It’s Who You Are

Matthew 3 – Baptism of Jesus   January 11, 2015

The picture shows a mother running into the swirling ocean, looking not only toward the 80 foot wall of water that would eventually crash down on them, but looking toward her children, Anton, Filip and Victor ages 14, 11, and 10.

It was the day after Christmas in 2004 when an earthquake in the Indian ocean erupted causing a tsunami that hit the coastlines of landmasses all along that ocean and killed over 200,000 people.

The mother plunges into the chaotic waters, aware of what’s coming, in an effort to save her children. Everyone else is headed out or oblivious to the coming destruction, all headed the opposite direction from the crazy mother. Like firefighters and police officers and good Samaritans who head into and toward danger and possible death instead of fleeing from it. The mother and her 3 boys were swept up in the on-coming water, but each found their feet and their way to higher ground and, miraculously, the entire family survived.

Today, John is plunged into water, up to his waist I imagine, out beyond
the city limits in the wilderness. Wilderness, in scripture, is defined as the very place where God is not – where the surroundings are not hospitable to life, much less God. And while he preaches quite a sermon of hellfire and brimstone, it’s this one line sermon that rings out through the wilderness into our ears today: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. John went out to the very place where God was not supposed to be and declared God alive and well, and present.

Can’t you just hear John the Baptist bellering as he stands waist deep in the dirty waters of the river Jordan. And here come the folks, one after another, climbing into the river, into the waters of repentance. Tired moms and dirty shepherds and filthy tax collectors and carpenters and CEOs, I suppose were there. Maybe those wishing for physical healing were there, those deemed untouchable, those who had been shunned. Maybe they were there too. Can you picture yourself on the river bank, watching it all, waiting for your turn? Wondering how you’ll feel, wondering what’s about to happen, if he’ll let you up in time for a breath?

And then this guy budges in line and plunges into the water before you and then everyone on the riverbank begins to whisper and point – it’s Jesus! And he and John have a conversation and it seems like John wants Jesus to baptize him but then you can hear that Jesus says that John has to baptize him instead if things are going to be made right. It seems out of order doesn’t it? I mean, certainly Jesus should have baptized John and then taken over from there, right?

That’s the kind of God we believe in, folks. One who goes out into the wilderness, into the God-forsaken place and plunges into the chaos, into the dirty, churned up water – the same water you and I were just in – to save us from ourselves, to set us free. This is not refreshing water, cool to the forehead on a hot day. This is water that will rough you up, drag you down and wash all the stuff away that comes between you and God. This is the water that kills that stuff – that kills you. And it would be too easy to end there, wouldn’t it? But this is just the beginning. This water and God’s word is only getting started with you. This promise then raises us to new life. Not our own new life in our own name but raised to new life in the name of Jesus Christ. And you know what that means, don’t you? You’re free. You’re dead and then your new life is one of freedom. Because it’s the life of Jesus alive and well in you now. You can loosen your grip, relax your shoulders. That’s who you are. That’s your identity – God’s own child.

There are days I forget that my identity is as a child of God. And I know I’m going to forget so I have this quote hanging near
my mirror in my bathroom to read when I need reminding. It’s a quote from the Lutheran pastor and author Nadia Bolz-Weber. She writes,

When the forces that seek to defy God whisper ‘if’ in your ears –

if God really loved me, I wouldn’t feel like this…if I really am beloved then I should have everything I want…

if I really belong to God, things in my life wouldn’t suck—

remember that God has named us and claimed us as God’s own. When what seems to be depression or resentment or isolation takes over, try picturing it as a vulnerable and desperate force seeking to defy God’s grace and mercy in your life. And then tell it to get lost and say defiantly to it, “I am baptized” or “I am God’s” because nothing else gets to tell you who you are.

Nothing else gets to tell you who you are.

And it’s this identity that shapes our lives – that utterly transforms and changes our lives. Because it’s dangerous water calling us to die to ourselves – to our egos, to our achievements, to our dark hearts and guilt and shame – and to put on Christ. To put on the very person of Christ as our identity. That’s freedom in Christ. And none of us wears it like anybody else, yet it’s the very thing that binds us together. It’s all a mess as we climb out of the river, slipping and sliding up onto the banks, mud on our feet and hands as we pull ourselves onto dry land, into the life of following Jesus. Never again the same.

This water is dangerous. It changes who you are. It tells you who you are. Nobody else, nothing else gets to do that. Just think how pleased God is with you. Pleased enough to go to the crazy lengths God is willing to go to to show just how crazy in love God is with you. God plunges Jesus into human flesh and then Jesus plunges into the water after us, when everyone else is fleeing, to grab onto us, to claim us, and to never let us go.

You are God’s own – nobody else gets to tell you who you are. And God is so pleased.