Baptism of the Lord, January 13, 2019
Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 43:1-7
But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: 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; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; 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 created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
Gospel Lesson: Luke 3:15-22
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19 But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added to them all by shutting up John in prison. 21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 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.”
How did you get your name? Were you named for a relative—maybe for your mother or father or for a grandparent or an aunt or uncle? My given name is Susan Gray. Susan, because my Mama liked that name. Gray because my great grandmother was a fan of Zane Grey, the writer of popular western novels. Mama thought the name Susan was full of maturity, dignity, and grace. And she always insisted that everyone call me Susan and not Sue or Susie. My Aunt Dean was the only person I ever allowed to call me Susie. But then Aunt Dean was special.
I collected other names over the years. Somehow, probably because I was the youngest, most of the nicknames in the family fell to me: Missy, Tussy, Tuber, Gru-You-Sue-Wahoo (don’t ask me, because I don’t have a clue). Once, my sister started calling me Slow-Boat-to-China because she said I took forever to clean the kitchen after dinner. About a year ago, I collected a new name—my Dharma name—when I attended a meditation retreat and was given the name Peaceful Garden of the Heart by the meditation teacher. Of all the names people have given me, that is my favorite.
My husband Chris tells the story of choosing a name for himself when he was confirmed in the Catholic church. He chose the name James, and though he was only about 13 when he was confirmed, that name has come to suit him so well! The book of James in the New Testament is all about putting faith into practice. “Welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.” James writes, “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers.” True to his confirmation name, Chris is all about putting faith into practice. If you could choose a Biblical name for yourself, what would you choose? Sarah? Daniel? Rachel? Paul? Lydia?
Given names . . . nicknames . . . Chosen names . . . Names are full of power. I remember the first time I served communion here at Butner Presbyterian Church. As each of you came up for bread and dipped it into the cup, I realized for the first time that I was able to call each of you by name. Cecil, this is the blood of Christ shed for you. This is the blood of Christ shed for you, Jeffery. Lisa, this is the blood of Christ shed for you. To call someone by name and to be called by name is a sign of intimacy, connection, and belonging.
It is just this kind of intimacy that is proclaimed in the Old Testament lesson for today:
I have called you by name, you are mine.
God speaks these words to Israel, God’s chosen nation, scattered to foreign lands by the Assyrian and Babylonian exile, as a promise of God’s presence and protection. Though they pass over waters and rivers and though they cross the burning sands that separate them from their home and their God, they will not be consumed or overwhelmed because God promises to restore them:
I will bring your offspring from the east, [God says,] and from the west I will gather you; 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.
Mixed in with the language of intimacy, protection, and restoration is also the language of redemption:
I have redeemed you . . . Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.
When God calls specific people by name, it is almost always to a specific purpose. God called Abraham and Sarah as a means to extending God’s blessing to all the nations of the earth:
No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. . . . As for . . . your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah . . . and she shall give rise to nations. . . . I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven . . . and all the nations of the earth shall gain blessing for themselves through your offspring.
Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, when God claimed Jesus as God’s son and poured out his love and blessing on him:
“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God pledges anew God’s love and redemption for all the world. Through the blood of Christ, we are redeemed—bought and paid for—by God. Through our baptisms, participate in Christ’s death and resurrection and are adopted into the family of God as brothers and sisters of Christ. We claim this intimacy in the baptismal liturgy when we call a child or an adult by name and say:
Lynda or Betty or Michael or Nancy or . . . child of the covenant, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism, and marked as Christ’s own forever.
And just like Sarah and Abraham, we are called into covenant life, not for no purpose, but to fulfill God’s purpose for ourselves and for the world.
Obeying the word of our Lord Jesus, and confident of his promises, we baptize those whom God has called. In baptism God claims us, and seals us to show that we belong to God. God frees us from sin and death, uniting us with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection. By water and the Holy Spirit, we are made members of the church, the body of Christ, and joined to Christ’s ministry of love, peace, and justice.
In just a few minutes we will call Michael to the baptismal font and set him aside for service to Christ’s ministry of love, peace, and justice as a ruling elder of this congregation. Together we will reaffirm our own baptisms, profess our faith, and, by prayer and laying on of hands, call upon the Holy Spirit to inspire Michael with love for this congregation and vision for how we can fulfill God’s purpose in the world.
Though it is Michael specifically that we are setting aside for particular service, this is an opportunity for each of us to recommit ourselves to discerning and serving God’s purpose for Butner Presbyterian Church. Like Abraham and Sarah, we too are blessed so that we can be a blessing to others outside the walls of this church.
And so, as we prepare to reaffirm our baptisms, our faith, and our commitment to Christ’s ministry of love, peace, and justice, I invite you to hear anew God’s call and blessing. I invite you to close your eyes, and listen for your name as I read again, God’s words to God’s people:
Do not fear, name, for I have redeemed you, name, I have called you by name, name, you are mine, name. When you pass through the waters, name, I will be with you, name; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you, name; when you walk through fire, name, you shall not be burned, name, and the flame shall not consume you, name. For I am the LORD your God, name, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior, name. I give Egypt as your ransom, name, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you, name. Because you, name, are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, name, I give people in return for you, name, nations in exchange for your life, name.
Do not fear, for I am with you, name; I will bring your offspring from the east, name, and from the west I will gather you, name; I will say to the north, “Give name up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold name; bring my sons [men] from far away and my daughters [women] from the end of the earth–everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.
You—all of you—are my Sons and daughters, my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
To Jesus Christ, who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood and made us to be a kingdom, priests of his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.