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“It Begins with a Voice…”

(a sermon for January 12, 2020, the 1st Sunday after Epiphany, based on Psalm 29 and Matthew 3:13-17)

We are a church that is, by its very nature, sacramental.

By definition, a sacrament is a holy act and visible sign declaring the promise of the gospel to those who receive it in faith and gratitude.  As Christians, we believe that a sacrament is holy because Jesus Christ himself, by word or example instituted it.  Now, in most protestant churches, including the congregational tradition of which we are a part, baptism and communion are the two celebrations of the church that are recognized as sacrament.  The Roman Catholic Church, on the other hand, also recognizes five other rites of the church as being sacramental: confirmation, penance, ordination, matrimony, and the sacrament of the sick (that which used to be known as “last rites.”).

That’s not say that these are of lesser value or importance in our tradition; it’s just that for us communion and baptism hold a special significance in the Christian life. We believe that the sharing of these sacraments make for the most intimate part of the worship experience, and are amongst the most meaningful parts of one’s walk of faith.  Sacrament, you see, is by its very nature a very physical act: a time when you touch Christ and Christ touches you; a moment in which your own relationship with the holy begins to take shape and grow.

All these ecclesiastical explanations aside, however, I’ve always loved what Frederick Buechner has written about the nature of sacraments: he says that while in the midst of such church oriented milestone moments, “you are apt to catch a glimpse of the almost unbearable preciousness and mystery of life….  church isn’t the only place where the holy happens.”  He goes on to say that “sacramental moments can occur at any moment, any place, and to anybody.  [For instance,] watching somebody be born.  Sharing love.  A high school graduation.  Somebody coming to see you when you’re sick.  A meal with people you love.  Looking into a stranger’s eyes and finding out he’s not a stranger” after all.  In fact, Buechner suggests, “if we weren’t all as blind as bats, we might see that life itself is sacramental.”

I love that; because what Beuchner’s words serve to remind us is that in amidst all of life’s many and myriad experiences is found yet another example of the mighty hand of God at work.  There is so much of the holy that’s happening all around us – so much in our lives that is truly sacramental in nature – but only if we have eyes to see it for what it really is!

What’s interesting, you know, is that in my own work as a church pastor I am, by definition and through ecclesiastical authorization through the United Church of Christ, a minister of Word and Sacrament, and so as you can imagine I’m dealing with that which is sacramental all the time… but not always in the ways you might expect.  There’s communion and baptism, absolutely, but there’s also, for instance, the sacrament of the Sunday School Christmas pageant, especially on those inevitable moments every year when one or more of our little ones (and maybe even a few of our big ones!) literally start groovin’ to “The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy.”  It’s the sacrament of “Silent Night” sung by candlelight; or, for that matter, of our reaching for the high notes of “Up from the Grave He Arose” at Easter Sunrise!  There’s the Sacrament of Fellowship and Laughter that’s found at Bean Suppers, Holiday Fairs and countless other gatherings, as well as the sacrament of sorrows shared and of burdens mutually borne in moments of grief and struggle and uncertainty; and within that, the sacrament of Prayers Ascending not merely on a Sunday morning but on every other day of the week.

What I experience on a regular basis as your pastor are the sacraments of not-so-random acts of kindness, of words of encouragement spoken, and of standing up for and with those in need.  These are also the sacraments that are revealed in countless untold blessings of our having been drawn together as a community – a true family – of faith; and then there’s the sacrament that come in the palpable sense of God’s presence, and his power, and his love… but not, as it turns out, here at 10:00 on a Sunday morning but at some other time and place during the week, perhaps even in amidst a situation where you least expected to find God… and yet, there God was.

Because, you see, while ours is a shared ministry of Word and Sacrament, the truth is that it doesn’t always happen at church!  For when you and I experience something like that – something like God – in our lives, whether it’s in joy, or in peace, or in struggle or even in the wake of great tragedy then life for us becomes a sacrament, something that is most holy and good and fully imbued with God’s presence and power and love. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest to you this morning that that the only place where true life and real living begins and grows and flourishes is with the voice of God.

It all begins, you see, with a voice….

…a voice that is at time raucous and profound as thunder crashing across the silence of a summer night; at other times as gentle and as subtle as the sound of crickets after a storm.  It begins with a voice that’s “tympanic… symphonic,”  [The Message] filled with “glory and strength” and “full of majesty.” It begins with a voice: the voice of God.

Realize, of course, that when I speak of the “voice of God,” I am referring to the biblical understanding of what that voice is.  For when the people of the Old and New Testaments referred to “the voice of the LORD,” they were not as much referring to an audible, speaking voice coming down from out of heaven (although scripture is full of moments when that was the case) as much as they were referring to the ongoing activity and the powerful nature of God!  What you’ll always throughout scripture is that the words “the Lord spoke” are almost always synonymous with “the Lord did.”  It’s right there from the very beginning in the creation story in Genesis:  “Then God said, ‘Let there be light;’ and there was light.”  Actually, our English translation of scripture sort of suggests a cause and effect – that first God said it, and then it happened – but the original Hebrew is lot more direct and to the point: at God’s very utterance, the deed is done, and it’s done with power and might, in the process shifting all that we ever expected to be true about life, so to be in accordance with his will.  We see this very clearly in our reading this morning from Psalm 29, in which the Psalmist sings – because remember that these psalms were in fact songs meant to be sung with all due emotion and even bravado (!) – that “the voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire; the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness.”  In this psalm we bear witness to a God of action: a God who, when he speaks, the oaks whirl, the forests are stripped bare, and strength is given to his people.  In fact, God’s involvement in every aspect of life and in creation is so readily apparent that all in the temple can but cry, “Glory!”

So, that in mind, it is no coincidence that the ministry of our Lord Jesus begins first with baptism and only with the voice of God; and even then, that voice is manifest in action and divine love, with the spirit of God descending upon Jesus like a dove from the heavens, opening at just that precise moment.  It’s a voice as from a loving parent, perhaps even as a mother would sound cradling her child in her arms:  “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” I have long been fond of speaking of our celebration of baptism in the church as a sacrament of welcome: be it be the christening of an infant or an adult baptism, it’s a welcome into a life of faith, a blessing for the beginning of a journey toward whatever life brings, and the affirmation of God’s presence and love being there at every part of the journey.  And truly, that’s what was happening here: a visible (and audible) sign of God’s active and continuing involvement in the redemption of his people.  It’s important to note here that the ministry of Jesus Christ did not begin in a vacuum but by the voice of God: a voice that was heard and felt by his people gathered that day by the River Jordan; a voice that made clear what God was doing in sending Jesus to this earth to bring forth his kingdom and to do the work of redemption; a voice that even now reminds you and me of the holy presence of God in our lives, yours and mine; of our baptism, and of who – and whose – we truly are.

In fact, lately, I’ve been thinking that for all the “sacramental” aspects of what I do as a pastor, at the end of the day I’m more of an officiant than the actual provider!  By that, I mean I’m not the one who truly “baptizes” the baby, any more than I’m the one who sanctifies the wedding vows between two people in love, or that I am the one who makes a simple meal of bread and grape juice the body and blood of Christ. I am simply the intercessory of what God is doing, the instrument of the music that God wants to be played.  God does the baptizing; God blesses the marriage vow; God in Jesus Christ, by his great and redeeming love, who makes the elements of bread and wine infinitely more than the commonplace.

In all of these sacraments, and so many others as well, there is the voice of the Lord, speaking in and through our hearts, our lives, and in the fellowship of faithful, kindred hearts; speaking so powerfully and personally that the very ways that we speak, and act and love are perceptively shifted in positive and creative ways.  I know that I have heard that voice speaking into my own heart and through the continuing journeys of my own life; and, unless I miss my guess here, I suspect you have too.  We experience that voice in the countless ways that God’s spirit moves in unexpected, life-renewing ways; and we hear it in the comings and goings of our our daily lives, if we’ll but have ears to hear what’s being said.  The good news is that all the love, and the peace, and the hope, and joy that is manifest in the voice of Jesus Christ has been spoken, and even better is that it continues to be spoken – even and especially now.

And that’s the challenge of the gospel, beloved: to listen for the voice of God!  Slow down for a minute; be quiet for once; listen in the middle of the silence for the voice that’s inside you, and pay attention:  for perhaps it is the voice of the Lord seeking at this very moment to lift you higher so you might walk along his pathways rather than your own.  Listen… for just maybe in the midst of all the other noise that fills up our ears we might just hear the sound of his voice; perchance to experience something holy and good.

Because it all begins with a voice… and with God.

Thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN.

© 2020  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2020 in Baptism, Communion, Epiphany, Life, Psalms, Sermon

 

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God Believes in You

(a sermon for January 13, 2019, the 1st Sunday after Epiphany, based on Isaiah 43:1-7 and Luke 3:15-17, 21-22)

It is very striking to me that while the story of Jesus’ baptism that we just shared ends with the heavens opening up and the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus “like a dove,” it actually begins in an atmosphere of turmoil, with the threat of such a baptism being something akin to “chaff [burning] with unquenchable fire.”

It was one of the very first infant baptisms at which I had the honor and joy of officiating as a newly-minted pastor; and since at that little church where I was serving we didn’t often have the opportunity to celebrate that sacrament, let me tell you it was a big deal not just for me but for the whole congregation! Not only were we anticipating a much larger than usual congregation that morning, there was also going to be this huge reception afterward; plus – and I’ll take some credit for this (!) – since, again, this kind of thing didn’t happen all that much in the life of that congregation, we decided that this baptism would provide the perfect “teachable moment” for the children of our small Sunday School.  What would happen, you see, is that we’d spend some time before worship teaching the kids all about baptism – what it means, how it happens and why it’s such a special time of celebration – and then they’d come into what was referred to there as “big church,” sitting all together in the front pew to watch and see Rev. Lowry baptize this little baby!

Perfect, right?  What creative, progressive Sunday School is supposed to be all about (at least circa 1983!), right? Well, maybe; except that just before worship as I’m about to enter the sanctuary one of the Sunday School teachers rushes up to me and says, “You better come out back with me right now… because we’ve got a problem.”  And yes, we did; apparently, just about the time the teachers had begun to explain what their minister was about to do out there during the service, one of the little girls in our Sunday School – maybe five or six years old and whose family had actually just started coming to our church  – started crying.  I mean, really crying: weeping, wailing and utterly inconsolable!  And by the time I got there, it had only gotten worse: this little girl was now at the point where she could barely take a breath between wails; she just kept pointing her finger at me and crying for all she was worth, “No, no, no, no NOOO!”  Trust me, nothing was calming this little girl down, most especially not the efforts of the student minister who for all his bright ideas was absolutely clueless as to how to resolve the situation!

Eventually, thanks to her mother who, thankfully, was very quickly on the scene, we got to the heart of the matter: that somehow this little girl had gotten it into her head that in this baptism I was about to perform, that strange man in the robe might actually drown the baby, and that idea was terrifying to her and so of course she cried!  But here’s the thing: as silly and as bizarre as that sounds as I’m telling you about it now, her fear was actually based on some reality; for it turned out the only other church this little girl ever been to in her young life was of the variety where adult baptisms were the norm, and then only by immersion!  So basically, all that she remembered about baptism involved people being placed fully underwater at the hand of a minister (!); so thinking about that in relation to a tiny, helpless baby… well, no wonder the girl was crying her lungs out!  Suffice to say that once we understood what was happening, we were able to explain that our baptisms had to do with sprinkling rather than dunking (!) and that rather than being in any kind of danger the baby was perfectly safe, and loved, and yes, even blessed!  It did turn out to be a teachable moment in more ways than one (!) and, as I recall, all went well from that point on; nonetheless, even as the baptism was taking place I could still feel that one little girl’s steely gaze on me the whole time from her seat in the front pew… just in case I got any ideas!

Well, there was a different, but no less intense, sort of turmoil on the day of Jesus’ baptism, and what’s interesting about our text for this morning is what leads up to Luke’s account of this very dramatic and important event almost seems to have more to do with what James Howell refers to as the full “ferocious mood” of John the Baptist than it even does with Jesus! Even before we pick up the story today, Luke’s already treated us to some of the ravings of this so-called wild man of the wilderness:  “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come… even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (3:7, 9)  Not exactly a feel-good prelude to a baptismal celebration!

But we need to understand there was a method to this “madness,” as it were:  that John was in fact, explicitly proclaiming a baptism of repentance, calling the people of Jesus’ time to abandon their sin and turn their hearts wholly back to God, so that they might truly be ready for the Messiah who had in fact already come.  Moreover, we’re told, John had not at all been reticent about speaking truth to power and for all his troubles was  just about to be “shut up” in prison by none other than Herod Antipas himself!  All this to say that Jesus’ baptism, this incredible scene of divine affirmation and blessing, all happens within a backdrop not only of sin and degradation, but also “in the thick of intense political and religious opposition, downright belliger[ence]” on John’s part and even “not shying away from the use of brute force!” (James Howell, again)

Which makes it all the more amazing that this is the scene in which Jesus – this man without sin, this Messiah, this one destined to baptize his followers by the Holy Spirit, and whose sandals John did not even consider himself worthy to untie (!) – walks right up to his cousin (‘cause remember, Jesus and John do happen to be related!) and asks to receive this baptism of repentance.

And now, here’s Jesus, going under the water (no sprinkling here; it’s full immersion in the waters of River Jordan) and then coming up out of the water.  Here’s Jesus, praying his own post-baptismal prayer, when suddenly the sky “opened up and the Holy Spirit, like a dove descending, came down on him.”  And then here’s a voice, speaking directly to Jesus himself, but in a way that all who were gathered could hear:  “You are my Son, the Beloved,” or, as The Message translates it, “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.”  Again I say it:  amazing… amazing that in a world filled with such turmoil and marked by such sin and conflict amongst the people that a baptism of repentance would be necessary for the sake of their souls, the power and glory of God to destroy evil in the person of his Son Jesus, the one chosen and marked by his love. The infamous theologian Karl Barth put it this way: that this baptism was more than mere theatrics; for “when Jesus was baptized, he needed to be be washed of sin – not his sin, but our sin.”  For you see, right from the very start, you see, it was about our forgiveness and our redemption; by offering to wash our sins away in his baptism, Jesus provides you and me a new baptism… a baptism of promise.

Actually, it all comes down to a very basic and dare I say, singular Christian truth:  that God believes in you.  God believes in you, friends, and he believes in me; enough that he would claim us and reclaim us as his own again and again, even as we stand in strong need of repentance because of sin and our utter unworthiness before God. And lest you think this preacher’s becoming overly judgmental, let’s be clear: with the exception of Jesus, we are all sinners, all unworthy and all without hope save in God’s sovereign mercy.  But the good news is… because of Jesus, who was baptized and now offers us the baptism of promise, God believes in us; we also are “precious in his sight, and honored and beloved” by God; and because of this we are saved indeed.

Over the years in various congregations where I’ve served as pastor, I’ve have the privilege of leading confirmation classes for the churches’ youth and young adults.  Confirmation, of course, is the rite of the church where those who were baptized as infants are given the opportunity as young adults, after prayer and study, to “confirm” the Christian faith as their own, which has proven to be an interesting and often enlightening experience for confirmand and pastor alike.

Which is not to say it was always easy:  like the year there was this rather headstrong and opinionated ninth grader in the class who right from the “get-go” seemed determined to challenge every bit of spiritual wisdom I ever sought to impart!  And it began the very first day:  I’d just finished explaining all the requirements that our church and its pastor had for them to be confirmed later that spring, and immediately this kid (whose name was Jason) raises his hand to ask, “Rev. Lowry, does being an atheist make a difference on whether I can be confirmed?” Well, yes, Jason, it kind of does, I answered, and then adding in a very pastor-like fashion, but the question is, if you don’t believe in God, what do you believe in?  “Do you have to believe in something?” Jason persisted.  Well … nooo, I said, you don’t have to, I suppose, but it’s kind of hard not to believe in at least one thing in your life.  “Like what?” Jason would reply, and we were off on to a dialogue that continued pretty much uninterrupted for the next eight months and which led, years later and long after he wasn’t confirmed, to a mature Christian faith nurtured and confessed in the mission field.

Actually, as I think back on it such has been the questions and dialogue I’ve shared with a lot of folks over the years:  “Does it make a difference if I believe in God, because I’m not sure I believe?”  Sometimes that question is borne out of an honest, sincere and relentless search for the truth; often it’s the result of a crisis in somebody’s life that has led to a crisis in faith; and maybe it’s the eventual and inevitable result of just so much piling on that there’s simply no more strength or will left to believe in… anything!  And quite frankly, there are those in this life who are determined to direct their lives in any direction except toward the divine, and who have a tendency to not so much ask questions about God as to fire them at you!

But I’ll let you in on a little secret: the truth is while there’s a whole lot I can and do say to that, there’s also very little that I can say; because even as a pastor, I can’t force anybody to believe in God.  All the sermons, proclamations and apologetic in the world mean nothing without an open heart to receive that message! But I can say this, something I believe in my heart of hearts: that while you may not believe in God – today, or tomorrow, or ever – I am sure that God believes in you.  I know this as surely as the sun will rise in the sky tomorrow morning and that the new life of spring will surely, if eventually, follow the dead of winter; I see it in the wonder and beauty of nature, in the strength and resilience of the human Spirit, and in hope, joy and peace that can only be the handiwork of an infinitely loving God… and I know it because Jesus has already made it real in his sure and certain promise of life abundant and eternal.

Perhaps you’ve come here today not at all sure that you believe… or at least that maybe you have a few doubts; and if that’s the case, I’m glad you’re here.  Because this, beloved, is the place where we rejoice in the God who does believe in us so much that he reminds us again and again, “Do not fear,  for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine…” and why?  “Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”

You are precious in my sight! You are honored to me!  I love you… I love you!

God believes… thanks be to God, he believes!  I hope and I pray this day, beloved, that this will help you to believe as well!

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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God’s Own

(a sermon for January 7, 2018, the 1st Sunday after Epiphany, based on Isaiah 43:1-7 and Mark 1:4-11)

Maybe it’s because we’re just starting a new year with all its mystery and possibility, or perhaps it has to do with the fact that I realize that I’m now beginning – slowly, mind you, ever so slowly – to creep into the latter phase of my middle-aged years (!); but I have to confess that lately I’ve been asking myself a question that I’m guessing most of us have asked at one time or another:

Just who am I in the scheme of things, anyway?

Seriously… wouldn’t you agree with me this morning that this might well be one of the single most crucial questions you and I face over the course of our lives and living?  Understanding, of course, that this is not merely a matter of name, rank and serial number; the knowledge of one’s credit rating or pin number; or even if one happens to be a dog person or cat person!  No, this is a question that has to do with the search for self; it’s nothing less than the very quest for one’s own place amidst the conflicting claims and utter confusion of human life! I guess that’s why a question like this is not reserved for the young, but also for those of us who… well, let’s just say those of us who have the benefit of additional life experience!   It’s a question of all of us, to be sure; in fact, it’s what the renowned author and journalist Gail Sheehy refers to as the “one continuing, never-ending, life-long crisis of identity; the ‘Who am I?’ [that’s] asked all the way from womb to tomb, through one passage to the next.”  Simply put, figuring out exactly who we are in the scheme of things can be a long process, and it is by no means easy!

And what makes it all the more difficult is that literally from the time we’re born and continuing up to today and beyond, there’s always some person, some group, some cause or another, some social or political manifesto out there that that proposes to answer that question for us; to give us an identity, as it were, forged in their image!  For instance, pick up any magazine at the checkout line at the supermarket, or for that matter, turn on the television any night of the week and the message is crystal clear:  that we are beautiful, physically perfect, sexual beings who live wholly unto the ideal of pleasure, popularity and affluence! Never mind that such an ideal is not only unattainable but also potentially dangerous (!), nonetheless that’s what all the advertisers of this world seize upon.  Madison Avenue would in fact convince us that we are all merely consumers, makers and spenders of money; and that our primary purpose in life is to accumulate all those things that make us like the people on the magazine covers!

And it goes on and on: we’re told by the business and academic world that who we are is defined by what we do; more to the point, by how successful we are at what we do, even if that success comes at the expense of family, friends or even God.  The political pundits, especially these days, quickly and way too easily seek to label us as “Red State” or “Blue State,” liberal or conservative, democrat or republican, progressive or “deplorable.”  And then, of course, there are those in just about every walk of life who proclaim the gospel of self-centered, self-made autonomy; in other words, “It’s all about me,” except when it involves you, and then… well, it’s still all about me!

My point in all this is to say that for most of us it’s hard to get a clear sense of who we are in the scheme of things when the rest of the world is offering up all these warped and confused ideas of what it means to be a person of some kind of depth and integrity! And this is particularly true, I think, for those of us who would carry the mantle of “Christian,” because the world most decidedly does not seek to instill that sense of identity within us; in fact, such is the radical nature of the Christian faith is that more often than not, the world would seek to pull us away from that identity!

So that’s why, friends, it is so very important – crucial, really, most especially in these times– that you and I remember our baptism.  It seems like such a simple thing, but when it comes to who we are, it’s truly everything!  For just as at the moment of our Lord Jesus’ baptism, “a voice came from heaven [saying]: ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased,” so by the baptism of water and the Holy Spirit we are also affirmed and identified as God’s own beloved children.  It is by our baptism that we can truly know who we are!

You see, whether we’re talking about the baptism of young children or the confession of faith of an adult, we understand baptism as ultimately a rite and sacrament of identity.  William Willimon, in fact, gives one of the best definitions of this I’ve read in recent years; he writes that baptism is when “a Christian first and finally learns who he or she is.”  I like that; in other words, it’s not about what “we ought to be,” or “what we have to work toward,” or “what we will be someday if only we can quit messing up and get it right for a change,” and it’s most decidedly not what the world says we can be if we just get with the program!  Christian Baptism is about what we are – here, now, today – and what we are, is “God’s own, claimed and ordained for God’s serious and joyful business.”

I don’t know about you, but I want to know that I am “God’s own;” moreover, given the cacophony of mixed messages that I keep hearing from the world, let me tell you that I need to know that.  I think that’s why I have always gravitated toward our reading from Isaiah this morning, because this is one of the great and eloquent reminders from scripture of who and whose we are:  “…thus says the LORD… Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”

You are mine:  what a powerful message that is… and it always has been.

We need to remember that this word was directed to the people of Israel living in exile: miles from home, their city destroyed, their faith fading into little more than a distant memory, their very existence as a people in danger.  Understand that these were people unsure of who they even were anymore, and that alone filled them with a sense of fear and dread that they would forever remain a people lost and abandoned.  But that we can understand, can’t we; isn’t that, after all, one of the most common fears that almost everyone shares; to be completely and utterly alone?  I’m remembering a classmate of mine from seminary days who apparently as a teenager spent a short time living on the streets.  I say “apparently” because the truth is, she didn’t talk all that much about it; in fact, all I ever remember her saying is that she learned a great deal from the experience, and that the worst part of it was that she felt like “nobody.”  Can there be anything worse than being… nobody, with no identity at all?

And so it was for Israel; but now, in the midst of their worst fear and greatest despair, comes the assurance of the Lord:  “Do not fear… [for] you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire, you will not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”   Or, consider The Message’s translation of this particular passage:  “When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and the hard place, it won’t be a dead end – because I am God, your personal God, the Holy of Israel, your Savior.  I paid a huge price for you:  all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in! That’s how much you  mean to me!  That’s how much I love you!  I’d sell off the whole world to get you back, trade the creation just for you.”

That’s just how much we’re loved – we’re not a nobody; and we’re more than just anybody or even somebody – we are “precious … and honored” in God’s sight; bought with a price, named and claimed as God’s very own so that he might love us today and tomorrow and for all of life, now and eternally.  And to “seal the deal,” as it were, he sent to us his own beloved Son, Jesus; so that by and through him we might always know just how deep God’s love truly is, and how, by that love, we can come to know ourselves as we truly are.  We are, you see, ever and always in all things and in all ways, God’s own.

Oh, yes, I know; the fact is that all of us here can claim a whole lot of identities over the course of our lives.  We’re sons and daughters, we’re husbands and wives, we’re parents and grandparents; we’re known by what we do for work, and the things we enjoy doing; we’re known by that which we believe in and the causes that we’re passionate about; we’re known by the words we speak and even more so by the actions we take; and sometimes we’re even identified by the kind of friends we have, but most especially by the kind of friends we are!

The truth is that every one of us here can answer that question – “who are you, anyway?” – and do so in a wide variety of ways. But the good news we’re given today, beloved, is that at the heart of who we are is this pervasive and enduring truth that we are first and foremost, each and every one of us a child of God!  That is the one identity that gives shape and color and form to all the other names and roles that we can ever carry; it is our baptism, this affirmation that we’ve received that we are God’s own that tells us, and the world around us, everything that’s needed about just who – and whose – we are in the scheme of things.

One of the nice things, you know, about coming to the Lord ’s Table as we do is that in coming into the presence of the Lord in the bread and the cup, we are reminded of our “true identity,” so to speak.  Maybe that’s something you need today; maybe these next few minutes can serve as a way of reconnecting with who you really are, as opposed to who everything and everyone else in the world has told you or maybe expects you to be… maybe this is the day you get back in touch with the one who has loved you enough to make you his own.  I can’t think of a better way to start off a new year than that!

Don’t be afraid, God says.  I’m with you, and I will be with you till the end of the age.  That’s how much I love you.

The table is set, beloved; so let us come and feast on the presence of our Lord; and to remember our baptism!

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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