This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on August 2, 2020 in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.
The texts were:
Matthew 3: 13-17
Junior High is an interesting time for youth, at least it was for me. Where do I fit in? With whom will I fit in? How will people know who I am and that I’m cool, which in 1984 was everything. Of course, there were the usual desirable clicks, athletes, the cheerleaders and the pom squad. What I immediately noticed from the older students is that wearing something that identified you in a certain group was preferable. In other words, the cheerleaders and pom squad were identifiable by their uniforms and I decided that was the status that would be beneficial in jr. high and probably beyond. I wanted the status symbol of the uniform, much like wearing Guess jeans or having a latest Madonna album identified you as cool in the 80’s. Of which I had neither. So I tried out for cheerleading, didn’t make the squad, not shocking but I did make the pom squad. I was so excited! I could claim the status symbol of the uniform that would signal to everyone that I was part of the “in” crowd. It was a status symbol in seventh grade that I had arrived…to where exactly I don’t know, and to do what, I also didn’t know. I liked being on the pom squad, but what I really loved was playing my violin in the orchestra, reading and church. Even with the external status symbol of the pom uniform, it turned out I was still an awkward, slightly, ok mostly, geeky violin playing, glasses wearing, 12 year old-I couldn’t hide that. It took me some time to claim that truth and that the pom uniform wasn’t fooling anyone.
This is the function of status symbols in our culture and in our psyche. Whether it’s a uniform, a upscale car, living in a certain neighborhood, wearing certain clothing or accessories, we use these items to send a signal to people about who we are and to make a claim on our place in society. We are hustled by media and corporations into thinking that claiming a particular status is what matters, and that status will give us purpose and direction. But just as I discovered in trying to claim a status of being part of an “in” crowd, we discover that claiming an external status for the sake of appearances isn’t all that fulfilling or truthful. So what do we claim about ourselves?
As Christians, we say that we claim our baptisms-that it is a status we have. Claiming our baptism brings us peace, or contentment, hope, or salvation. These things might be true and I believe that simply claiming our baptism misses the mark, makes our baptism into something that it isn’t: a status. Being baptized isn’t about being “in” and not being baptized isn’t about being “out” and we have to admit that we too often do think about it that way and judge others by that standard. We forget that baptism isn’t a status symbol of Christianity, it’s a calling and a way of life. It’s a truth of who we are and what we are to do.
When Jesus shows up at the Jordan river to be baptized by John, Jesus responds to John’s objections with the statement of not waiting, and for them to do this act together. It’s not about status, who is greater or lesser, who is more powerful or knowledgeable. It’s about something else, something that even John can’t quite place his finger on until…until Jesus comes up from the water and God’s voice calls out, booming over the event with a claim. Claim of truth, a claim of love. Jesus’ baptism isn’t about a special status, or being “in” instead of “out.” Jesus’ baptism is a calling of being loved and being love. Jesus never speaks of his baptism again in the gospel of Matthew. Jesus never views his baptism as a status symbol, as a way to delineate himself from other people. Jesus’ baptism sent him to the desert, it sent him to the sick, the outcast, the oppressed, the devalued. Jesus’ baptism got him into trouble for questioning the powers and authorities for their neglect of the people in need. Jesus’ baptism sent him to the cross. Jesus’ only speaks of baptism again after his resurrection when he tells the disciples to go about their lives telling others about God’s love and baptizing them; calling all people of the world to be love.
The truth of our baptism is that it is not ours to claim, but it is God’s claim on us. We are claimed in God’s love and sent in love to call others to love. Baptism isn’t a status, it is a calling, it’s hearing God’s voice that tears through everything else in our lives, in our hearts and in our souls. Baptism calls us out of the waters and into the world. Baptism erases all status between us, all of us, and calls us beloved. Baptism doesn’t separate nor spare us from all the challenges, heartbreaks, tense conversations, injustices and hardships of the world. Baptism sends us to places we are afraid to go: to protest racism in all it’s insidious forms from redlining to incarceration, to stand up for the truth of what’s happening to our neighbors in this pandemic with lack of affordable housing, economic safety nets, lack of adequate healthcare. Baptism sends us to get into good trouble for the sake of the gospel being heard and lived. And we don’t go alone, we have the cloud of witnesses who went before us in this gospel work and we have each other. Baptism calls us together, to be and speak love in those places, to step in as Jesus shows us, with the truth that God’s voice and call, will tear through the noise again and again with words and actions that bind, heal and renew.
Baptismal calling is a life that never worries about arriving, never worries about being in or out, never worries about being greater or lesser than others. Baptismal calling is a life that is rooted in the truth of authentic faith community for the journey, a life that includes anyone and everyone, a life that seeks to serve, care and uplift people. Baptismal calling is a life that dares to be bold for God’s justice to prevail, to roll like waters, waters that destroy the hate, fear and despair that hold us in their grip promising status and security. Waters that cling to us like the promise of being in God’s grip of love and grace. Baptism is not a status symbol we claim, it’s God’s claim on us that calls us to life, to seek justice and peace now, today, for all people and creation. Thanks be to God.