January 9th, 2022 – Show Your Identity

Sermon for Baptism of our Lord, 2022, Random Lake          1/9/22              Theme: SHOW YOUR IDENTITY

Texts: Isaiah 43: 1-7; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22

Introduction                 I think that there is in our culture a search for identity.  Persons are looking for ways to distinguish themselves.  A young woman in my Irish Literature class came with a different hair color almost every day.  She was an attractive person without this routine in my opinion.  Tattoos are still popular and lasting, though less meaningful as time goes by.  Facial jewelry may make a memorable mark for a while too.

            The daughter of a pastor I knew once announced that she planned to go to Florida on her spring break “to find herself.”   Well, good luck with that!  Facebook or Meta offers customers the chance to find people with their own interests or hobbies, join a virtual group.  Identify!

            Unfortunately, some seekers find a home with hate groups or insurrectionists, or devotees of some conspiracy theories.  These can be dangerous to your health or to others or to our democracy.

            On this Sunday of the Baptism of our Lord, I invite you to recall your identity as a member of the family of believers, washed in the waters of baptism and named as valued members of God’s great family.  Claim your identity, treasure who you are in Christ, and SHOW YOUR IDENTITY.

I           John, the Baptizer, knew who he was. The heavenly messenger announced to John’s dad before he was born: “…many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.  He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  John stood out in his growing up years, even before he moved into the wilderness and started wearing a camel’s hair mantel with a leather belt–a sure sign that he was in the tradition of Elijah.  John also knew who he was not—the one who was coming with more power.  John knew that he was not worthy to “untie the thongs of the coming one’s sandals.”  The heavenly messenger said that he would “turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

            When John was born, his father, Zechariah, launched into song, a poetic burst of praise still sung in morning services all over the world.  It’s called the Benedictus and includes these words identifying the mission of his son”

And you child, will be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.

            So powerful was John’s message that crowds traveled miles to the Jordan River to hear his message and be renewed in the faith of their ancestors when they crossed the waters into a new and promised land.  They identified with John’s message. They reclaimed their heritage as a people “redeemed” out of slavery and exile. Isaiah quoted God in our first reading today:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.  (Is 43:1-2)

II          One day, Jesus stood in the water with the crowds and claimed his identity with the people of Israel, with all their checkered history of unfaithfulness and defeat.  They did not follow God’s call to walk straight and tall in faith.

            But he became aware of a greater identity.  When he was “also baptized and was praying, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

            These words rumbled through the halls of history, echoing the identity of King David and his flawed sons who would follow on the thrown.  But Jesus was identified as “The Son of God, the Beloved,” long awaited, even after David’s biological children had failed in their mission.  The voice from heaven also recalled the words of Isaiah from the Servant Songs, “with you I am well pleased.” Jesus claimed his identity as he stood in the water.  He would be The Servant King to usher in the new, gracious rule of God that would eventually enfold us also.

            That’s why we rejoice this day.  Our champion, the champion of humanity, stepped boldly into his role as the Righteous Redeemer who would open the way to forgiveness and to forever life.  We are thrilled to be called Christians, identifying with the servant life that brought healing, teaching with authority into our world still reeling with confusion and false Messiahs.

III         In the second reading for today we meet some new believers in the truth of God’s mighty rescue in Christ’s death and resurrection.  But their knowledge was incomplete.  They lived in Samaria and missed some of the big events of Jesus’ public ministry, which Luke recorded for posterity years later.  Missionaries had shared the good word of Christ, but these Samaritans had not yet received the Holy Spirit.  So, the apostles at Jerusalem sent Peter and John to seal their faith with the Holy Spirit.  They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, but now the full power of the Holy Spirit swept over their minds and hearts, as hands were laid upon them in prayer, so that they too could share in the blessings of Israel’s fulfillment.

IV         People of God, here today, claim your identity in your baptism into the revealed name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  There is power in embracing this heritage, which is given to us.

            With scientific discovery of DNA, persons can mail in a sample of saliva or hair or whatever, and one can receive, for a fee, an idea of where one’s ancestors may have lived.  The test may not be specific, but give you percentages of what countries or continents have people that share one’s biological history.  I’ve never done this test, but my impression from TV ads is that this may lead to further investigation. I wonder how many people are as thrilled or shocked or satisfied as those on Henry Lewis Gates’  PBS program, “Finding Your Roots.” 

            I suggest to you today that we can find more meaning in the Word of God, that promises to bring all people together in fellowship with the Lord who has rescued us from sin and death and summoned us to service in this world.

            Take these words to heart as baptized believers:

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name you are mine…I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I have created for my glory, whom I formed and made.

Conclusion.  Harriet Tubman is portrayed in the movie Harriet as a small, young, black woman escaped from slavery.   Furthermore, she was given the name “Moses,” because of her amazing ability to lead scores of slaves through dark paths at night over the Ohio River to freedom. After an injury, she developed a gift for sensing danger and discovering ways to elude the bounty hunters, who tried to catch her and those escaping with her.  In one scene she is portrayed sinking into a kind of trance and hearing the words “walk through the water.”  Faced with a fast-moving river she boldly entered the water and went over to the other side, inspiring others to follow to safety.

            Now, I’m not suggesting that you be so bold, or try to hike across Random Lake, even when there’s a untried layer of ice.  But I am, in the name of Christ Jesus, urging you to walk boldly into 2022 with all its challenges.  You are people of royal identity. You live in the kingly power of the Holy Spirit of God.  Fear not, you are redeemed.  Reveal your identity by the way you live, as servants of Christ.  SHOW YOUR IDENTITY.

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