This is an adapted version of the sermon I preached this morning, the Baptism of Our Lord. The gospel text was Matthew 3:13-17.
When my wife and I were expecting our children, we thought a lot about what we would name them. It was an important decision, and there were a lot of things to consider. And one thing we considered was whether kids in school would make fun of them for their names. We didn’t want them to deal with that. Eventually it occurred to us that that really didn’t matter. I grew up with the most common boy’s name in America, Michael. And yet kids still made fun of me. Not for my name, but for other things. They gave me other names. Names like fatso, four-eyes, nerd. Now I’m not complaining. I dished it out just as bad. I wasn’t innocent. It was just part of my childhood. I bet it was part of yours too. Perhaps there were names they called you. And while it’s easy to say now that it didn’t hurt, it did. Childhood is tough.
Jesus had a childhood too. But we know almost nothing about it. Did he get made fun of? Did he get bullied? My guess is that things haven’t changed that much. But we don’t know for sure. Apart from one story in Luke from when he was twelve, today’s gospel is the first time we meet Jesus after he was a baby.
Here comes Jesus, all grown up, and he wants to get baptized. Now people came to John to be baptized for forgiveness of their sins. Jesus didn’t have any sins, so it’s not entirely clear why he came. Even John was hesitant. But whatever he expected, what happened is clear. The moment he came out of the water, a voice told him who he was: “This is my Son, the Beloved. With him I am well pleased.”
Many of us in this room have grown up as well, yet most of us have never heard a voice from heaven telling us who we are. But there certainly are voices telling us who we are, even as adults. Maybe not the same names from childhood, maybe not “fatso” or “four-eyes,” maybe names more like: “too old” or “too young.” “Too poor” or “too rich.” “Bad parent,” “ungrateful.” “Snowflake.” “Boomer.” “Worthless.” And so on. Sometimes people don’t call us those things directly, but we know. And it hurts just as much as it did when we were children.
Back to Jesus. He was baptized by John first. Before he started his ministry, he was baptized. Before he taught and healed and wept and suffered and died, he was baptized. Before any of it, Jesus received a gift. The gift of an identity: “You are my beloved child, with whom I am well pleased.” God told him who he was. Before he set off to be God’s Son in the world, God told him. That was his identity. No matter what anyone else called him, that was who he was.
Now, I’ve talked about how cruel kids can be. And how cruel adults can be. But for many of us, the cruelest one of all is ourselves. We save our worst names for ourselves. I have a voice inside me who speaks to me regularly. Who tells me that I am worthless. Who tells me that I am a complete screw-up. I have given this voice a name: I call him the Dark Voice. And he is cruel. He rips me apart every chance he gets. Is he the voice of depression? Or the voice of the devil? Or something else? I don’t know for sure, but I know that he can be very convincing. I don’t know if the rest of you have a voice like this, but I would bet that at least some of you do.
There are so many voices throughout our lives, voices from outside and from inside, all telling us who we are. How do we know which voice is right?
Paul wrote that we are the body of Christ, and that we became part of that body through our baptism. We, the baptized, we are Christ’s body in the world today.
And let’s think about where Christ’s body has been before us. Two thousand years ago, Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan. His body went under the water. Submerged. Wet. Drowning. As his body now, we go under those same waters in the moment we are baptized. In our baptism, we are connected to Christ. Remember your baptism. Remember that you went under the waters of the Jordan. All of you. Every part of you. Every thought, every feeling, every name you’ve ever been called, all went underwater with you. Submerged. Wet. Drowning.
And just when you came out of the water, all the sin, all the grim, all the names you’ve ever been called were washed right off. When you came out of the water, a voice said this:
Let me tell you who you are.
You are my beloved child. And I am well pleased with you. No matter what they call you. No matter what you call you. I call you this: “My beloved child.” And that is who you are.
And as Christ’s body in the world, that name is both a promise and a mission. A promise that God knows you and loves you and accepts you. And a mission that God sends you out to be that beloved child in the world.
You are God’s beloved child. You are the body of Christ. And that means that like Jesus, you too will be tested. Life won’t be easy just because you’re Christian.
You are God’s beloved child. And that means you are sent out from here to remind God’s other children who they are. And guess who that includes. It includes me. I need to hear that reminder sometimes, particularly when the Dark Voice gets loud. It includes the person sitting next to you right now. They need to hear it. It includes your neighbor. Your co-worker. The cashier at the grocery store. The person who cut you off in traffic. It includes people who are black, and white, and brown, and yellow, and any shade you like. It includes people who are straight, and gay, and bi, and trans, and any other identity or orientation. It includes people who are conservative, liberal, in the middle. It includes Americans, Iranians, Russians, and people of every nation. Every single one is God’s beloved child. And every single one of them, every single one of us, needs to hear that. God said it to Jesus. Let’s say it to one another. You are God’s beloved child, and God is well pleased with you.