross upon our foreheads and sealed with the Holy Spirit. Through spirited waters, God creates us anew as part of God’s own self. God whispers, “You are my beloved, today I have given you birth.”  In Baptism, God tells us like God told Jesus first, “You, yes YOU, are beloved! My heart delights in you! Today I name you and claim you as my own son or daughter.”

We belong to God and God gives us to one another. As disciples, as children of God, we are called to live in response to the relationship God promises us in Baptism and to live like we recognized our loved ones for the gifts they are.

Stewardship is about caring for the gifts God so graciously provides. Stewarding our relationships starts with remembering that each person in your life is a gift. And we show our appreciation in many ways. Maybe your stewardship looks like checking your smart phone at the door when you come home from work and giving your children and spouse your undivided attention. Maybe it looks like saying no to workaholism and yes to Sabbath keeping. Maybe it looks like calling that friend or relative you haven’t seen in a while and catching up. Maybe it looks like taking a meal to a sick colleague who lives alone. Maybe it looks like remembering to date your spouse at every season of your life.

In faithfully stewarding our relationships, we return to God the belovedness which God revealed to us at Baptism and continues to share with us day by day. Baptism binds us together as stewards of God’s love. Amen.

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