Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
“Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well-pleased!”
You may find this hard to believe, but I have never been much of a football fan. It’s true. At least, not until now. Not until the new New Orleans Saints, a team with such class and caliber and character that I cannot help but be crazy about them. I’m not ready to paint myself gold, but I certainly have been caught up in the power and passion of the whole Who Dat Nation, fans who are unparalleled in their expression of love for their team. Me too. “I believe!” I love the quarterback, the coach, the uniforms, the colors, the cheers, the deafening sound of the Superdome coming apart at the seams when all those fans thunder and roar when our beloved Saints go marching down the field. I seriously doubt that anyone in NFL history has witnessed a love like ours. And as a pastor, as a person of faith, I cannot help but notice that we must be the first fans ever in the world of sports to have not only a cheer, a slogan, a symbol, and song for our team, but also a blessing—Bless You Boys! There is something powerful and passionate, but also tender and touching, about that bless you boys. Has a whole city ever stood up to bless anything with such unanimous love, unconditional affirmation, and unmitigated approval? What happens when 400,000 people rise up to bless anything? I think the earth must shift, they feel repercussions on Pluto, when 400,000 people join in saying: Bless you boys!
Because to give a blessing is a powerful thing. You know how powerful condemnation is, to hear even 1 voice say, “You are such a disappointment to me,” how that cuts like a knife to the core of our very being. Conversely, to hear 1 voice say “I take pride in you. You have my blessing,” is positively empowering. At church, it is one of our main jobs. Around here we bless babies, grownups, marriages, pianos, organs, prayer gardens, parlors, houses. In December our Sunday Night Bible Study concluded our study of Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World, in which she explores all the ways God is fully present in the ordinary stuff of life.
Of all the chapters, our class loved most the final chapter, “The Practice of Pronouncing Blessings.” It is something anyone can do, she claims. You don’t have to be a pastor or a paid professional to pronounce a blessing, because, in essence, a blessing does not bestow blessedness so much as to recognize the blessedness that is already there deep within it, to call it forth, and to hallow it—the mysterious goodness deep within all of life, from the lowliest stick on the ground to the loftiest person on a pedestal to the grandeur of the galaxies in the heavens. Did not God create the whole world and everything in it and call it good, very good? And so when we bless a child in baptism, are we not celebrating the sacred goodness of that child that is already there, since the moment of conception? As Barbara Brown Taylor puts it: “To pronounce a blessing on something is to see it from the divine perspective.” That is to say, through God’s eyes—to see with X-Ray vision underneath the surface appearance, deep within the sacred, precious, holy goodness of life. Your life. My life. Made in the very image of God. And thus, blessed.
Baptism means many things—it’s about identity, it’s about belonging, it’s about believing, it’s about new beginnings— but above all else it is a BLESSING. The Greek word for baptism means to dip, immerse, submerge, saturate: That’s why even though I don’t think the amount of water matters one bit, I wish we used more water! It is such a powerful symbol of life, birth, new life, cleansing, blessing. If I ever build a church from the ground up, it will have a flowing fountain. That’s why I love our new fountain in the prayer garden! For ours is a God who longs to saturate our lives with the blessing of his unconditional, unmitigated love. The voice of God’s blessing—way more than 400,000!
This is why Jesus was baptized–not because he was not already blessed and beloved, but because he was. He was baptized for the same reason that he was born in a manger, a simple carpenter, befriended fishermen and ordinary people, even the outcasts, that he knew what it meant to cry, to laugh, to hurt, to die, to immerse himself in a common humanity with us. He was one of us, in order to show us our true identity, that we were made to mount up with wings and soar, we too are precious in the eyes of God, beloved children of God. As the great church father, Athanasius once wrote, “He became like us that we might become like him.”
On the day that Jesus was baptized something happened to lift the veil between heaven and earth, and for a moment people could see through the eyes of God the truth of his identity: “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased”–one of the most tender, powerful blessings a person could ever receive. There is not a person in this room who does not need to hear that kind of affirmation. These are the kinds of words every person on this planet should hear. None of us can be whole without it. These are words that have the power to change lives, to mend wounds, to empower.
This is what Jesus came to show us. And this is what your baptism means. Listen closely, for today these words are meant for you: You are God’s beloved child, in whom God is well-pleased. Bless you boys and girls!