Sermon Reflections and More!
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The Baptism of Our Lord                                               January 10, 2016

This Weekend's Readings (click each reading to view the passage)

Isaiah 43:1-7Psalm 29Acts 8:14-17;  Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Pr. Steve's Sermon: Baptized into Identity
Pr. Steve's Sermon: Baptized into Identity

Children's Sermon - Places of Baptism
Children's Sermon - Places of Baptism

Piano Offertory: Once in Royal David's City

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Sermon Notes from Pastor Steve...

In the first couple of weeks of any new year, many of us are re-thinking our eating habits, after having completely abandoned restraint during the holiday season! So, we're thinking about how to eat less, how to eat better, and how to perhaps hold on to a couple of new year's resolutions about our eating habits.
And there's an old saying that often comes to mind whenever we consider our eating habits: "You are what you eat!"
"You are what you eat." Of course, if it were literally true, it'd be a scary thought at this time of year! Many of us would just be big blobs of cookies, chocolate and eggnog. But in one sense, we know that what we eat does affect our bodies, our health and our stamina. So we rightfully pay a lot of attention to what we do or don't eat.
But there's a problem with that saying as well. And the problem is that when you say, "you are what you eat", you're defining yourself by what you do or don't do. After all, the saying isn't "your health is affected by what you eat" or "your energy will crash if you only eat sugar." Instead, your whole sense of being and identity is tied up not so much in the food, but by whether you do or don't eat certain foods.
So often in our lives we define who we are by what we do or don't do, and sometimes we don't even notice it. And when we do that, even if it's just sub-consciously, we define our value and self-worth by what we've done, by what we haven't done, or by what potential we might have to do better.
So all too often, we define ourselves by what we do. It happens:
  • At this time of year when we define ourselves by our ability to stick to resolutions and demonstrate "will power" ... (and we measure success by whether we can "do" what we said we'd do)
  • At work and school ... (where after all, our grades and job performance are based on what we've done and accomplished)
  • In our personal relationships ... (where we wonder if we've done enough to be a good friend; a good parent; or a good spouse...)
In some ways, it's easy to count and measure success and failure at various tasks. But is that really who you are? Aren't you more than just the sum of your successes and failures?
Today, in our Gospel reading, Jesus has just been baptized and is about to begin his public ministry. It's important to note that at this point in the Gospel, Jesus has done NOTHING. He's preached the good news to no one. He's performed not a single miracle. And most importantly, he hasn't gone to the cross and taken away the sins of the world.
Jesus has done and accomplished nothing. And yet, the voice of God from heaven declares Jesus to be "my Son, the beloved." God even says, "with you I am well pleased"!
Jesus' identity is proclaimed: he's God's Son. He's loved by God. He's got God's approval. That's who Jesus IS.
If Jesus' identity was simply going to be defined by the sum of his accomplishments, then we'd expect to hear the voice of God at the Cross as Jesus breathed his last. Or at least, at Jesus' baptism, we'd expect God to say, "You are my Son, now don't mess up or I'll change my mind."
But in Jesus' baptism, God gives him an identity and a promise that transcends anything Jesus has done, not done or has the potential to do. And indeed, because Jesus is secure in his identity as God's beloved child, he has the power and courage to go and do all the things we remember most - he preaches good news to the poor, he makes God's love known through many miracles and he dies and rises again to take away the sins of the world.
Jesus' baptism makes clear that what you do doesn't make you who you are. Instead, you do what you do BECAUSE of who you are.
It sounds like a small difference, but it's important. And it's important not just for Jesus, but for us. And that's because in our baptism, God has given us the same identity. In baptism, we are all claimed as children of God. In baptism, God's undeserved and unconditional love is promised to each of us. And in baptism, God is pleased with each one of us because of who God has made us, not because of what we've done, not done or have the potential to do.
Yet so often even as Christians, we forget that. Just like "you are what you eat", we define ourselves as having value in God's eyes by how well we've loved God, or served people in need, or shown our faith by the way we've lived. But while all those things are good and important, our identity and value aren't measured by the sum of how well we've done or not done.
The Baptism of Jesus invites us to consider our own baptisms, and like Jesus, to understand that living as God's children begins each day with who we are - with who God has made us - not with what we've accomplished or failed to accomplish.
So what might that look like for us? Understanding who we are as Christians, and defining our value and self-worth in terms of God's love and acceptance often means:
  • Forgiving ourselves for messing up ... (if our mistakes and failures don't define us in God's eyes, why should we keep defining ourselves by them?)
  • Forgiving others, instead of asking "who's really worthy of forgiveness" ... (after all, if God loves and forgives others, who am I to hold a grudge?)
  • Living with hope and confidence that God's love is finally in control of the future, which frees us all to take risks and "sin boldly" as Luther said ...
The story of Jesus' ministry begins with the story of his baptism, because in baptism God gives him an identity. And in our baptisms, God has given us an identity, too. Our baptisms tell us that we're God's children, and that we're loved and claimed by God. Nothing we do or don't do changes that.
And because we're God's children, God has decided to shine his light through us in the midst of the darkness of the world. And the great thing about God's light is that it can shine through both our successes and our failures. So our call, like the call of Jesus, is simply to live securely in our baptismal identity, so that we can be agents of God's light in the world around us.