Saturday, January 11, 2020

Year A, Baptism of Our Lord, Isaiah 42.1-9, Matthew 3.13-17

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
Who are we?
Who are we related to?
And what shall we do?

 ----Sexist stereo type alert----

One of my observations over the years is that if you ask a room full of women to tell you who they are, they will most likely begin by talking about the relationships in their life.
On the other hand if you ask the same question of a room full of men they will tell you what they do.
There is not a right or wrong here.
Be we men, or be we women, we are both related to many people in our lives and called to do many different things, and together, our relationships and our vocations define our lives.
But what is more important?  What comes first and lasts longest?
It is the relationships, the many different relationships, that are primary and which endure.
Our vocations will inevitably change over the course of our lives.
But our relationships have much more of an enduring character to them.
Your mom and dad, are forever, your mom and dad.
Your siblings remain your siblings.
When we enter into marriage it is with the intent that it be life long, and even if we fail at that, that relationship shapes who we are throughout our life.
Children are our children forever.
Even when death separates us, these relationships of our lives continue to define who we are and whose we are.
Our vocations are much more fleeting.
Our earliest vocation is to be a learner, a pupil of life.
And then as our life unfolds we are called to various vocations.
Some of our vocations are defined by our relationships:  for example, being a parent means that we do certain things.  A mother, a father, has to do the work of ‘mothering’ and ‘fathering’.
Likewise, husbands and wives are called to do the work of marriage.
Many of our vocations shape our relationships beyond our immediate family.
I am a pastor.
And a woodworker.
Early in my life, I had a wide variety of jobs that gave me the experience I would rely on throughout the remainder of my life.
I mowed lawns, delivered papers, worked in a grocery store and lumber yard.  I drove a truck.  I’ve been a custodian.  I’ve built a house. 
Even as a pastor I’ve been called to do a wide variety of things, from baptizing little children to being with the elderly as they died. 
Who am I?
Who am I related to?
And what shall I do?
These are the questions each of us answer in one way or another throughout our lives.
They are all interrelated.
You can’t answer one, without reflecting on the others.
From the perspective of faith, baptism answers all those questions.
“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
These words spoken at Jesus’ baptism shine light on all three of life’s questions.
Who is Jesus?  Who is he related to?  And what about his vocation?
Jesus:  A child of God, God’s own son.  Beloved of God, and called to be Savior of the world.  That is the meaning of his name:  He saves.
Isaiah speaks about the servant of God in today’s first reading:
1Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.
I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, 7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.
In thinking about Jesus, and this question of identity, this is the bottom line:
Jesus cannot be Jesus apart from his relationship to the Father and to us, or apart from his vocation to serve the Father and save us.
Jesus cannot be Jesus apart from his relationship to the Father and to us, or apart from his vocation to serve the Father and save us.
Jesus baptism speaks to his identity, his relationships, and his vocation. 
And likewise, when we are baptized it shapes our identity, our relationships, and our vocations.
The three are intimately intertwined. 
In Baptism we are identified as Children of God.
And we are brought into a relationship with God as our Father and our brothers and sisters throughout the world.
And finally we are called to be servants of God and each other.
This is expressed in our Affirmation of Baptism service:
You have made public profession of your faith. Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism:
to live among God’s faithful people,
to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,
to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?

Who are we?
Each of us is a child of God, created in his image and called to be his own through our baptisms.
Who are we related to?
Here we have both an extended family and an immediate family.
In breadth, as creatures of God, we are one with all creation and all people.  Our relationship with the world in which we live and the people with whom we live is established in creation.
But also, as Christians we have a more immediate and intimate relationship with those brothers and sisters who share the same faith in God, and in Jesus Christ.
And what are we called to do?
What is our vocation?
It is to love God, and each other. 
We do that by continuing in the covenant God made with us in Holy Baptism.
Who are we?
Who are we related to?
And what shall we do?

These three questions and their answers are intimately intertwined. 
But inevitably we as humans have taken these intimately connected issues and made them into conditional laws.
If you don’t do the right things. . .
If you don’t hang out with the right people. . .
Then, you must not, cannot be a child of God.
When we do that we make everything into a status that is dependent on our efforts and not the Grace of God.
But our identity as Children of God and heirs of the promise is not the result of our actions, but rather God’s saving grace.
What Martin Luther talks about is that those other things, who we relate to and how we act flow from the first, our identity as children of God.
In the Augsburg Confession this is called the New Obedience of Faith. 
Put simply, the more that we live in the promise that we are loved by God, claimed as his children, and called according to his will—
Then we will naturally begin to love as we have been loved, care for our brothers and sisters, and act according to the will of God’s Spirit within us.
Well, what about when we fail?

Not everyone has faith in God.
Not everyone cares for their neighbor as a brother or sister.
Not everyone does the will of the Spirit.
In fact none of us does so to perfection.
We all fail.

And that, my brothers and sisters, is simply a sign that God is not done with us yet.  He’s still working on us.

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