“Knowing Who ‘You’ Are”
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
based on the theme: Keys to a Better ‘22
Coral Isles Church
January 9, 2022
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Who do you think you are? Anyone ever say that to you? Like when you were acting a little “uppity?” Like maybe you were sassing your mama or daddy? Oh… bet you only did that once. Or were you one of “those” children? You know, what they call today, “oppositional?”
One of the first Pastoral Counseling professors I ever heard talked about what he called the “First Child/Second Child” syndrome. As a general rule, he said, First Children want to be the “Good Child,” so they are agreeable, compliant, cooperative and obedient. The Second Child arrives, sees the First Child has staked out the “Good Child” territory so they set out to get attention by being, well, the “Not So Good Child.” The Professor described this type child as the sort who would, “laugh while you are spanking them for sawing the legs off the piano.” He pointed out of course, that this is a type. It is not always the specific order of birth: sometimes the First Child acts like a “Second Child type” and the Second Child acts like a good, obedient, cooperative sort. Anyway, the point is “Who do you think you are?” is actually a good question beyond being a challenge from Mama for your sassy behavior or talk. Who do you think you are?
New Years are traditionally a time when many folks set new goals or resolutions. It’s a time to define, re-define, or refine yourself. A reset button on a yearly basis. So this morning I want to invite you to ask yourself the most important question to answer in order to do any of that well. Who do you think you are? And, I believe, this morning’s Scripture speaks to that question. Let me try to explain what I mean.
The episode we read this morning is about Jesus’ baptism. Besides simply retelling you what I just read a few moments ago, let me give you some background that might help us hear it better. Remember that all the gospels were written with a number of goals besides any plain historical recount of the events of Jesus’ life. One of those goals was to deal with the historical fact that Jesus was crucified by the State – that is the Roman Empire. The religious leaders cooperated because their power and privilege were threatened by any claims that there was any king besides Caesar. Some people around Jesus kept proclaiming him King and Pilate took swift action to put down such talk. So the followers of Jesus who had encountered his risen presence, who believed that Pilate and Caesar and the Empire didn’t have the last word on Jesus, had to explain why they followed, why they believed what was, to anyone looking in from the outside, an executed criminal.
So they told and retold this baptism story to refute that Jesus was a sinner, or that Jesus was a criminal in God’s eyes. They told many stories that lifted up Jesus’ relationship with God to change the perception of those who thought the disciples claims were crazy, baffling, or at least unbelievable. This story is about God’s blessing on Jesus. It openly portrays God’s love for Jesus to disprove that Jesus was a sinner or unworthy to be called Lord and Savior, Messiah, or any of the titles of honor we believe he is. The story’s climax is the voice of God proclaiming to Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
So this is all about Jesus, right? What does that have to do with my identity or your identity? How does that affect our ability to answer the question, “Who do you think you are?” Well, I would suggest this is all about Jesus, but it is also all about us. Let me point out an interesting thing about the word “you” in English. It is both a second person singular pronoun [ pointing at one person: ] YOU are God’s child, the beloved; with you God is well pleased! But it is also the same word depending on context a second person plural pronoun. You [ waving a hand to include everyone in the room ] are God’s child, the beloved; with you God is well pleased! That’s one of those things about the English language. So this morning I want to affirm, first, yes JESUS is God’s beloved child and God was well pleased with him. But you [and I] are also God’s child, the beloved; with you [and me] God is well pleased!
Now, don’t just take my word for this. No less an authority than Paul, the Apostle, wrote in 2 Corinthians 13:5: “Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is IN you?” And in Galatians 3:26 he wrote, “for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.” And there are many other ways the Scriptures express this, but I don’t want to overwhelm you with my incredible ability to do Scriptural proof-texting. This is the theological basis for my claim that YOU – my sisters and brothers ARE beloved by God and indeed God’s own child as is Christ whom you may know in many ways by many titles but in our Scriptures is claimed as God’s own child. And by whatever faith you may have Christ is the sign of God’s love for you as a child in this universe or any other God has created. Let that sink in a moment.
This morning as we think about the keys to a better 2022, as you consider who you are, as you possibly make resolutions or seek to refine or redefine yourself, your future, your hopes, let me invite you to start by thinking about or rethinking what this knowledge might mean for you. Let’s ask ourselves a couple of questions to help us in this.
How does it change your perception of yourself? Not at all, you’ve known this all along? Ok. At the other extreme, despite your faith you have considered yourself a miserable worm, a hopeless sinner, a complete reprobate? Ok. Good news! Wherever you are on that spectrum this morning I invite you to look ahead at this year and ask yourself what might you change for you to more fully embody your actual identity? How might you need to stop hating yourself? How might you stop fearing your potential to change? How might you let go of past ways you have not lived up to who you really are? Maybe you have thought you had to WIN God’s love? Instead I want to invite you to make 2022 better by knowing you HAVE God’s love!
Now, here’s the twist that makes all this really fun. I have to ask myself, and in so doing ask you: how does this change the way you look at others? Because we know as those who have Christ in us, who have the real presence of God’s love in us, it’s never just about us. It’s always about how we relate to others. Jesus said the twin commandments are: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. And when asked who that included, who’s my neighbor he answered by talking about the most hated person the one asking could possibly imagine. He invited the one asking – a Jew, to see a Samaritan as his neighbor. Yikes!
This morning as I wrestle with all the Samaritans I spend time hating, fearing, or wanting to send to the devil I have to ask myself – what is that doing to me as a beloved child of God? One of the realities of life or the universe or whatever you want to call it, the structure of it all is reciprocal. That is it is cyclical, it is communal, it is pretty much a fact, what goes around, comes around and if nothing else, as people of faith in a God of love – our first goal ought to probably be to send out love – wait for it – even to those who hate us, who fear us, or who cause us to recoil with hatred and fear at them.
We all have our favorite “hate” targets. That guy next door with the political flag and God knows what else and is always spouting hate at anyone not like him, right? That woman that jumped in front of you in the grocery line. Your brother who has done unspeakable things that have cost your family everything. The anonymous people who – whatever political side you are on – are screwing up this country. Near or far away, we all struggle with hating, fearing and otherwise consigning to the Other Place these people. But here’s the rub. They too are God’s beloved. They too are my brothers and sisters. Uggh. The “neighbor rule” which Jesus invoked means I need to make serious resolutions to begin sending love to them instead of hate and fear because: they are one of God’s beloved too.
I’m not a big “meme” guy – occasionally there is one I find inspiring or whatever, but one came around recently – in two forms, that found worth repeating. In light of the recent passing of one of the most lovable and beloved people in Hollywood – Betty White – this meme went around: In a world of Karens be a Betty. For those of you who don’t know “Karen” is the name that has been tagged to all the women, and sometimes men, who acted like complete jerks. Usually this happens in a situation where a white woman was encountering a black man and responded as a privileged princess who, while herself violating a law, was calling the police on a black person for acting lawfully.
By the way, this law of reciprocal blessing is also embodied in what Rev. Vertigan was pointing out in our giving. When we give beyond what benefits our own community, it always comes back as a blessing, whether it is in the giving itself or in a time when we need others to give to us to make us whole again. Just a thought seed to plant in your thinking.
One more thought, as a theologian I should point out here: this is about your baptism as much as it is about Jesus’ baptism. How many of you have been baptized? Good. Anyone who hasn’t and wants to see me, we can work that out. Anyway, one of the things that is often overlooked is that baptism is in essence the ordination of the layperson to ministry. What does that mean? It means you are blessed by God to go and minister to everyone you touch. You are a minister of Jesus Christ. Everyone has different talents and abilities to minister. I am ordained into the pastoral ministry. That is a specific part of the wider ministry of every Christian. Now, don’t get me wrong lots of people who aren’t baptized as Christians still minister. I’m just reminding you that when you go out there and try to answer the question “Who do you think you are?” maybe the most important part of that answer is- “You are a minister called by Jesus Christ and by God our Creator to serve, bless, and love others by your words, actions, thoughts, giving and any other way you can. That’s who you are! Beloved of God, blessed to serve others as God’s beloved!
As I close let me share a more eloquent way of striving for this as you move further into 2022. Rabbi Kushner, the author of the bestseller, “Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People?” wrote this also. It is both a poem and a prayer. It inspires me, and I think if I want to have a better year, I have to be better. Maybe it will inspire you too:
Let the rain come and wash away the ancient grudges, the bitter hatreds
Let the rain wash away / The memory of the hurt, the neglect,
Then let the warmth of the sun heal us / wherever we are broken
Let it burn away the fog / so we can see each other clearly,
Beyond labels, accents, gender or skin colour / So we can share the joys and
Feel the sorrows of our neighbours
Let the earth, nourished by rain, bring forth the gardens to give us hope.
And the mountains teach our hearts / to reach upwards to heaven. AMEN.