“Beloved" - a Farm Church Snow Day Sermon
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)
Today is Epiphany Sunday, and on the church calendar, we are in the season of Epiphany. The word, “Epiphany” means “revelation.” And I don’t know about you, but I’m pleased that in our tradition, we have a season devoted to such a thing—a season of revelation. So friends, welcome to this season of Epiphany—welcome to this season of revelation in the life of the Church and, (who knows?) perhaps in your own life as well.
Epiphany usually finds us continuing in the gospel stories after Jesus’ birth. And so, once again, we find ourselves visiting once again with John the Baptist, that eccentric preacher who roamed the countryside wearing camel’s fur and eating bugs dipped in honey. Only this time, the part of the story we’re focused on is Jesus’ baptism—a baptism that, when we stop and think about it, may leave us longing for some sort of epiphany.
Why was Jesus baptized? Did you ever wonder about that? According to Mark’s gospel, “Jesus came form Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” But why? Why do you think it is that Jesus gets baptized?
You know, sometimes the CEO of a big company will come down on the factory floor, roll up his or her sleeves, and stand with the workers on the assembly line, running a drill press or something like that. It’s a photo op, really, isn’t it? A chance for the CEO to say to the workers on that one particular day, “See? I’m just like you. Working here with you…” Is that what Jesus was doing?
We see presidents and governors and other dignitaries do this from time to time, don’t we? Have the staff schedule a chance for them to do some work with the common folk—maybe flip a few pancakes at a Boy Scout fundraiser, or maybe pile up some sandbags at a flood-threatened home in Louisiana, basically to say to the people, “Hey, look at me—I’m with you. I’m on your level!” Is that what Jesus was doing at his baptism?
Was Jesus’ baptism essentially a photo opportunity? Was Jesus thinking, “Well, I don’t really need to get baptized right now, but you know, for the good of the people—to show them that I’m one of them, I really ought to go through with this.” I’d venture to say that most of the time, this isn’t a question we bring to this particular story in Scripture: Did Jesus Christ need to get baptized?
And while we’re chewing on that one, here’s another question. Why is Jesus being baptized now? If we assume that Jesus was thirty-three when he died, and that his ministry was roughly three years long… What has Jesus been doing for the first thirty years of his life? What did he do with all that time? Ok, if he were a carpenter, he probably made some furniture, but what else? What kind of life did he have? Did he have friends? Did he have a garden? Did Jesus have any other hobbies?
The Jesus that we know and follow is the Jesus of the gospels, but just what was the pre-gospel Jesus doing all those years? Certainly he must have seen that his world was in need, don’t you think? Certainly for three decades he must have witnessed the same brokenness, the same poverty, the same human suffering that he did during the last three years of his life.
He must have seen it all. From the time he was a child and into adulthood… the sick and the lame crying out for help, lepers dying of loneliness, woman abused by their husbands, unclean people shunned, prostitutes stoned… a world of pain and need… He must have seen it all.
So now we might ask this question of Jesus, “Why are you wasting your time getting yourself baptized? After all, you’ve got work to do! Now is not the time for a divine photo opportunity!”
But Jesus is baptized by John in the river Jordan. And after that baptism, the voice of God proclaims, “You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.”
His ministry doesn’t begin with work. It begins with recognition that he is beloved.
Jesus’ ministry doesn’t begin with a committee meeting to create a 5-step plan for saving the world. It doesn’t begin with a task force to identify measurable goals and objectives for the months ahead.
It begins, rather, in the waters of baptism, where he hears God say, “You are my Son, the Beloved.”
Had I been Jesus’ publicist, I might have advised him otherwise. “Jesus, I think the time is right for you to begin your ministry. Let’s start with something big, shall we? There’s a leper colony just east of Nazareth—what do you say we begin with a mass healing at, oh, about 10, follow that up with a scheduled lunch with the local tax collectors’ union, some preaching and teaching in the afternoon, and then we’ll end the day feeding 5,000 people with seven loaves and two fish. How does that sound?
It’s probably good that I wasn’t Jesus’ publicist.
We get things so backward, don’t we? We enter ministry asking, “What are we going to do? What goal can we set? What event can we plan? What can we do???”
Jesus didn’t do that. His first question was not, “What can I do?” but rather, “Who am I?” And the answer to that question came in God’s voice: “You are my Son. The Beloved.”
Jesus’ ministry doesn’t begin with work. It begins with recognition that he is beloved.
Why should things be any different with us?
You see, we don’t do ministry—we don’t do the work of God—because we’re good at it.
We’re not successful in serving God because we’re talented, or smart, or strong, or magnetic, or charismatic, or friendly. The central, defining factor in our ability to be agents of God’s grace and mercy in the world is the fact that we are BELOVED.
You have to know who you are before you can do what you’re called to do.
Professor and preacher Fred Craddock tells a story about the time he and his wife were in a restaurant in the Smokey Mountains area of Tennessee. They were seated looking out at the mountains, when this old man, with shocking white hair, a Carl Sandburg-looking person came over and queried, "You're on vacation?" Craddock replied with a wary, "Yes." "What do you do?" he asked. ("Well, I was thinking," Craddock notes, "that it was none of his business, but I let out that I was a minister"). Then he said, "Oh, a minister, well I've got a story for you." He pulled out a chair and began, "I was born back here in these mountains. My mother was not married, and as you might expect in those days, I was embarrassed about that -- at school I would hide in the weeds by a nearby river and eat my lunch alone because the other children were very cruel. And when I went to town with my courageous mother I would see the way people looked at me trying to guess who my daddy was. I attended Laurel Springs Church. The preacher fascinated me, but at the same time he scared me. He had a long beard, a rough-hewn face, a deep voice, but I sure liked to hear him preach. But I didn't think I was welcome at church so I would go just for the sermon. As soon as the sermon was over, I would rush out so nobody would say, 'What's a boy like you doing here in church? ‘One day though, the old man continued, I was trying to get out but some people had already got in the aisle so I had to remain. I was waiting, getting in a cold sweat when all of a sudden I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I looked out of the corner of my eye and realized it was the face of the preacher. And I was scared to death. The preacher looked at me. He didn't say a word, he just looked at me, and then he said, 'Well boy, you're a child of...' and he paused, and I knew he was going to try to guess not who my mother was but who my father was. The preacher said, 'You're a child of...um. Why, you're a child of God! I see a striking resemblance boy!' He swatted me on the bottom and said, 'Go claim your inheritance.'" And then the old man who was telling the story said to Fred Craddock, "I was born on that day!"
You have to know who you are before you can do what you’re called to do.
And do you know who you are? You are a child of God. Beloved. Before you think about what you’re going to do—here at this church, in your work, in your family, anywhere in this world—Before you think about what you’re going to do, think about who you are.
You are God’s son. You are God’s daughter. Beloved.