a sermon based on Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
by Rev. Tom Hall
Being a PK-preachers kid-took a long time
for my son to get the hang of. At the time, his sixth grade mind formed this peculiar
moral code on how his father, the minister, should behave. No ribald jokes. No walking
down the parsonage hallway in skivvies. Ministers must cover all human flesh. And
ministers arent mushy either. No tears in the pulpit. So on those occasions when I
slip out of my halo and into more earthly concerns, Ben comes to my rescue warning me,
"what would the church members think if they saw/heard you now?" Good point. Ben
makes sure that I remember who I am lest any unwholesome behavior come from me that would
not meet his high expectations of the office of minister.
I guess I should thank my son for reminding me of who I am because its difficult
in modern life, with its conflicting claims and confusion of names, to remember who we
really are. Many of us go through life changing from name to name in an attempt to define
us, to name who we are.
William Willimon tells us that this question, "Who am I?" is the question
that forms a life-long crisis of identity. Whether in your 20s, 30s, 40s, or well into
retirement, the question still stands on our doorstep to haunt us. Who am I? Culture is
all too obliging to answer our question.
Who are you?
"You are young and active." Go to college. Go clubbing. Go jogging. Drive a
Beemer. Drink Miller. Shop at Gap. Wear Abercrombie. Spend your weekends at the shore.
Join Golds. Listen to YoYo. Slip in to Victorias. Get Nokia, $54 dollar plan.
Always run, never stop. You are young, so party hardy.
Who are you?
You are sexy. Watch the movies. Watch TV. Watch the videos. Walk Center City. Your body
is your most important possession; nurture it, love it, display it, caress it, if you got
it, flaunt it. Cider House Rules. You are hetero, homo, or bi-, craving, seeker of
intimacy, sexual object, pursuer and pursued. Thats what media says you are. You are
Who are you?
You are old. Get old in style. Luxuriate in Springfield Gardens, Simpson, Granite
Estate Farms. Dont be a burden. Sell your house. Cling to the life thats left.
Travel, spend money. Cruise the Caribbean. Get Personal Health Care. Get the right
specialists. The right investment plans. Say good bye. Start again. Meet new friends.
Spend more money. Play bingo. Dine every day. Sleep alone at night.
Thousands of us have bought into these names and other conflicting and confusing
labels. And maybe weve forgotten who we really are. Hear the Good News! In this
place youll hear a simple answer about identity.
Who are you?
"You are baptized, thats who you are." Scripture records the story of
John the Baptist preaching about identity crisis. People came by the truckloads. Word was
out that something authentic was happening in the Jordan with John. John told the crowds
to "turn from your sins and turn to God and be forgiven." Then he added,
"but dont think you can do it with just some cosmetic changes here and there.
Only God can change you."
So people came by the hundreds down into the Jordan and John used that water as a way
for people to express their desire for a new identity, a new life.
But it doesnt end there. Jesus himself stepped into the water and as he was
praying, the Spirit came on him. Thats a major identity change! Because when he left
the Jordan that day he began a new adventure of ministry to others. In a sense,
thats when his life really began. In the waters of baptism with the Spirit.
In baptism, God acts through the church, through water to enlarge the family of God and
to save them by joining them to the death and resurrection of Christ. In baptism we are
cleansed, forgiven, initiated, chosen, embraced, adopted, gifted, killed, reborn, and sent
back into the world. Take a long look at this baptismal font. When you look in it you see
a reflection of yourself -thats who you are.
Christian baptism gives you name. In earlier times children were "christened"
and given a Christian name. In ancient times, the Church literally named the child. Even
today among cultures in Africa, when a person becomes a Christian, they replace their
given name for a Christian name. They want to express an identity change. Like when Abram
becomes Abraham once he received Gods promise to make of him a mighty nation; Like
when Cephas became Peter when Jesus promised to build his church "upon this
rock." Saul the Persecutor becomes Paul the Apostle. Name changes signify a new
beginning, a radical break with the old. At baptism, God takes you and says, "Your
name is Christian."
A number of years ago, Jesse Jackson began worship in his inner-city Chicago
congregation with a two-line call and response:
I was a nobody,
But now, thank God, Im a somebody!
Every name around them told them that they were nothing more than nobodies, but the
Church dared to claim a different name and shouted that because they were Gods
children, they were somebodies. The Christian message is not that we should try hard to
"act like somebody." The Christian message is simply, "we are
Rise up, Church and say at every baptism: "This one is ours. This one belongs to
us. God has a lot of promise riding on this one. This one is set aside for God. Were
calling this one Christian."
Baptism says that not only are we named but that we are owned by God. God keeps what
God purchases and on the cross an awesome price was paid. In times of great doubt, when
the reformation faltered and seemed about to disintegrate, Martin Luther would sometimes
touch his forehead and say to himself, "Martin, be calm, be calm Martin; you are
baptized." In those times of our greatest trials, confusion, spiritual dryness, and
hopelessness, we might do well to touch our foreheads and remind ourselves who and whose
we really are.
In a memorable scene in the Roots series many years ago, Kunta Kinte waits beside the
horses while his master attends a ball. While he sits in the buggy he hears other music
coming from the slaves quarters. Different music. Strange rhythms. His legs
practically take him down the path to the little cabins behind the big house. There he
sees a man playing African music, the music which he remembered hearing in Africa as a
child-music which he had almost forgotten. Kunta Kinte found that the man was from his
section of Africa. They talked excitedly in his native language of home and stories. That
night Kunte went home changed. He lay upon the dirt floor of his cabin and wept, weeping
in sadness because he had almost forgotten; weeping for joy because he had remembered.
Slavery and humiliation had almost erased his memory, but the music helped him to
It is easy in the confusion of this life to forget who you are and more importantly,
whose you are. So the Church is here to remind you, we are here all of us to remind each
other that we have been named and purchased. That someone greater than John the Baptist
has claimed us and loves us with a love that will never give up on us. Remember your
baptism and be thankful, for this is who you are. Amen.