Isaiah 43:1-7

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

“I Am Whose I Am”

Baptism of the Lord

January 13, 2019

Today is a special day in the Church year, although many people don’t realize the significance of it. Today is the day when we celebrate the baptism of Jesus.  Every year on the Sunday after Epiphany we read one of the Gospel passages that give a record of the Baptism of Jesus, the immersion of Jesus in the water, the Holy Spirit descending as a dove, and God speaking and confirming that Jesus is indeed His Son and He is pleased with Jesus.  These texts are some of the few places in scripture where our Triune God, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are all mentioned in the same passage. This by itself should show us the importance of this event and cause us to sit up and take note of this event. Another reason we should sit up and take note of the baptism of Jesus is that at the baptism of Jesus God confirmed that Jesus was His son, He confirmed who Jesus was. As we look at the baptism of Jesus and reflect on it’s meaning for us and the meaning of baptism, we can discover who we are, and whose we are. 

I am whose I am. You are whose you are. We are whose we are. Not I am who I am, or you are who you are, or we are who we are, although that is important, but I am whose I am, you are whose you are, we are whose we are.  Our basic identity is not so much based on who we are, but whose we are, and the bottom line is that we are God’s. 

I know a lot of people who like to use these dark nights of winter as a wonderful time to catch up on movies. If you have Netflix you may have spent some of these dark hours on catching an old movie you had never seen, or sitting through a movie on AMC you’ve seen many times before but love to watch whenever it’s on.

Some movies are a great escape from our everyday world. They entertain us with fantasy worlds or comedy. Others capture the imagination because as we watch them we learn something about ourselves.

A theme many movies explore is strained relationships between children and their parents, especially fathers. The strained relationship between Luke Skywalker and his father Anakin, or Darth Vader, that plays out in several of the Star Wars movies comes immediately to mind. A couple of years ago, Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr. played a father and son in a film The Judge. Downey’s character, Hank, returns home for his mother’s funeral, where he is forced to confront his strained relationship with his father, Joseph. Children’s movies also sometimes explore this theme. For example, Finding Nemo is about a father-son relationship of a different sort. Nemo’s dad, Marlin, is overprotective and passes his anxiety onto his son. Nemo, longing for his own identity, gets lost in the process and needs to be found. Then there is one of my favorite movies about father and child relationships, Field of Dreams. Maybe you remember the story of Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella who hears a disembodied voice speaking to him from his cornfield, saying, “Build it and he will come.”     Through his searching, Ray discovers that the “he” who will come to the baseball field he plowed his corn under to build, is his dad from whom he has been estranged since he left home for college.

            This theme of parent-child reconciliation resonates deep within us because it is more than a story about our relationships with ou parents.  It’s a story about us.

            I am whose I am. You are whose you are. We are whose we are.

            Our Gospel lesson for today is the story of Jesus’ baptism and, in a sense, ours. After introducing us to John, Luke tells us that people were wondering if he might be the Messiah. No wonder! He came with a powerful message of repentance, and people were responding. Tax collectors, soldiers and even some of the religious authorities had come out to the river to hear him and be baptized by him. But John tells them that there is another coming who is greater than he, one who will baptize not with water, but with fire and the Holy Spirit. John even says he is “not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals.” To emphasize this point, and to avoid any potential confusion, Luke tells the story of Jesus’ baptism in such a way that the readers do not know who actually baptizes Hm. He writes, “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized ….” Unlike in the other gospels, we’re not told whois doing the baptizing.  It just happens,  or has happened by the time we get to the next part of the story. Luke probably wanted to avoid any confusion about John’s and Jesus’ roles. Then, when Jesus is praying following His baptism, the Holy Spirit came upon Him in the form of a dove, and the voice of God spoke from heaven: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

            These words alerted the crowd and continues to alert us to who Jesus is. Jesus is God’s. The voice from heaven claims Him. Who he is, and what He will teach and everything He will do is deeply connected to God, the one who loves Him and is pleased with Him.

            This claim is unique to Jesus, but it applies to us as well. Luke writes that Jesus’ baptism is one of many that day. He is baptized “when all the people were baptized.” In some ways, His baptism is unique and special. In another way, it is very much like everyone else’s, even yours and mine.

            Part of what happens in baptism, whether it be infant baptism or adult baptism,  is that we are claimed by God and reminded that He loves us and is pleased with us. It is a way for parents who present their children for baptism to celebrate on behalf of their children or a way for adults who are baptized to remember whose they are and, through that, remember who they are

            This is why those parent-child relationships we watch in movies or read about in books stay with us for so long. They are not simply about characters trying to reunite with their parents, but the characters learn something about who they are as they discover whose they are. This longing for identity is a universal part of human existence. Some of us, like Robert Downey Jr.’s character, Hank, in The Judge, seek it in job titles, money and power. Others, like Nemo, think we will find it in autonomy. We run blindly, grabbing at what little freedom we think we need. Still others of us, like Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams, seek it in the roles we play. Ray, a 36-year-old English major, husband and father, was trying on the role of farmer when he heard the voice. Some of us seek our identity in relationships, such as spouse, parent or friend. Then, when those relationships disappoint us, we are devastated. Others buy into the idea that we are what we drive, where we live or what we wear. After all the striving, many come to realize just how unsatisfying all of those things are. Others long to be known, liked, or famous. Many then struggle because while crowds may know their name, few, if any, actually know them.

            For those of us who follow Christ and have been baptized in to Christ, our true identity is there in our baptism: “You are my child, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” This is whose you are. This is who you are. You are a child of God. God loves you and is pleased with you. While God may not be pleased with everything you do, He is pleased with who you are and wants you to know His amazing love for you. You don’t need to strive to attain God’s love. You can’t buy, earn or achieve it one day. It is already yours. God loves you, and you give Him pleasure.

            The movies tell us a similar story. After his lifelong quest, Ray and his dad “have a game of catch” in the idyllic, metaphysical baseball field. We get a lump in our throat as Ray learns that his dad loves him and always has. It isn’t heaven, it’s Iowa, but it’s close. As the credits roll, Ray is gaining a new understanding of himself as he gets to know his dad, whose son he is. But we get the feeling that it’s just the beginning for Ray.

            So too it is with us. When the water of baptism is placed upon us, whether by sprinkling or immersion, it’s not the end of a process, but the beginning. Baptism is the start of our relationship with our heavenly parent who claims us and names us His “beloved child,” an identity we are called to live into every day. Living into this identity as God’s children is why we read our Bibles every day.  It is why we pray. It is why we become active in serving others and showing God’s love to others.  It is why we become active in the worship, learning, fellowship and service aspects of the Church. It’s why we come together for worship and why we serve our brothers and sisters in need. Through our acts of worship and acts of service we get to spend time with our heavenly Father. In these acts we are learning how much He loves us and always has loved us. We are building a relationship with the one who made us, claims us and is pleased with us. As we do, we learn about ourselves, and learn about whose we are and who we are.

            We are the daughters and sons of our heavenly Father. God is well pleased with us. Let us all strive to live in ways that show our love for the Fatter who loves us, and ways that share the love of God with others.

As you continue to celebrate this new  year, this new beginning, I pray that you will live into the role of being a child of God. Let’s all pray for strength and strive to show others what it means that we are children of God, with whom He is well pleased. 

I am whose I am. You are whose you are. We are whose we are. Amen,