Luke 3:15-18, 21 and 22
Who are you? Are you a man or a woman? Are you married or single? Are you old or young? Are you a parent or not? Are you Caucasian or Hispanic? Are you a democrat, republican, or independent? Are you rich or poor? Are you a left brain or a right brain? Are you a dreamer or a realist? Are you an extrovert or an introvert? Are you a drinker, a smoker? Are you an artist, a hiker, a musician, a traveler? Who are you? A good person? A bad person? A Truth teller? A liar? A failure? A winner? A saint? A sinner? Just who exactly are you?
Our identities come from many different places. Some we choose, some we are born with, some we are labeled with or pushed into by others and society, and some just come to us as life happens. If I asked you to name yourself based upon which given identity you call yourself the most, what name would you have? If you are like many people then it probably is not something positive, but rather something like I’m insignificant, I’m unworthy, I’m unlovable, I’m hopeless, I’m ugly, I’m worthless, I’m a mistake, or I’m useless. Any of these identities sound familiar to you? How we view ourselves matters because we take on the identities that we embrace and these identities can, and often do, control the choices that we make everyday. The identities that echo through our heads have real life consequences because they become self fulfilled prophesies and impact the decisions that we make everyday. Someone who considers themselves worthless will most likely not choose to engage in activities that would prove just how much of worth they actually are, and by not choosing to engage in activities that would display their worth their sense of worthlessness only grows. Of course, the opposite is true as well, when we have identities that we are people of worth, we tend to put ourselves in situations where our worth is realized.
The movie, Moana, which I’ve seen far too many times because it’s been Lydia’s favorite movie recently, is about a young girl who discovers her and her peoples true identity and as result of that sets out to save her people. However, after days at sea, she almost gives up. She has forgotten who she is and because of that has lost her courage and hope. Her grandmother, who has died, comes to her in a vision to encourage her, watch how she does that.
She’s given renewed hope and is able to continue on her journey because she remembers who she is. Her identity as a descendent of voyagers and as the fulfillment of the prophecy that she would save her people is what causes her to fulfill that. But, it starts with her identity.
Now, you may not have had an ancient prophecy spoken about you through your ancestors, but you have something much greater, that is the identity that God has spoken over you. We hear this identity today when Jesus comes to be baptized and the heavens open and the voice of God calls out, this is my son in whom I am well pleased. One person has translated this verse, this is my boy whom I am very proud of. You might say, well that’s nice and all, but that message was for Jesus, and of course God’s voice spoke that to him, for he was the Son of God. But, the reason that Jesus was baptized was so that the true identity of humanity could be shown. Jesus tells the disciples to go into all the world and baptize everyone. This naming that Jesus receives at baptism is something that he commands the disciples to go and do…baptism is not an act where we become a child of God, but rather, it is an act that confirms to us and to others our identities as children of God. As a child breaks forth from the waters of her mother in birth, the waters of baptism mark our identities as children who have broken forth from the womb of God. We are all God’s children, in whom God is well pleased. Or, as the other translation says, you are my boy, you are my girl whom I very proud of. Jesus did not come into our world to make good people, rather, Jesus came into our world to tell us what our true identities are, our given identity from God is a child of God.
Now, your false identity will find that difficult to accept. Because so many of us have claimed those other identities for so long that we do not think we deserve that title. Jesus deserves it, we might think, but not us. The good news is that your given identity from God does not depend upon you. There is nothing that you can do to reject the title, and there is nothing you can do to earn the title. It just simply is the way it is. You are a child of God whether you believe it or not. In essence, Jesus came into the world to tell people who did not know or believe that they were loved by God to accept the fact that they are deeply loved by God. Paul Tillich, a great theologian of the 20th century, said this, “”the Christian faith is our acceptance of God’s acceptance of us even though we know we are unacceptable.” To become a Christian, to become a child of God, does not start with our actions, but rather, it starts by accepting our true identity. What happens after that is not that we become more accepted or more loved by God, rather, the more we accept this identity the more our actions start to reflect our given identity.
The last church that I served in Maryville, TN was only 10 minutes outside of the Great Smoky Mountains national park. There’s a true story that comes from that area where a famous pastor, Fred Craddick, and his wife were eating in the area at a restaurant. While they were eating, an elderly man recognized Reverend Craddock came over to their table and introduced himself. “I am from around these parts,” he said. “My mother was not married, and the shame the community directed toward her was also directed toward me. Whenever I went to town with my mother, I could see people staring at us, making guesses about who my daddy was. At school, I ate lunch alone. In my early teens, I began attending a little church in this area but always left before church was over, because I was afraid somebody would ask me what a boy like me was doing in church. One day, before I could escape, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was the minister. He looked closely at my face. I knew that he too was trying to guess who my father was. ‘Well, boy, you are a child of. . .’ and then he paused. When he spoke again he said, ‘Boy, you are a child of God. I see a striking resemblance.’ Then he swatted me on the bottom and said, ‘Now, you go on and claim your inheritance.’ I left church that day a different person,” the now elderly man said. “In fact, that was the beginning of my life.”
“What’s your name?” Dr. Craddock asked.
He answered, “Ben Hooper. My name is Ben Hooper.” Dr. Craddock said he vaguely recalled from when he was a kid, his father talking about how the people of Tennessee had twice elected a fellow who had been born out of wedlock as the governor of their state. His name was Ben Hooper.
Hooper claimed his inheritance, claimed his identity, not as an ostracized member of society, but as a child of God, and went on as Governor to obtain passage of laws limiting child labor and requiring that the wages of women be paid directly to them, rather than to any other persons (employers previously had the option of giving women’s pay to their husbands), among many other laws that made life better for the people of Tennessee. He even spent two nights in a prison to see for himself how it was operated, how the prisoners were treated, and what improvements needed to be made. Hooper was a child of God, and with that given identity his actions flowed from that truth.
Martin Luther, the great reformer of the Christian church in the 1600’s spent much of his adult life battling the corruption of the Roman Catholic church in his day. The church had lost it’s way and its power and wealth created terrible leaders in the church who misused the church to meet their own desires for wealth and power. Though Martin Luther risked his life to return the church to the ideals of Jesus, he was plagued at times by a sense of unworthiness and despair. To drive back those demons, he kept an inscription over his desk that read, “Remember, you have been baptized.” Often, he would touch his forehead and remind himself, “Martin, you have been baptized.”
It was in this act of touching the baptismal water and placing it on his head when he needed it that he was reminded of his identity. No matter how he viewed himself, no matter how others viewed him, whether as a holy man of God or a rebel destroying the church, the water reminded him that his identity did not matter about any of these externals. He was a child of God, because that is the identity that God had given to him, and no one could change that, his own feelings of unworthiness and his failures at time could not take that identity away, the Roman Catholic church who wanted to excommunicate him could not rob him of that identity, not even the demons of hell who he felt tormented him at times could not change the fact that he was marked by the water. For him, this water marked him on the day he was brought before the church as a baby, but it also continued to mark him and remind him that his identity was a beloved child of God. As he placed his hands in the water and marked himself again he would experience and hear in his soul, “you are my boy, I’m so proud of you Martin Luther”.
I have the baptismal font here today, and I’m going to invite you to come forward, and as you come forward I will speak these words to you, which I believe are from God, “remember that you are God’s child, and God is so proud of you”. Choose to accept your God given identity, choose to embrace it, and drown out all those other identity’s that we give to ourselves or that others have placed upon us here at the water.