God Says: “Yes!”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Way back in the 70s when we all were much younger adults, there was a phenomenon that swept the land. It was called “finding yourself.” Finding yourself was usually the motivation for doing any number of things. When I was sixteen I left my parent’s church and I began a journey that would take me to many denominations and many different churches. Part of the reason for my journey was a desire to find myself. To discover who I was as a Christian apart from who I was raised to be. Going off to “find yourself” is not always a bad thing.
“Finding yourself” is a very handy phrase. It is a phrase we can use when we become discouraged or dissatisfied. We become unsettled. We lose our bearings, so we pick up and go somewhere else to get grounded – a new job, perhaps, or maybe a new relationship. We somehow expect the new circumstance to boost our sense of identity – our sense of self.
I think “finding yourself” may be the phrase that most encapsulates the human condition. We keep trying to nail down who we really are, and we look to a wide range of things to define us.
For some of us, we find ourselves in our jobs. We tend to think of ourselves in terms of what we do. Who am I? I am a student; I am a bank manager, or a lawyer, or a computer programmer or an accountant. I manage a 501(C)3 or an NGO. I am a pastor. It is in performing the tasks of my occupation, or vocation, that I am most “myself.” The tasks become the things that give our lives shape and definition. Take the task away and we discover ourselves in crisis – scurrying off to find ourselves in another venue.
For some of us, it is our relationships that give our lives meaning. Who are we? We are husband and wives; we are mothers, and fathers, daughters, and sons, aunts or uncles – we are friends. And if, for some reason the relationships that define us are broken – for whatever reason – we again discover ourselves back at square one, trying to “find ourselves.” Trying to recapture those things that give us a sense of purpose.
So, just who are we, anyway?
I wonder if Jesus had any of these nagging identity questions. We don’t know much about Jesus’ life between his birth and his baptism by John, and we do not know just how much Jesus knew of who he was. But the fact that Jesus stepped into the water to be baptized by John seems to say that he knew he was human. When Jesus stepped into the waters of baptism, he let us know that he came to earth to be totally involved in the human condition – to identify with us.
Did Jesus need to be baptized? No. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. Jesus lived a sinless life. He never did anything contrary to God’s divine purposes. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said he was baptized by John “in order to fulfill all righteousness.” You see, “fulfilling all righteousness” means: doing what God wants. For Jesus, being obedient to God’s will was what it meant to be fully human.
Well, if Jesus had any question about his full identity, it was dispelled when he came up from the water and the curtain of heaven was torn apart and Jesus saw the Spirit of God descend like a dove. A voice came from heaven saying: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
What I find most interesting about this event is what God did not say. God did not say I you are beloved because you got all A’s in school. God did not say you are my beloved because you are an outstanding athlete. God did not say you are my beloved because you turned out to be a darned good carpenter. What God said was: “this is my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.
I could use a voice from heaven like that. Couldn’t you? In a world where we are constantly moving around trying to find something that will give us a sense of who we are – something to give us direction, something to focus our purpose – to hear the words: yes, you are my son; Yes, you are my daughter, with you I am well pleased – what a gift!
The truth is many of us have heard this voice. Many of us have held this voice in our hearts since we were infants because this is the voice that comes to us in our baptism. It is a voice that says: Yes! You are my beloved! I formed you. I knit you together in your mother’s womb. I pronounce you good.
When we baptize a child we come together as a community to affirm that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.[i] God looks down and says an unequivocal “Yes!” to who we are. When we baptize, we affirm that God’s grace enfolds us and goes ahead of us preparing the way of faith. “Baptism, at whatever age it is administered, is not an incantation that operates automatically, but it is our initiation into the covenant community [of the church of Jesus Christ]. Under the power and direction of the Spirit, the church nurtures and disciples those who are made a part of it.”[ii] “Baptism is God’s action, from which later spiritual development and experience proceed.”[iii]
In the Reformed tradition, baptism is a corporate act because we are welcoming a person into the beloved community, and we accept the call as members of the church of Jesus Christ, to guide and nurture each baptized person. We promise to do this by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging them to know and follow Christ and to be faithful members of his church.[iv] When we, as a community, make this promise, we are committing ourselves to continually remind each baptized person – and that means we remind one another – that God already has said “YES!” to us. In Jesus Christ God always says Yes! “For in him every one of God’s promises is a yes.”[v] God says: Yes! I created you, do not be afraid for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
And as we grow in grace, God continues to say: Yes! Yes! to doing justice; Yes! to kindness; yes to compassion. Yes! To embracing the outcasts; Yes! to bringing life to life defying situations; Yes! to confronting systemic hypocrisy; Yes! to being exhibitions of the kingdom of God right here where we live. God says “Yes!” To being fully human – being fully who you are.
Martin Luther, was a brilliant theologian who was prone to fits of depression. When asked about his darkest moments, he is quoted as saying, “I remember my baptism.” When Martin Luther was losing himself in the dark hole of despair, remembering his baptism grounded him. It reminded him of who he was – God’s beloved child to whom God had said, ‘Yes’ over and over and over again.
When we remember our baptisms, we can remember that God calls each and every one of us by name and sets us apart to be God’s own people, so that we may proclaim the mighty acts of God who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.
When we remember our baptisms, we remember that God says to each and every one of us every single day: “Yes! You are my beloved child. With you I am well pleased”
When Jesus walked into the waters of baptism, he was God. In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Jesus already possessed all the good and perfect gifts necessary for his life of ministry. The descent of the Holy Spirit and the statement from heaven serve only to confirm who Jesus already was: a beloved child of God, equipped with the tools necessary for service. On that day, Jesus was confirmed for the Messianic road ahead.
In a similar way, when we are baptized it is a confirmation of who we already are. When we were baptized, the minister made the sign of the cross and said “you are a beloved child of God; sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and grafted into Christ forever.” Whether or not these exact words are spoken, this is the grace confirmed for us at our baptism. This is our identity – signed, sealed and delivered. The difference for us, though, is that we must grow into our identity. We must learn to discern the gifts of the spirit with which we have been endowed. We must learn to discern what God wants and we must learn to do it.
This is not an easy task. There inevitably are bumps along the road. And when we are perplexed and confused, when we are uneasy, when we are challenged, when we are afraid – the answer is not to pick up our marbles and move to another yard trying to find ourselves. No. The first place to look for our true selves is in our baptism. We can remember and can relive the grace that was given to us that day. We can claim the identity that is ours in Jesus Christ.
We can remember that we, too, are beloved and that God is pleased to take all the good and perfect gifts we are given and use them in service of God’s kingdom. We can remember that all this was confirmed for us at our baptism. God said “Yes!”
When we are trying to find ourselves, we are most likely going to find that money and power and control are not the lasting stuff of identity. As wonderful as our relationships to each other are, those are not the places to look for a sense of self.
No. If we truly want to find ourselves, we need to remember that in our baptism it was confirmed that we are children of the promise, beloved by God who says: “Yes” to us over and over and over again.
[i] Ephesians 1:4
[ii] Stookey, Laurence Hull, Baptism: Christ’s Act in the Church, (Nashville: Abingdon Press) © 1982, p. 46.
[iii] Ibid. p. 52.
[iv] Book of Common Worship, PCUSA, Rite of Baptism.
[v] 2 Corinthians 1:20