Scripture: Isaiah 42:1-9, Matthew 3:13-17
I am told by some that I can find theology in every movie I watch. I’m not sure if this is true for all pastors types, but I think it is for me. A memorable scene from one of my favorite movies includes conversation about identity and reminds me a lot about baptism. In fact, from the very opening scene as the sun rises over African landscape, there are hints of theology spread throughout. In the Lion King, after the tragic death of his father, King Mufasa, young Simba is forced out into the wilderness, away from his family and destiny. While in the wilderness Simba is faced with a bit of an identity crisis. His father, Mufasa appears in the African night sky while Simba is at a watering hole. Mufasa voices booms in the night sky, “you have forgotten who you are and therefore you have forgotten me. Look inside yourself Simba, you are more than what you have become.” Mufasa challenges Simba to, “remember who you are. You are my son and the one true king.” Mufasa is challenging Simba to remember his roots. To remember where he came from. To remember his destiny and who he really is.
What’s your baptismal story? I always encouraged students in my confirmation class to have conversations with their families and hear stories about when they were baptized. I encourage them to ask how they reacted. I don’t remember my baptism, but my parents do. So they have passed along stories. I know I was baptized in the summer and that my Pappap served as the elder representative. I know I heard the words of baptism and that I was along with others in the waters of baptism, baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But even before we are baptized, we are children of God. Friends, it is important to remember who we are. To remember our identities.
Our text from Matthew tells Jesus’ baptismal story. Like others before him, Jesus approaches the baptismal waters and ask his cousin John to baptize him. I’ve often wondered why Jesus needed to be baptized and thought a lot about that this week. So I looked closer at Jesus’ words. These are the first words of Christ, spoken in Matthew’s gospel.
“Let it be so then; it is proper for us to fulfill all righteousness,” Jesus says, and it sounds so dry and stiff and formal, as if to say, let’s just check this box and be done with it. But read under the words: John blessing Jesus will be an act of righteousness.
And in this moment Jesus redefines what righteousness is, and you wonder if any of the Pharisees and Sadducees were still hanging around to hear it, if their beef started right then, because in Jesus’ eyes righteousness is not about crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s in a way that doesn’t anger God, but about living in such a compassionate and joyous and loving way that what you do is a blessing and delight to God. God delights in us, and we can bring smile to God’s face. Righteousness isn’t about following the rules in order to fly under God’s radar. Righteousness is about grabbing God’s promises by the hand and saying I love you too with every single action. About being claimed by and marked by God’s love.
And so it is that John, prophet but mortal, man of the odd fashion sense and the even odder diet, comes to dunk Jesus under the waters of the Jordan, and to tell this sinless man that his sins are forgiven, because to hear words of forgiveness is a delight to God. And God in heaven shows that delight by opening up the heavens, and God the Spirit soars down to rest on the dripping wet shoulder of God the Son, the beloved. The Holy Trinity, blessed and full of blessing.
God comes to us for blessing. Not because God needs it from us, but because God delights to see us be more loving, more joyful, more courageous, more faithful. God delights when we strive to be beacons pointing others to the light of Christ. God sees us as blessings. Blessings in human skin, just waiting to reach out and bless others. That is how God created us to be. Beloved blessings for God’s beloved world.
There is a line in the Presbyterian Book of Order that I love—I know, it isn’t exactly beach reading, but buried in section three of article two of the Directory for Worship is one of the clearest summations of Christian living I know: It says, “Baptism is God’s gift of grace and also God’s summons to respond to that grace. Baptism calls to repentance, to faithfulness, and to discipleship. Baptism gives the church its identity and commissions the church for ministry to the world.” (W-2.3006)
Look inside yourself and remember who you are. Remember whose you are. Baptism is God’s gift of grace to us, grace enough to turn our sin-spotted lives and messy efforts into blessing enough for the world we know. Baptism is God’s call to respond to that grace, to go out into the world to love and serve and be truthful and kind. In baptism, God comes to us and says: you are going to be my blessing. You are going to be my blessing in this world. You are going to share God’s light and be marked by God’s love.
Let’s circle back to what does it mean when we say, “Remember your baptism?” is it merely a remembrance of the ritual? I have a pastor friend who says she strives to remember her baptism every time she washes her hands, swims, gets caught in the rain, in order words, she remembers her baptism every time she interacts with water. Ever since hearing her rituals for remembering her baptism, I’ve strive to do the same. Friends, to remember your baptism is to remember who you are and whose you are. To remember you are claimed and beloved by God.
In baptism we are forgiven, but not just so we can feel good about ourselves, not just so we can wave our clean records under other people’s noses. In baptism we are forgiven so we can get over ourselves and our failings and get on with God’s holy work. In baptism we are forgiven so that when God comes to us, there will be nothing holding us back.
I love how Christian author Rachel Held Evans describes baptism. She says, “Baptism reminds us that there’s no ladder to holiness to climb, no self-improvement plan to follow. It’s just death and resurrection, over and over again, day after day, as God reaches down into our deepest graves and with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead wrests us from our pride, our apathy, our fear, our prejudice, our anger, our hurt, and our despair. Where the world calls us names like, screw-up, fake, slacker, addict, in baptism we are named beloved. In baptism you are told you are beloved and that is enough.” Baptism is the very acknowledgement of people’s beloved-ness. I would add in baptism we are claimed and marked by God’s love.
Even still, about a million times a day I echo Simba’s identity crisis and John’s disbelief. I echo John’s question…You come to me? But God does. Over and over, despite all the evidence I can give that I am not worthy to be God’s co-worker, God comes to me and God comes to you and says, “Look here. I have work for you to do. You are forgiven, freed, and beloved. So no excuses. Get to it.” Come to the waters. Remember who you are. Over and over, Jesus comes to us. I’m asking you to bless me, he says.
Will we? Will we remember who we are? Will we remember whose we are? Friends, may we all remember we are beloved and sent. Amen.