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January 12, 2014
“Identity Theft”

Rev. Barbara Lorbach

Matthew 3:13-17 (NRSV)


MESSAGE:

     13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 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. 16 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.17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Our identity, established in God’s gracious acceptance and affirmation of us, is expressed in baptism. Sometimes it seems the focus on baptism as washing away sin has caused us to miss the profound words of empowering grace that are spoken here to Jesus…and therefore also to us. For we, too, are God’s beloved children, those with whom God is well pleased.     
MESSAGE: (Eugene Peterson paraphrases this text in The Message:)

Jesus then appeared, arriving at the Jordan River from Galilee. He wanted John to baptize him. John objected, “I’m the one who needs to be baptized, not you!” But Jesus insisted. “Do it. God’s work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism.” So John did it. The moment Jesus came up out of the baptismal waters, the skies opened up and he saw God’s Spirit—it looked like a dove—descending and landing on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: “This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.”
     “This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.” Our identity is claimed in baptism—we are children of God chosen and marked by God’s love. Baptism is debated and defined in many different ways in churches. If baptism is one way we are identified as chosen by God, it seems to me this message has never been more timely. Why? We live in a culture that promises acceptance only if we are -- and here you must fill in the blank, for the messages of our commercial culture are as varied as they are insidious -- skinny enough, strong enough, successful enough, rich enough, popular enough, beautiful enough, young enough, and so on.

     And if that wasn’t enough, many churches have strong convictions about what it means to be a Christian. And some of us in this room today wouldn’t make the cut. Which means understanding baptism as being loved and accepted by God just as we are, may just be what we desperately need to hear.

     We’ve all been schooled to worry about identity theft and to protect ourselves against it. It seems to me the Church in all its varieties should not be a place where we have to worry about identity theft. Baptism is a sacrament, a sacred act where we say that God has claimed us, identified us as God’s own. It is God who baptizes and God who claims us.

     In the UCC, one may be baptized as an infant where the parents take responsibility or as a young person or adult where the responsibility is ours. We believe that baptism is once and for all and that wherever and whenever and however you were baptized—you are baptized. How tragic it is when the church rejects someone—especially someone who has been baptized as a child and as they grow and come to know themselves? How can a church or anyone steal the identity of a child of God?

     Never have so many been willing to offer us an identity, most often linked to a product being sold. Never have so many been willing to reject a family member based on a literal reading of scripture. Our identity is given at birth by God. Our identity is affirmed in baptism and it should be ours forever. Young or old, rich or poor, steeped in the faith or relatively new, we all crave this sense of identity. For this reason, there is no better time than the present to hear the word and promise that Jesus was born, ministered, lived, died, and was raised again to demonstrate in word and deed just how much God loves and accepts us. Our identity is secure in Jesus, who chosen and marked by love, chooses and marks us by love.

     Is it really that simple? I am God’s child, deserving of love and respect even when there are those who would tell me I don’t deserve it. Sometimes the simplest things are the most difficult to believe. When our identity is secure and we can accept this love and respect, then we are able to believe that God can use us to make a difference. And God can and will—even if we are not yet quite able to believe it.
Affirmation “I am God’s child, deserving of love and respect, and God will use me to change the world.”
May the love of God accompany us with each step.
May the grace of Jesus remind us that we are accepted.
May the encouragement of the Holy Spirit give us rest for our souls.
May we have the courage to be a light to the nations.
Let us rise up like the sun and shine your love all the way to the ends of the earth.
Amen.