Sermon for the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Sunday, January 13th, 2019
Abraham and Sarah were not born Jewish you know. Abraham is considered the father of the Hebrews, the Jewish people, and from Abraham come the world’s three great mono-theistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. So often in our scriptures, our God is referred to as the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob. All Jews look to Abraham as the father of their nation and of their faith, but Abraham wasn’t born Jewish. Abraham did not inherit his relationship with God. Abraham converted. Abraham was called. Abraham was invited by God to live in a special relationship with his creator. Sure, God was responsible for giving life to all the peoples of the earth, but we know that not all of them chose to listen to him, honor him, or live in relationship with him. We don’t know how many people God may have called before Abraham. What we do know is that Abraham was willing to accept the invitation.
But accepting this invitation and following God’s call came at a price for Abraham. Conversion wasn’t necessarily easy. He had to leave behind his family. He had to leave behind the land he knew. His name and his wife Sarah’s name were changed; they used to be Abram and Sarai, but now they were Abraham and Sarah. Abraham had to make a sign of this covenant, this relationship he had with God; he had to sacrifice a bit of his flesh, in token acknowledgement that all of his flesh belonged to God now. And then Abraham was called to make the greatest sacrifice: he had to recognize that his child, his son Isaac, the creature he loved most in the world, he had to recognize that he belonged to God too. Living in relationship with God, belonging to God, and accepting the invitation to live as a member of a people set apart with a special calling to be a blessing to the world that God created…that came at a cost for Abraham and it has come at a cost for his descendants too.
Maybe it has to come at a cost. Maybe Abraham had to die to everything else in his life to really know how much he belonged to God now. He was accepting a divine invitation to live in relationship with the creator of the entire universe. So nothing in that universe could mean more to him than the fact that he belonged to God. Not his family, not his nationality or race, not his political party, not even his own name. This was not some social club that Abraham was becoming a member of, he wasn’t committing himself to a portion of his income and a couple hours on the weekend. And hear this: Abraham did not worship God to give him thanks for his life; Abraham’s worship was giving his entire life to God. That is worth saying again: Abraham did not just give thanks to God for his life; Abraham gave God his life. His life belonged to God now. When your life belongs to God, it is not yours anymore. That changes your identity and that should change how you live. When you belong to God, nothing in this world should ever mean more to you than that relationship.
And that’s easier said than done. The world has a habit of creeping in and trying to take back what belongs to God. I won’t say it’s a habit…it is the mission of the forces of this world to draw your loyalty and your identity away from God. Just flip through some of the prophets in the Bible and you will see just how hard it has been for God’s children to remember whom they belong to. It is easy to say I belong to God, but it isn’t always easy to truly recognize that your life belongs to him. It’s not yours anymore.
Prophets are always calling God’s children to remember to whom they belong. Some of Abraham’s children went down to the river Jordan to hear a charismatic prophet preach a hard sermon. The preacher had some hard words for them indeed. He said to them: “don’t just say Abraham is our ancestor and then dust your hands and going on serving the powers of this world. If you want to belong to God the way that Abraham did, then you need to be giving your life to God the way that Abraham did. The things that belong to this world they are passing away, but God is collecting what belongs to him.”
Who do I belong to? That is the question those children of Abraham had to ask themselves as they waded into the water to meet this prophet. Do I belong to all the forces and powers of this world? Is my identity defined by my nationality or my last name? Was God only active in the lives of the patriarchs and prophets, or is it possible that he is calling me too? What does it mean to belong to God?
And as these people were being dipped beneath the waters, rededicating their lives to God, something strange happened. A man walked up to the preacher and for a moment it seemed like the preacher didn’t want to baptize him, but eventually the preacher did. And after he was baptized they saw this dove, the same sort of dove that the poorest person would sacrifice in the temple, this dove landed on him. And then a voice. This is my beloved son. When this man came out of the water, people knew who he belonged too.
Baptism is so many things: it is a thanksgiving for new and renewed life, it is a confession and repentance of sin, it is a rejection of the forces of this world, and it is an acceptance of God’s call to live in relationship with him and to follow him into the promised land, but more than anything else, baptism is about knowing whom you belong to.
We belong to God. We belong to Christ. We have been marked as Christ’s own forever. That is what we say when we anoint a newly baptized person with holy chrism, the sacred oil. You are marked as Christ’s own forever. Christ has a call on your life that comes before anything else in this world. You belong to God…now, don’t take it for granted.