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St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Amarillo, TX

“Who are you? Who, Who, Who, Who?”: Sermon for the First Sunday After the Epiphany, Year C

In the name of the One God, Father, son and Holy Spirit, our Creator, our Redeemer and our Sustainer.  Amen.  +

 

Today in our liturgical calendar, we remember and celebrate the baptism of Jesus.  While this Sunday, the first Sunday after the Epiphany, is the day we set aside to remember Jesus being baptized by his cousin, John, in the Jordan river, I suggest that the meaning of today’s lessons is about identity.  In this season of Epiphany, (Epiphany is a term from the Greek meaning “revealing”) today, identities are being revealed  –our identity as children of God, John the Baptist’s identity as a prophet, and Jesus’ identity as the long-awaited Messiah.

I am reminded of the song by the rock band, The Who, singing the 70’s song that’s become the trademark for the CSI television series

(singing) “Who are you?  Who, who, who, who?”  So who are you

God makes that abundantly clear in the reading from the prophet Isaiah today.  Speaking in very intimate terms, God says to Jacob, the nation of Israel, and by extension, to each one of us, “I have called you by name, you are mine!”  You are mine!  The scripture goes on to say that God gave Egypt as ransom for us, quote, “Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”  Not only does God say here that we are His, He reassures us that regardless of what rivers we may pass through, fires we may walk through, dangers we may encounter, what hardships we may endure, he will never abandon us.  Our innate desire for belonging and identity comes not from this world, but from Who claims us and will never let us go.  God loves us that much!

In Luke’s account of the Baptism of Jesus, John the Baptist has developed quite a followingand he was passionately urging his fellow brothers and sisters to repent – meaning literally to turn around toward God, confess their sins and be baptized with water. The people who were there to be baptized were common folk, and Jesus was among them, just another face among the masses.Actually, just like any one of us. 

(singing) “Who are you?  Who, who, who, who?”

 

In the reading, John is quick to clarify his identity. The people wondered if John was the Messiah, the longed-for king and Son of God who would transform their lives and their world. No, says John, I only have water – a mere symbol for cleansing – while the Messiah who is to come will baptize by Spirit and fire.

 

And there comes Jesus, looking like all the others who gathered at the Jordan river that day, stepping into the river to be baptized by John.  Luke’s account says that after everyone had been baptized, including Jesus, Jesus was praying.Luke’s gospel emphasizes Jesus praying, as it ismentioned more than 10 times in his gospel.  It was when Jesus was praying that the crucial revelation occurred,the climax of the story,as Jesus saw the heavens open,and the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove upon him.   

 

(singing) “Who are you?  Who, who, who, who?”

 

And a voice came from heaven proclaiming Jesus’ identity, “you are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”.And this proclamation was not just for Jesus alone, but to every one of us.  Through our baptism into Christ, we receive the same Spirit and are adopted as God’s beloved children, brothers and sisters with Jesus Christ.  In echoes hearkening back to the Isaiah reading, God is claiming each of us as His sons and daughters.  It’s important to note that Jesus had yet to start his ministry, he had not performed one miracle, yet God was claiming him just exactly as he was at that moment.  Jesus didn’t “earn” God’s pleasure, God was pleased with Jesus just for being His Son.  And truly the Good News is that is true for us as well.

In this incredible moment, God the Father not only proclaims Jesus’ identity to the world but also God the Holy Spirit is sent to empower Jesus for ministry.The spirit and the word together give Jesus the encouragement and strength he needs to begin his short public career.  This is also a rare occasion in the scriptures in which the entire Triune God is named, present and active together at once. 

As we make Jesus’ story our own in our own prayers and indeed in our own baptism, we too should expect both the fresh energy of the Spirit and the voice which reminds us of God’s amazing, affirming love and of the path of vocation which lies ahead.  That vocation happens to be spelled out for us by John in the verses preceding today’s reading which we read a few weeks ago – whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none, whoever has food must do likewise, be satisfied with our wages and not extort money.  Our baptismal covenant is also very specific in asking us if we will proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, will we seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourself, and will we strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.  We recognize in our responses to those question that we will indeed need God’s help in order to be his hands and feet in this broken world of ours. 

One of the traditions here at St. Andrew’s that I love following a baptism here, the clergy and the family of the newly baptized parade around the church, asperging the congregation with water from the baptismal font while shouting, “Remember your baptism!  Remember your baptism!”Actually, that is what we will do when we renew our baptismal covenant following the sermon.

(singing) “Who are you?  Who, who, who, who?”

 

In the baptism liturgy, we are given our identity as the priest places a hand on our head, marking on the forehead the sign of the cross in holy oil saying, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.”  That’s who you are!  Amen.

 

References:

Wright, N. T. (2004).  Luke for Everyone.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press

Bartlett, David L. and Taylor, Barbara Brown, Editors (2009).  Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume1Advent through Transfiguration.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press

Barton, John and Muddiman John, Editors (2001).  The Oxford Bible Commentary.  New York:  Oxford University Press

Goldingay, John (2015).  Isaiah for Everyone.Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press

Zabriskie, Marek P., Editor (2015).  A Journey with Luke.  Cincinnati:  Forward Movement

Craddock, Fred B., Hayes, John H., Holladay, Carl R., and Tucker, Gene M. (1994)  Preaching Through the Christian Year – Year C.  Harrisburg:  Trinity Press International

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