Faith is nothing more than trusting God when God says to you at your Baptism, “you are my daughter/son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Believe it.
Baptism of Our Lord (Year B) – January 11, 2015 – Mark 1:4-11
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
“Believe It” – Pastor Evan Davis
The first week of college, just like the first week of high school, the first week of middle school, is like being tossed into the first episode of Survivor…everybody’s trying to figure everybody else out, and somebody’s probably getting voted off the island. My first couple weeks of college was no different. We were in freshman Orientation, so about 20 of us guys on my freshman hall would be together nearly all hours of the day and night. We sat together in circles playing name games, going to speeches by college administrators, visiting all the buildings on campus. But we all knew that the real thing going on was sizing each other up…figuring out who would be friends with whom. Who was like you. Who was going to be the Alpha Male. Those would be the guys confidently bragging about the girls they’d met from upstairs. There were the intriguing personalities of people who kinda made their own categories….the surfer dude who seemed all the time like his mind was back on the beach, the theater geek who couldn’t stop reciting lines from famous movies…
Then there were the studious, over-achieving, quiet ones…like me. We were the ones that hadn’t been to a lot of parties in high school. Literally all I did in high school was study, run track, and do Boy Scouts. I really liked history and Star Wars. So I did what I knew how to do…I quickly started pouring myself into my classes. I had a front page story in the student newspaper like the second week I was on campus. I joined 3 or 4 clubs. I played a computer game when no one was looking. But when I wasn’t doing work, I wasn’t really sure where I fit. Could I join one of the emerging groups of friends on my hall? Where should I go on Friday night? What should I do? Would someone really, actually, want me there? It was about that time that a guy who lived next door to me started popping in the open doorway of my room from time to time. He’d say, “hey, dude, want to go to lunch?” I wasn’t sure about him. He wore aviator sunglasses all the time and carried around a switchblade. But one day, I took him up on it. It turned out he really liked history and politics like I did. It was pretty clear he didn’t think he was cooler than me. That he genuinely appreciated me and considered me an equal. I wasn’t used to that. And so generally whenever I was consumed with self-doubt, wondering whether anyone liked me, my friend would pop into my front doorway and say “hey man, wanna get some lunch?” And pretty soon, I began to feel like the person I really was…was someone who mattered.
David Lose makes a distinction this week between affirmation and acceptance. Affirmation comes in ever-present online connection, in hundreds of facebook likes and re-tweets. It’s an empty thumbs up in a world of connection without relationship. It’s a “like” for blending into what the world finds fashionable this week. It’s a pat on the back for successfully conforming yourself to whatever’s trending on Twitter. Acceptance, Lose reminds us, “is simply…being accepted and valued just as you are.” It’s a friend who says, “dude, who cares, let’s go to lunch.” Lose continues, “while we may crave affirmation, what we need is acceptance.”1
When we don’t trust that we are truly accepted, we’re constantly looking for affirmation. When we’re not sure of ourselves, when we don’t believe that we’re worthy of love, we’re constantly trying to establish our own position. It becomes all about us. We’re either hiding away, confident that no one likes us, or we’re constantly saying “look at me! …please like me, please.” When someone else does something great, we immediately think “oh my gosh I can’t do that, what am I worth?” When we believe that we are accepted as we are, right now, we don’t have to prove it. We’re free to focus on someone else – to truly be in relationship with another person. We’re free to be, to live in the fullness of the person God has created us each to be.
What we heard today from Mark is a story of acceptance. God the Father rips open the heavens, tears them apart, for the Spirit to descend like a dove, and for Jesus to hear the words of blessed acceptance: “you are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” That’s the real baptism. The water is a sign, a vehicle for the Holy Spirit. What makes the Baptism happen – Jesus’ and ours – is the Word from the Father, the promise: “you are my son, my daughter, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” It’s a promise that the Father kept, all the way through Jesus’ life, to the day he had to go to the cross. Do you think Jesus could have gone to the cross if he hadn’t trusted that promise, that he was the Father’s Beloved Son? Jesus trusting that promise set him free to speak the truth, to dine with sinners and challenge the authorities, trusting that the Father would care for him. On the third day, that promise was kept. And God will keep that promise to you.
God says to you today… “you are my child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Believe it! Faith is trust. Faith is not so much agreeing to statements about God. It’s not so much agreeing that God exists, or that Jesus is God’s Son. It’s about trusting what God says, and loving the God who loves us with all our heart. It’s trusting that God will keep God’s promise to us, just as the Father kept his promise to Jesus.
That trust, that acceptance opens up our whole lives. You don’t have to worry. God accepts you…as the unique, imperfect, sinful, but still beautiful person you are – because God made you. God didn’t make somebody else. When God made you, God had you in mind. And you know what that means? It means God needs you to be the person you are. You are the person God baptized to be his servant in the world. Believe what you have heard. Go be that person, not anyone else. That’s how God works miracles among us – that’s how God works in us to change the world, one small step at a time.
Howard Thurman, one of the greatest preachers of the 20th century, said “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”2
We all know people who are doing what makes them come alive. We can see the glow that radiates from them as they are who God made them to be. Be who God made you to be. Because you are God’s Beloved child. Believe it.
And not do we need to believe that, we need to help others believe it too. That’s our job. That’s how we “share the love and teachings of Jesus Christ.” So picture someone else…someone you may not like…that person is also God’s beloved child.
Take this card…[listen for more on this]
Take it, heed it, leave it, believe it! Amen.
1This whole point and quotations in this paragraph → David Lose, “Baptism of Our Lord B:Baptism & Blessing,” http://www.davidlose.net/2015/01/baptism-of-our-lord-b/ (accessed January 10, 2015).
2Howard Thurman, as cited in the “Howard Thurman” Wikipedia article, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Thurman (accessed January 10, 2015).