“What If It Had Never Happened?”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

January 10, 2016 – Baptism of Jesus Sunday

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

 

What if it had never happened?

What if Jesus had never come out to the edge of the Jordan River with John, his cousin?

What if he had never stood in line with all those weary, ragged, bent and broken, worn and torn people who were waiting for a second chance, a new lease on life, the promise of a future that was not just more of the same old struggle?

What if Jesus had never waded into the river and felt the water soak his clothes and pour over his head?

What if he had never climbed back up that riverbank, still dripping, and found a quiet place to pray for a while?

What if the heavens had never opened up, and that Spirit-dove had never descended, and that heavenly voice had never said, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”?

What if it had never happened? Without that moment, without that affirmation of identity, without that powerful blessing, whom would Jesus have become, and how would his story have been different than the one we know?

What would have happened when, in the very next chapter of Luke’s gospel, Jesus was led out into the wilderness for forty days and forty nights? What voices would have echoed in his ears as he endured that hunger and thirst, that silence and solitude? How would he have responded when the devil said, “To you I will give all glory and authority, if you only worship me,” and, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from this high place and let God save you”? Would he have known how to resist such temptation? Would he have survived the encounter?

What would have happened when, just a few verses after that, Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth, and taught in the synagogue there, and was promptly run out of town by his own people and nearly driven over a cliff to his death? How would he have kept his nerve? Whom would he have believed himself to be then?

What would have happened when the religious leaders complained about him, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” How would he have responded to their accusations and challenges?

What would have happened when they said, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you?” Would he have had the courage to persevere in the ministry to which he was called?

What would have happened when his friend Judas betrayed him to the authorities for a purse full of silver coins? What would have happened when Jesus was dragged before Pilate and Herod on trumped-up charges? What would have happened when he was sentenced to death, subjected to the cruelest form of execution the Roman Empire knew? How would he have kept from being swallowed up by bitterness and pain and fear?

What if it had never happened? Without that moment, without that affirmation of identity, without that powerful blessing, whom would Jesus have become, and how would his story have been different than the one we know?

For that matter, what if you had never been baptized? What if you had never felt the water pour over your head and the hand of the pastor descend upon you in blessing? What if no one had ever told you that you are God’s child, God’s beloved, and that God is well pleased in you? Whom would you have become, and how would your story be different than the one you know?

When you were a teenager, beset by acne and hormones and cliquishness and adolescent insecurity—what would have become of you without that inner truth, however shaky, that you were more than what the cool kids thought of you?

When you lost your job, when you got divorced, when you had to sell the family homestead because you couldn’t pay the bills any longer, when the world told you that you were an utter, worthless failure—how would you have survived without those words of love and blessing and belonging echoing, however quietly, in your soul?

When depression clouded your mind, when addiction imprisoned your heart, when tragedy or illness claimed someone you love, when the world was falling apart and hope was nowhere to be found—how would you have kept on living if not for that persistent Spirit of God that descended upon you again and again, that strengthened you and lifted you up and sometimes carried you when you couldn’t go on by yourself, that stubbornly refused to drop you even when you struggled and kicked and cried for it to let you go?

What if it had never happened? Without that moment, without that affirmation of identity, without that powerful blessing, whom would you have become, and how would you story have been different than the one you know?

For Jesus, and for us, the identity we receive in baptism is nothing less than life-changing. The knowledge that come what may, you are a child of God—that no matter what people say or think about you, you belong to Christ and to a family of faith—that no matter what you do, no matter what is done to you, the Maker of Heaven and Earth is head-over-heels in love with you—that is potent stuff. It can make the difference between hope and despair, between bending and breaking, between life and death.

And yet, there are people in this world, people in this community, perhaps people in your workplaces or friend groups or families, who do not know that they are loved like that, who do not believe that they could be cherished beyond their wildest imaginations. Some of them may have been told as much by their families of origin, or by a former partner, or by the judgments of the culture that surrounds us. Some of them may have been told as much by the demons of insecurity or depression or pain or grief or alienation. And some of them may have been told as much by a faith community that wasn’t able to love them as God does.

This is the reason why we print our Open and Affirming statement on the back of our bulletins each and every week. This is the reason why we display a rainbow on our sign out front. This is the reason why we celebrate our Open and Affirming anniversary today. This is the reason why we begin every worship service in this sanctuary with words of welcome that proclaim this: “No matter who you are, no matter where you are on the journey of life or the journey of faith, you are welcome here.”

And so I wonder, whom do you know who needs a reminder of this oh-so-fundamental truth? Who could use a reaffirmation of their belovedness? Who would be helped by being told once again to whom they belong? Who needs to be shown just how pleased God is to call them God’s own? And if you don’t tell them, who will?

This is what beloved children of God are called to do. This is how beloved children of God are called to live. This is who beloved children of God are called to be. Emissaries of identity, ambassadors of adoration, bearers of belovedness to all who need to know it.

As Jesus did, so we are called to get in line with all those weary, ragged, bent and broken, worn and torn people who are waiting for a second chance, a new lease on life, the promise of a future that is not just more of the same old struggle. And when we do, we will hear again the echoes of that heavenly voice, saying, “You are my Child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

May it be so.

 


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