January 8, 2017
Matthew 3:13-17, Isaiah 42:1-9
“Mind Your Own Business”
How many of you remember your baptism?
How many of you were baptized as infants?
In a group conversation this week about baptism, I heard some regret about doing it for the wrong reasons or the times we have blown it since baptism. How many times in our lives do we wish for a “do-over”? How many times have we said something we regret or acted in a way that completely discounted someone else? How many times have we wasted an opportunity to reach out to someone? Maybe the question should be “how many times a day do we do those things?”
Baptism is a kind of lifetime do-over. It doesn’t matter if we made the choice or the choice was made on our behalf, when we were baptized, it took. That is because baptism isn’t about us, it is about God. God didn’t mess up at our baptism. Martin Luther said, “Baptism is something we do in one day, but it takes the rest of our lives to finish.” I used to know a family that got re-baptized on a regular basis. They would mess up and go get baptized again. Sometimes I feel like there isn’t enough water in the world if we have to get re-baptized every time we mess up. Thank goodness we don’t. We can spend a lifetime growing into our baptism. Baptism is what marks us as God’s. In baptism, we say yes to God and in doing so we are commissioned to follow God our whole lives. It doesn’t matter if we were baptized as infants without our consent or as teenagers who may not think it through or as adults who have a lifetime of experience. Baptism takes…whenever and however we do it.
I’ve thought a lot about baptism in my life. Of course, that is what I do professionally, but it is very personal for me as well. Growing up, one of my friends went to the Church of Christ. We used to walk to school together every day. She took that as an invitation to tell me on a regular basis that my baptism didn’t count and I would be going to hell. We didn’t talk about hell much in the Methodist Church and I was perplexed by her certainty that I was damned for eternity. She would argue her point by telling me the Bible says, “Jesus came up out of the water.” I was only sprinkled at baptism, I didn’t go under water so in her mind, my baptism was invalid. I didn’t have language to argue with her, but I knew that I didn’t believe her. I just couldn’t believe that it isn’t about how wet we get when we are baptized. So the issue of my baptism was a regular topic of thought for me long after the event itself.
My parents chose not to baptize my brother and me, but to allow us to choose for ourselves. I went through confirmation and remember debating the whole baptism and confirmation decision at age 13. I have vivid memories of sitting on my bed trying to figure out what I would do and then coming to the clear conclusion that I had no idea what the implications were for this, but that I needed to be baptized and confirmed. I was publicly saying yes to God without fully understanding what that yes might mean. I am continuing to live into that yes.
Every year right after Epiphany, we hear the story of Jesus’ baptism and we are invited to reflect on the meaning of our baptism in our lives. It could be really important to you or it may seem to have little to no significance at all. But on this Sunday, you get to ask yourself what it means that you are baptized.
If you have no clue, perhaps the story today will help. John is baptizing a big crowd and Jesus shows up to be baptized. When John says he doesn’t think he should baptize Jesus, Jesus insists so John does it. Then we have the Hollywood moment: as Jesus comes out of the water, the heavens open up and God’s Spirit descends like a dove and lands on him. Then a voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
God has a special name for us…beloved. My friend Christopher is a priest who sends emails that address the receiver as “beloved of God”. It always stopped me up short a bit to hear that.
What is amazing about God using this word for Jesus is that God didn’t wait for Jesus to bring home A’s on his report card, or hit a home run, or get first chair for playing saxophone. God didn’t need Jesus to start his own thriving company or win a big case or invent a cure for cancer. God called him beloved BEFORE he did anything. God didn’t say you are my beloved because you have done all these amazing things. Instead, God said, “You are my beloved. Period.” That is what God says to us. WHAT???
That is mind-boggling. So what if we don’t have to try and earn God’s love and approval? We already have it. Can we live like it? If we understand that we are God’s beloved, does it change how we live in the world?
Nadia Bolz-Weber heard a story on the radio about studies that were done with elementary school teachers who were told at the beginning of the year that certain children in their class were gifted, regardless of the actual capacity of those children. The study showed that by the end of the year those kids were scoring off the charts from their peers. They became what they were believed to be. (http://www.nadiabolzweber.com/uncategorized/sermon-on-baptism-belovedness-and-how-god-is-like-a-duped-teacher.htm)
Is anyone here still trying to win someone’s approval? Are you still hoping God or someone else will be proud of you? Maybe if you just do one more thing. Maybe if you accomplish something amazing. Let’s turn that around because you ALREADY have God’s approval. God is proud of you. You ARE God’s beloved. Your life mission is to live as God’s beloved in the world. Baptism is an outward sign of God’s love. Claim it. Say yes. It is yours.
Fred Craddock tells about a man named Frank who was very respected in the small town where Fred was pastor. Everyone knew that Frank would NEVER go to church. One day, Fred and Frank met for the first time on the street. Frank immediately went on the offensive and said, “I work hard and I take care of my family and I mind my own business.” He was telling Fred to leave him alone. He was never going to come to church. Then one day out of the blue, 77-year-old Frank came to church and asked Fred to baptize him. So he did. People thought Frank must be sick. There was no other explanation for one who had been so anti-church. Curious, Fred asked him, “Frank, do you remember that little saying you used to give me so much? ‘I work hard, I take care of my family, and I mind my own business’?”
Frank said, “Yeah. I remember that. I said that a lot.”
“Do you still say that?” Fred asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“Then what’s the difference?”
Frank said, I didn’t know then what my business was.”
(Fred Craddock, The Cherry Log Sermons, p. 12)
Frank was baptized when he discovered what his business was. Baptism is a way of publicly claiming our business. You see, we are God’s beloved. Our business is to act like it.