Saturday, January 9, 2016

“You are my child and I love you”

Isaiah 43: 1-7; Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22

What do you think is the most important thing for us to hear as children? … “I love you.”
Why is that so important to us? … Because it makes us feel wanted, important, in right relationship.
In today’s first reading from Isaiah, God tells the people that God loves them. It’s a message they are desperate to hear. This portion of Isaiah was written during the Babylonian exile. The people have lost everything they held dear, and they blame their situation on their own bad behavior.
Before the conquest by the Babylonians, they were told by God to not make an alliance with Egypt, that God would protect them. But, they didn’t trust God, and formed an alliance with Egypt. The Babylonians found out about this and they invaded Judah, destroyed the city and the temple, and force-marched most of the leaders and wealthy people into exile.
What do you suppose they most want to hear while they are in Babylon? … “You are still my people, and I love you. I will get you back home again.” And, here in Isaiah 43, the prophet speaks these words to them, “I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine. You are precious in my sight and I love you. I will make sure you can go home again.”
Do we not need to hear these words from God, too? Sometimes, we feel like we are living in exile, far from God. We feel like God doesn’t love us or care about us and the mess we are living in today. We need to hear these words, “You are mine; I love you; you are precious to me.”
… In the Gospel reading, Jesus is at the Jordan River, where John is baptizing people. When we study the text carefully, we notice that it doesn’t specifically state that John baptizes Jesus. It simply says, “after Jesus was baptized.”
The way Luke tells the story, Jesus is baptized, and he goes somewhere to pray. While he is praying, a voice speaks to him. It’s unclear in the text if other people heard this voice, or if it was intended for Jesus’ ears only. The words go straight to Jesus’ heart. “You are mine, and I am pleased with you.” How similar this is to what God said to the exiles 500 years before. “You are mine and I love you!”
I imagine these words assured Jesus time and time again during his earthly ministry. When the disciples just didn’t get it; when people refused to listen to him; when the demons named him; when he was arrested and tried and questioned by Pilate; when he was beaten and hung on the cross; when he was raised from the tomb; and when he was welcomed back to the Father’s side at his ascension. “You are mine and I love you.”
… These are the same words we hear when we are baptized. God calls us by name and tells us we are loved and claimed as God’s children. Throughout our lives, whenever we need it, we can rely on this promise and claim by God. “I love you. I have called you by name, and you are mine.”
Today, we will baptize two children. We will tell them that God loves them and claims them as God’s very own children. We will tell them that they are now part of God’s family, part of the body of Christ, and that they have a home with Jesus wherever they go.
Today, they will wear on their foreheads a cross of anointing oil. The oil will soon be absorbed and no longer visible. But it will last forever as a mark and sign of God’s claim on their lives.
As baptized children of God, they will join us in proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. They join us in reaching out to the poor and needy in our community. They join us in seeking justice for the oppressed. They join us in reminding others that God calls us by name and loves us.
… When I was in Russia, back in the Soviet Union days, I was able to worship in a couple of churches. While there were a few young people there, most of the worshipers were old women, the babushkas. Short and stout, these women elbowed their way past us visitors to the front of the nave.
As strong as they were in body, they were also strong in faith. They carried on the ministry, and shared the faith with their families. It was the babushkas who brought their children and grandchildren to be baptized. Because of the babushkas, the world discovered the power of the Christian faith to survive even communism. These sturdy women worked tirelessly to fulfill their baptismal promises.
Today, we have the opportunity to remember that we are baptized. We can make the sign of the cross on our foreheads or bodies and say, “I am baptized, God knows my name, and God loves me.” …

Please pray with me. Holy One, we thank you for sending Jesus to us to remind us how much you love us. Thank you for naming us and claiming us as your own beloved children. Fill us all with your Holy Spirit, empower us to be your hands in our world, and prompt us often to tell others about your love. Amen