Monday, January 11, 2010

Baptism of Jesus


I have been thinking a lot about embracing your identity.

In High school I studied painting and graphic arts. But I grew up wanting to be a soldier and enlisted right out of high school. In the summers I worked as a veterinary assistant, making fibreglass white water canoes, and as a camp director. Then I went to University for a long, long time and wanted to be a professor. To pay the bills I worked in churches and as time went by I realized I wanted to be a minister. All of my life I have also been writing things; books, articles, poems...

I played basketball, taught canoing, was pretty good at semi pro rugby, became a punk and shaved my head in a green Mohawk, pierced some ears, owned a mustang, and a minivan, got married, had kids...

I have lived in most of the provinces in Canada and some of the United States.

I worked as an international observer in Central America, specifically Guatemala.

I am sure most of you have pretty complex lists as well... So, here is the question: Is that who you are?

There are a lot of missing years in Jesus life. I think they are the years when he was impossible to corral into sandals in the morning – let’s call that “two”; or perhaps the years when he would not eat anything but dates and changed his robes six times a day; we will call that “pre-school”;or the times when he thought he knew more about everything in the world than his parents – let’s call that the “teens”; maybe no one wanted to remember Jesus in the 20’s when he spent all his time snubbing his nose at elders while partying with his friends and pretending he was cooler than everyone.

Here’s the thing, Jesus grew up not really knowing what he wanted to do with his life. So did you. So did I. But there comes a time, could be when you enter your 30’s like Jesus, or 40’s or even your 70’s when things just don’t seem right; when the things that are supposed to be making you happy just aren’t. Or perhaps it is that something just clicks and you see it all differently.

In his book Craddock Stories, celebrated preacher Fred Craddock tells of an evening when he and his wife were eating dinner in a little restaurant in the Smokey Mountains. A strange and elderly man 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 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.

That is what this moment is for Jesus. He did not need to be baptized by his cousin in the Jordan. A lot of what Jesus chooses to do from this moment on would be about fulfilling prophecies from people like Isaiah – but nowhere in the Old Testament does it talk about anyone being baptized...

This is something Jesus did for himself.

We will never know what it is that precipitated this change. Maybe Jesus was listening to John preach when he realized what he was supposed to be doing with his life; maybe he had been lying awake nights with this nagging suspicion that there must have been more... who knows...

What we do know is that he chose, he chose to make love the most important thing in his life. He chose to live out God’s laws and passion with his whole being; he chose to embrace who God intended him to be.

Who are you meant to be?

Now don’t hear this the wrong way – maybe you have already accepted the path that you are supposed to be on. I am pretty sure this is exactly how I am supposed to be using my gifts – and a lot of you are probably in the same boat. Still – it did take me a long time, and there are days when I am still not very comfortable with it...

There is another thing at work here. Another thing that Jesus accepted in this moment which changed everything; Jesus accepted that he was a child of God.

When he rose up out of the water he heard God say, ‘this is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.’

You see, what gave him the strength to accept his role, his identity, was the firm belief that he was loved by God. It was about letting go of ego, abandoning the need to impress friends and relatives, letting go of the pain and anger, and seeing himself for who he really was.

So how about that? Do you accept that you are God’s daughter? Do you truly k now you are God’s son? That is, after all, what baptism is meant to signify – adoption into the family of God... or recognition that you were already there to be begin with.

We just need to accept it, like Jesus did... and even Jesus took three decades to accept it.

Martin Luther reformed the entire church; he began Protestantism and fought against injustice, being imprisoned, de-frocked, and the whole nine yards. During all of the time that he was doing these seemingly superhuman things, he was plagued 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."

I don’t know – I wonder if we take it seriously enough. I have to admit, I have never touched my own forehead. I have never reminded myself in a physical way that I too have been baptized... but perhaps I should.

God’s love is there for us, and there is a lot of power, safety, and hope that can come through embracing our identity as God’s children.

It will make all the difference.

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