The 2nd Sunday of Epiphany/The Baptism
of our Lord
Most of the time, TV Commercials kind of annoy me. Thanks to my DVR, I often skip right through them. Once in a while, though, there comes along a commercial that catches my attention. The USA network has one that you might be familiar with. In this commercial, TV actors appear one by one and give a one sentence definition of themselves. Examples of this are, “I am Irish.” “I am a Christian.” I am an adoptive father.” “I am a clown.” “I am an intellectual.” “I am spiritual.”
If you were cast in that commercial and had to come up with a one-sentence description of yourself, what would you say? Could you say it in one sentence? Maybe, for some of us who are a bit more wordy, a paragraph would be necessary. I know there are some of us this morning, who would struggle to even come up with one word, let alone an entire sentence.
It comes down to identity. Who are you? How do you identify yourself?
We all have names. Names we were given at our birth. Some people have nicknames, both those given in fond affection and those given in thoughtless cruelty. We could talk about titles and job descriptions: pastor, engineer, cook, nurse, public servant. Then there are family positions: mother, father, sister, brother, oldest, youngest, middle child, stepchild, peacemaker, housekeeper, breadwinner. Among our friends we may have other identities: the quiet one, the practical joker, the athlete, the braniac, the geek, the clutz, the shy one.
So who are you? Do you know? It is important that you know. Knowing who you are is necessary as you go through this life. Your identity influences your sense of self-worth, your decision making, how you react to others, how others react to you, how you spend your money, how you spend your free time, how you live in community.
Who are you? The tricky thing about identity, is that it can come from many places. The list I gave earlier includes many identities that are rooted in outside influences—the people we work and live with, the world that exists outside of ourselves. And here is the problem with that: the world continues to change. The people we are surrounded by go in and out of our lives. Our jobs are not guaranteed. Our communities are transitory. If we define ourselves by these external people, places and events, we will be in trouble, because every time circumstances change, we have to re-think who we are and how we define ourselves; how we identify ourselves. We have to continually be answering the question, “Who are you?” And that question gets harder and harder to answer as our lives continue to change. We realize that there are very few things we can count on to remain constant; what does that mean for our identity? All those things I listed earlier: self-worth, interaction with our families and friends, decision-making, finances, community life….are affected because we are in a constant state of not knowing who we really are.
Who are you? Deep down inside of you? At the core of your being, do you know who you are?
Today, in a liturgical time-warp, we jump from Jesus as a toddler in last week’s scripture to Jesus as an adult in Matthew 3. We celebrate today the baptism of our Lord. In the book of Matthew, this is Jesus’ first public act. It is a powerful statement about the importance of baptism. In these five short verses, the identity of Jesus is firmly and publicly established. It is significant that in this gospel, the voice from heaven speaks of Jesus in the third person, addressing the public around Jesus. “This is my Son.” In Mark and Luke, the voice from heaven addresses Jesus directly, “You are my Son.” But in Matthew, the voice from heaven is making a public announcement about who this man is. Being baptized has to do with identity. Jesus’ identity had to be established before his ministry could begin.
The same is true for us, our identity must be clearly established before we can begin to live the life God has called us to; whatever that looks like for each of us. So, I ask again, who are you? The first and most important answer to that question should be, “I am a baptized child of God. Forgiven and loved.” And after that, there is no other answer that needs to be given. For out of that response, comes the realization that our identity is rooted in God and found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Families change, people come and go, jobs are temporary, communities are in constant transition. The only constant in our life is God and it is in God that we know who we truly are.
Knowing who we are is important for our personal, spiritual well-being. It is also vital for our communal well-being. As baptized people of God, we share a common identity. Even as we learn to honor the differences among us, our baptism reminds us that we share a common place in this world; that we are united, not just with Christ, but with each other.
Our reading this morning from Acts 10 is a speech by Peter that comes after quite a bit of disagreement concerning the Christian community. Who is in, who is out? Peter finally came to the understanding that the Gentiles were also part of the Christian community. Verse 36, “You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of ALL.”
In Confirmation this past Wednesday, we began our unit on Baptism. The focus verse for the week is from Galatians chapter 3: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
In our conflicts, in our disagreements, in our differences, we are one. Our baptism does not erase the things that make life together challenging, but it does give us a starting point for conversation and understanding. It changes the way we look at one another. Indeed, it changes the way we look at our own self. Not with eyes that focus on flaws and annoying habits, but with eyes that see a person clothed in Christ, marked with a cross on their forehead.
Pastor Charlane Lines
418 W. Main St.
Sidney, MT 59270