Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Mark 1:9-11
Rev. Tom Herbek
March 26, 2017
Jesus was baptized by John, and it became clear to John and to all who saw it, that Jesus was God’s Son, God’s Beloved, God’s Chosen One. Jesus did not become God’s Son at baptism. Baptism simply revealed who Jesus was. It did not change him into someone different. It simply allowed who Jesus had always been to be seen. When we are baptized, the church reminds us who we are. We are a child of God.
Tangible reminders of who we are and who God is help us not to forget God’s love for us- each of us.
About nine times each year, we set aside a few moments at the end of worship to remember God’s love, by making tangible the compassion of Jesus. Bread and juice become tangible reminders of God’s love. The need for something tangible to remind us that we are not alone is not new. The Hebrews put a reminder that we should love God with our entire being on the doorposts of their homes thousands of years ago. Of course, the danger with any tangible reminder is that it can become a tool for those in power to use in order to maintain their power.
Jesus added another sentence to the ancient Hebrew commandment to love God with all of our heart, our soul, and our might. Jesus added a second commandment: to love our neighbor as ourself. If we forget this inclusive second part, then ritual can become about excluding, about power, about who will get to heaven, about who is saved, and who is not.
Jesus understood that our call is to be inclusive, that “the kingdom of God is within you.” Our greatest desire is to be connected with God and the people around us. We realize our full humanness only in relationships – with God and with each other.
Baptism reminds us again that there are possibilities in life that we never saw before. New life. New birth. They do not just happen for a baby. They happen for each of us throughout our life. It is what Jesus meant when he said: “The kingdom of God is within you.” And I would believe he said it with a smile and a twinkle in his eye. It is what happens when you say, “You never know…” not just about a baby, but about yourself. It is what happens when we realize that God is still creating, still calling us to become all we were created to be.
It is what happens when a baby sees some Christmas lights, a child walks for the first time, an adult proposes and she says ‘yes’, a grandparent gets told, “I love you, Grandma!”, a parent receives a text message from a college student, “I love you, mom”, a 90-year-old receives a note from his 60-year-old son, “I never thanked you, Dad, for what you did for me.”
Tangible reminders help us to know that God loves us and God calls us to tackle what seems impossible- to do something about the needs of those around us and in our world who feel left out and left behind.
We have a group here of over 200 families, people who are open to the impossible, ready and willing on any given day to hear your idea and brainstorm with you on how we can do something about the impossible.
And the Spirit of God has this uncanny way of making the impossible seem possible. All we need to do is to begin.
Today we come here to celebrate and to acknowledge how blessed we all are. I do not believe that baptism changes an infant or guarantees that infant a place in heaven. The God of love that I worship and follow loves this child unconditionally, and cares about her and for her in this world and the next. There is nothing that she, or we, have to do to earn God’s love. Baptism does not change her. After she is baptized, she is still the same.
But hopefully, after baptism, we who gather to celebrate this day – family, friends, and church family – are changed, at least a little bit. A baptism gives us a chance to recognize and acknowledge our interdependence, that we are all the family of God, without any conditions. And hopefully, in this celebration, we also celebrate how blessed we are to have this child as a fellow traveler on our journey. Her presence in our lives will change us and we will change her life by our care and compassion for her, for her parents, the friends and family who gather with us today, and this church family.
So I would venture to say that baptism is more for all of us than it is for this child. It is our chance to celebrate that we are all family, whether related by blood or not. Probably we should have had Ellie play that wedding reception DJ favorite, “We Are Family”, but I’m not sure it would be the same on the pipe organ.
By this baptism, my hope is that we each become more of who we were created to be, just as we express our commitment to help this child become all that she is created to be. It is a reminder to us all that God loves us, without condition, and that we journey together in this life.
It is my hope that baptism is one of those times where we recognize and celebrate that we are all family – the family of God. My hope is that, as this child grows and matures, she will find ways to become who she was created to be, in creative, life-changing ways – not only for her, but for all of us.
We don’t know what our possibilities are until we try, don’t know what “the kingdom of God” within us will inspire us to do, once we recognize that we are all God’s family, all part of the world’s humanity.
So let us celebrate the journey, the specialness, the possibilities in this child today, but also the unmet, undiscovered possibilities within each of us, as well. Because of this baptism that we are privileged to be a part of this day, may we also discover the specialness within each of us.
This giver-of-life-God gives us new life every day. And once we recognize that fact, we are freed up to be more loving, and to become all that God has created us to be. Because we know that we are blessed, we are able to pass those blessings to others. We are all children of God, and all of us being children of God is the great unifying and equalizing factor of life. Caring for and loving kids of any age, from birth to 101 years of age, is our opportunity to somehow participate with God in life.
In the movie “Dead Man Walking”, a condemned man responds to Sister Helen Prejean: “No one ever before called me a child of God.” How sad a statement this is. Who knows what this man’s life might have been like, if he had just heard this before? Part of our opportunity every day of our lives is to make sure that everyone knows they are children of God, everyone hears that they are children of God.
And we must recognize the many children in this community and in our world, who will never know God’s love or the love of parents or family or church, unless we do something about it. Whether we are single or married, 8 years old or 80 years old, living by ourselves or with 10 other people, we can still be family to the children who have never heard that they are children of God.
May we, as a church family, be family to all those in this community who have never heard that they are children of God.
May we continue to support the Child Advocacy Center and the important work they do to enable healing for children who have been abused in this county. May we continue to support Gleaners and the children of God, of all ages, whose great need is a meal each day. May we continue to support the What If? Foundation and the children of God in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, so that these children get one meal each day, and food for their minds at the new school there, open to all children at no charge. May we continue to support the children of God of all ages who have been victims of domestic violence, with tangible reminders that they are not alone, as we help the Victim Advocacy Program. And may we continue to remind children of God at the end of their life that they are not alone, through our support of the Light Hill Comfort Care Home.
May these all be tangible reminders- not just for them, but also for each of us- that God calls us to become who we have been created to be, as well, out of God’s life-giving love for each of us. And because we are continually reminded that each person we encounter each day is also a child of God, may our understanding of family be continually growing, continually widening, excluding no one, embracing all people as children of God.
May we each find ways each day to grow in our ability to be tangible reminders of God’s love, reminders that every person is a child of God!