Our Core Identity

Sermon for Sunday, January 10, 2015
The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ

jbaptistEach year on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, just after Christmas, I feel a little bit like Tevya and Golde in “Fiddler on the Roof.”  Wasn’t it just yesterday that Jesus was small?  When did Jesus grow to be so tall?   Five days ago, on the twelfth day of Christmas, Jesus was an infant.  Today, Jesus is a full-fledged adult; and he is making the full-fledged adult choice of Baptism.   “Swiftly fly the years,” indeed!

The scriptures are virtually silent about Jesus’ growing-up years.  Of the years between Jesus’ infancy and adulthood, the scriptures tell us only that at age 12, on a family trip to Jerusalem, Jesus stayed behind in the Temple as his family left for home.  “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  Jesus asked when they found him. But they did not understand what He said to them.  Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth… and… increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

That’s it; that’s all the scriptures tell us about Jesus’ growing-up years.  Presumably at some point Joseph, Jesus’ father, died, for he disappears completely from scripture.  Presumably Jesus had all kinds of experiences with his brothers and sisters – with “James and Joses and Judas and Simon.”  Presumably at some point Jesus stood on the doorstep of the family home in Nazareth and bid his mother a final, tearful “goodbye” as he left to begin his ministry.  Presumably…

jesusinthetempleOne thing we do know is that, during these years, Jesus must have begun to realize who he was.  Something must have happened – he must have experienced something – in his childhood such that, by age 12, he knew he was to be “in his Father’s house” in Jerusalem.  Something must have happened – he must have experienced something – in his teens and twenties such that, by age 30 in today’s gospel lesson, Jesus knew that he had a vocation and that it required Baptism.  And, as of today’s gospel, when he heard the voice coming from heaven, Jesus knew that he was “my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  Even though it may have dawned on him only gradually over time, as of today Gospel lesson, Jesus knows who he is.

It’s important to know who we are because God has made only one “us,” and we will not be fully alive until we are that one “us” whom God has made.

There is a story about identity that comes from 18th century Poland.  Rabbi Zusya was an Hassidic Rabbi from the town of Hanipol:

On his travels, Rabbi Zusya of Hanipol used to say to his listeners:  “If after my death God will ask me why I haven’t been as great a leader as Moses, or as fiery a prophet as Elijah, or even as famous a teacher of the law as Rabbi Akiba, I will not be afraid of not knowing how to respond.

However, I will be sore afraid… if I am asked:  “Zusya, why have you not become Zusya?”  “Why have you distanced yourself from the image in which you were created?  Why, with all your gifts and talents have you become so estranged from your SELF?  Why have you become so unlike yourself?”

It is critically important for us to become ourselves, not merely for our sakes and so that we are fully alive, but also for the sake of the world.  In God’s economy, God created each of us unique; God gave each of us a unique role in helping to reconcile this world to God’s self.  If this world is to have any hope of restoration – of the heavenly city Jerusalem coming down and the home of God being among mortals – it is imperative that we know who we are and become ourselves.

For us as Christians, who we are is expressed in the sacraments.  Though each of us is unique with our own unique gifs and vocation, yet we share a core identity that is expressed in the renewal of our Baptismal vows and in the Eucharist, both of which we are about to do.

sacraments_baptismI could tell us what our core identity is.  But one of my seminary professors, in a class on religious pedagogy (how to teach the Faith), said that the best way to teach the scriptures to a new convert was to lead them to the scriptures and then step out of the way.  “Bring them to the trough and then let them drink,” he put it.  “Don’t get in their way; don’t mess with them while they’re thirsty.  If they have questions, they’ll come find you.”  In similar fashion, rather than tell you what our identity is, let’s let the rites show us.  Here, in the renewal of Baptismal vows, and here in the Eucharist is a deep well from which we can drink.  As we do these rites, pay attention!  Let the eyes of your heart open to see whom God has made us, whom God has made you.  Pay attention and drink it in!  Nobody is going to get in the way; nobody is going to mess with you while you drink.  If you have questions, come find me or one of the clergy or one who has served on the catechumenate team (David or Karen or Nick or Tim).

To help us get started, I want to leave us with a few words from the scriptures we just heard this morning.  The words are from this morning’s gospel lesson, and though they are directed to Jesus, if we look closely enough at these rites, we will discover that these words apply to us, too:  “You are my Beloved.”  “You – yes you – are my Beloved.”

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