Mark 1:9–11 (NRSV)
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
The events around his birth were rather spectacular. Even though he was born as a pauper in a portion of the house where the animals were kept – (now, we are not talking about the dogs and cats but the cattle, sheep and chickens) angels announced his birth.
At one month of age when it was time for his mother’s religious purification and for him to be presented to God at the temple, his parents were greeted by a man who had been told he would not die until he saw the Messiah. When he saw the child, he declared Jesus would bring great comfort to his people. Then when the aged prophetess Anna saw the child, she praised God and shared she had seen the One who would redeem Jerusalem.
A new star in the heavens led Star Gazers from the East to visit one they thought was the new Jewish King who brought the king fitting gifts. But their visit stirred the jealousy of King Herod who attempted to kill this baby. His parents fled for his and their lives. For the next thirty years, virtually nothing is recorded of this child’s life, except a story of a visit to Jerusalem when he was separated from his parents.
This child, born to blue collar carpenter grew up in a town with no significance or notoriety – Nazareth. Many wondered if from this town so far removed from the center of Jewish any one of significance could come (John 1:46).
Then about 30 years after his birth (Luke 3:46), this man named Jesus emerged from his obscurity in Nazareth and goes to the place along the Jordan where John the Baptist was baptizing. He went into the water to be baptized. As he was coming out of the water, God spoke from heaven and said, “You are my beloved Son.”
From that point, Jesus launched his ministry that directly impacted thousands of lives in Palestine over the next three years and became the catalyst that has been changing the world ever since. We are here today because of Jesus, who is the Son of God.
Identity’s impact on attitude and behavior.
When our three sons were in school, we had a morning ritual before we transported them to school. Following breakfast (which was often times chaotic), we would pause to pray before we left the house. Following the prayer I would say to the boys, “Remember who and whose you are.” (To this day, our sons remember those words. Both who are preachers have used this story in sermons they have preached.)
I knew if they could keep in mind their identity, particularly that they belonged to Jesus, it would have a positive impact on their behavior. Through their years in elementary school, middle school and high school, we only received one call about misbehavior. I want to think there was some connection between our morning ritual, their identity and how they behaved.
Does our identity impact our attitudes and behaviors?
Since we began the process of launching Recovery@Ooltewah, I have been reminded of a common practice in recovery ministries. When a person speaks (whether in an open share group or in a service), he or she introduces him/herself by name and identity, “I am Dwight and I struggle with compulsive behaviors.” This practice creates an identity and a connection for those in the group and reminds the speaker of who he/she is.
In Recovery@Ooltewah, most add another key component of their identity. “I am Dwight Kilbourne. I am follower of Jesus Christ and I struggle with compulsive behaviors.” Being reminded of my identity makes a difference.
If Patricia Polacco were in public school today, would be considered a “special needs” student. She had multiple learning disorders and did not fare well in school. This was intensified by her parent’s divorce when she was three and critical long distant moves by her mother. Patricia did not learn to read until she was 14 years old.
The next year in school, Patricia went to live with her father and grandmother in Michigan. There she was enrolled in school but assigned to a special class, which consisted of misfits who have various learning issues and physical conditions.. On the first day of class, Mrs. Peterson opened their year by reading from the dictionary the definition of genius. She slammed it shut and said, “Welcome to the Junkyard. I am your teacher, Mrs. Peterson.” She then assigned them to memorize the definition of genius. She told her class the definition describes every one of them.
One day following a traumatic incident on the playground, one of Patricia’s fellow students spoke to Mrs. Peterson and said, “We are all junkyard kids. Even though you try to make us feel better, we are throw-aways. We are junk and everyone knows it.” Mrs. Peterson responded to his words and shared with her students, “Every one of you is my wonder.” She explained that a junkyard was a place of possibility. Mrs. Peterson gave those students a new sense of identity.
Patricia’s experience in Mrs. Peterson’s class, along with other classmates had a profound impact. She went on to receive a PhD and is a well-known children’s author and illustrator. Another became the artistic director of the ballet company in NY. Another became a textile designer who was invited to Paris. The fourth became an aeronautic engineer who helped design the lunar module. What do you think would have happened to each of those students had they continued to believe they were “throw away junk?”
What happens to us when we believe we are junk, we have little value, we are a failure, we are a drunk, we are dumb, etc.?
Shaping of our identity.
A couple of years ago, Barna Group attempted to capture what contributes most to our personal identity. They surveyed people and gave a list of family, faith, nation, ethnicity, city, state and asked whether each of these influenced their identity “a lot, some, a little or not at all.” Can you guess which received the highest marks? Family. Second? Patriotism. Third? Faith. The younger the generation, the lower faith ranked. On one hand we can be discouraged about this but it also shows us the great opportunity and need. (https://www.barna.com/research/what-most-influences-the-self-identity-of-americans/)
I am not surprised by the survey results. While having a strong sense of family influence and patriotism is good, I believe we are healthier when our faith ranks as the #1 influencer on our identity. I think that in turn helps to shape the other influencers in better ways. Maybe Jesus knew something of this when he said we had to love him more than all our family. When Jesus comes first, all other aspects of our lives fall into place.
Our identity in Christ.
At Jesus’ baptism, he had heard an outside voice that gave him the deepest sense of who he was – Son of God. That identity shaped his life, ministry and mission.
Who does God say you are? What type of relationship does God claim with you?
There is no doubt Jesus had a very unique identity in relationship to God – the Son of God. What if you could be identified as a son or daughter of God? What if you heard God saying to you, “You are my daughter,” “You are my Son”?
Believe it or not, this is exactly the identity God gives to those of us who follow Jesus. He calls us sons and daughters. This theme is found in most of the books in the NT.
In the gospel of John, the author wrote how Jesus came into this world as a human being. But among those of his own ethnic tribe, most refused to accept him. John then makes this amazing statement: “ But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God (1:12–13). It is clear in John’s mind; this identity trumps all the rest. Those who receive Jesus are daughters and sons of God. Have you received Jesus?
Jesus affirmed his followers were sons and daughters of God. Do you remember how the prayer Jesus taught us to pray begins: “Our Father, who art in heaven.” These words remind us not only God is “Father” but in turn we are his children. We share this unique relationship with God. We call him, “Father” and he calls us “Daughter/son.” Jesus also instructed his followers to behave like the children we are. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said we are to “love our enemies” and act like our Father in heaven who does good to all people, good and evil.
In Paul’s letters, he makes a big deal out of Jesus followers being daughters and sons of God. It is at the heart of his theology of salvation. Look at what he wrote to the Galatians:
For in Christ Jesus you are all children (sons and daughters) of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female (3:26–28). This is powerful statement because Paul says our identity as daughters and sons trumps all other identities. It is more important than our family of origin, more important than our ethnicity and race, more important than our gender, more important than our vocation.
If you are in Christ, you are a beloved child of the God who created this universe. You are held in high esteem by the One who keeps the stars in motion. You are a part of God’s family and an heir to all of God’s promises and blessing. If you have this relationship with God, the Father, does it matter what others may or may not think of you?
Baptized into Christ.
It is interesting to read Paul connected our identity of being sons and daughters with baptism – “you were baptized into Christ.” Our baptism is a mark of our identity with God.
This morning I realize we come from various Christian traditions and varying views of baptism. But as United Methodists, there are some aspects of our understanding of baptism which are especially meaningful.
- First of all we regard baptism is a gift of God. He has given us this act or ritual. It is not so much what we choose to do but what God does for us. Through this physical act with water, we encounter God directly. Through the act, God tells how through Christ, He washes away our sin and raises us to new life. All of this is a gift from God.
- Second, through baptism we are “initiated” into God’s family called the Church. Here we are joined with our divine siblings in a community. Through this we are made part of this special body.
- Third, God places His mark on our lives. In one of the older ritual for baptism and membership in the UMC, these words are found – “those receiving the Sacrament (of baptism) are marked as Christian disciples.” You might say it is the means God places his brand on us. It is the means we are marked as daughters and sons of God. Just as Jesus heard God sharing at his baptism he was his beloved Son, God shares with us in baptism we are his beloved children. (All of this is a big deal.)
This morning as we are at the beginning of a new year, I want each of you to know who and whose you are. I believe it will make all the difference in your life, attitude and behavior. So this morning, you will be given the opportunity to remember your baptism.
Some of you were baptized as small children and have no active memory. This is an opportunity for you to remember. Others have vivid memories of your baptism. This is a time to stir those memories and affirm how God claims you. We will place a water cross on your forehead and say, “God claims you as His Son/Daughter.”
Some here may never have been baptized but you want to be baptized. I would ask you to come to the station where I am and share your desire to be baptized and I will baptize you by sprinkling.