As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 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. 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.” So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison. Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 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.”
It's fitting that the ground is covered with snow today. This morning I let my dog out and watched her paw prints dot down the steps and out to the yard. I could follow her trail as she performed her morning inspection of the property. For me, it did two things beyond watching her enjoy the frosty whiteness- first, it allowed me to allowed me to see what she chose to encounter this morning, and second, provided a path for me to retrieve her should she have strayed too far. Today, after a year in our backyard, building and nurturing relationships, growing in understanding of ourselves as God's people, we rise to face what's beyond the fence. And though we venture out and back each week, or some of us, every day, today I would like you to think of everything beyond this sanctuary as covered in freshly fallen snow- as if no one has yet walked on it or left their mark- just a vast Today, imagine that every step you take when you leave this place, will leave a footprint; that what and who you choose to encounter is intentional- that we forge a trail from here that is "on purpose."
Now, while this can seem daunting- (Holy Smokes, there is a lot of ground to cover!!!) Go back to remember what it felt like as a child to forge those first footprints in the snow. Remember the excitement of stomping down hard with your boots, the joy in deciding which direction to go, even (if you had issues like me) deciding what you wanted your footprint trail to look like. I remember thinking that each step i took would take something from the beauty of that natural landscape, so I tried to be somewhat artistic in my trail making. I also knew that others would be seeing my path- would know where I had been, what I had done... so that made me a little careful in my choices... after all I wanted to privilege of staying out there- who wants to just watch the snow from inside when you're a kid? But more on that later-
Today in our scripture passage we heard about the baptism of Jesus. John the Baptist has been locked up for pissing off the government, but not before he had baptized a lot of people! You heard me talk about baptism with the children- what it means to choose to be marked as God's child. Many of us grew up with the idea that Baptism is for the forgiveness of sin- that our sins are washed away, and we come up out of the water and God's voice echos "this is my child, with whom I am well pleased."
And it's true you know- God is pleased with us in that moment. We are new creatures in that moment. We are forgiven at that moment. We are also forgiven every moment we go an confess our sins to God. We are forgiven, every moment before we confess our sins to God, in fact, forgiven before we even know we have sinned; before someone has told us we are sinners, before we knew that God was calling us to be his children. Don't believe me? Look at Jesus's words from the cross to the very ones who nailed him up there. "Father, forgive them- they don't know what they are doing." Need more convincing? Look at the Apostle Pauls words to the church at Rome: "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
So, yes, baptism is about forgiveness. But baptism (in the words of teacher David Lose) "is also about relationship, about being named and claimed as children of God. And... we can easily slip into thinking that God forgives us in order that we can be named, claimed, and called God’s children. But I don’t think that’s accurate at all. God forgives us not to make us God’s children but because we already are God’s children. Forgiveness is a result of God’s love for us, not a condition of that love. Forgiveness, to say it one more way, is the gift of a loving God and by-product of that love, not a mechanism by which to achieve it."
Think about this. How many times have you thought that your will was so powerful that you could do something to make God forgive you- or better, make God see you differently, or that you were so ingenious, you could work your hardest and act the right way, do the right thing, check the right boxes, and God would step back and smile like a proud teacher! What if you were already loved so much by God that the voice from heaven traveled over you, like the Psalmist writes in Psalm 29: The voice of God is over the waters, the voice of God is over the cedars- God blesses the people with strength and peace!" What if you didn't have to do a thing for God to speak blessings of peace over you? That you knew God would love you and forgive you, no matter what? No matter what? How would it change the way you lived?
And please hear me, I am not saying that all of us should do absolutely nothing because God already loves us and is pleased with us- (though we could) I'm saying we should go and do everything because of that love- I'm saying that knowledge of God's great love for us, and hope for us, and mark upon us as God's children is what propels us to move out into the world and share everything we've been given to others- to let everyone we encounter know the depth of God's great love for us- that despite how things may look, and the vastness of the landscape, and that we are equipped with everything we need to change our situation, change the direction of society and institutions, change the future for generations to come.
This is why we read the passage from Isaiah with our names in it. Because God's call isn't some idea that kind of floats around and just falls on hand picked individuals. God's call to ministry is for each of us, God calls us each by name, Look back at that insert- But now, God’s Message, the God who made you in the first place, __________, the One who got you started, ____________: “Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
Notice it doesn't say "I "could" redeem you, or "Maybe if you do enough, or are good enough, or work hard enough, or pray enough or give enough or beg for forgiveness long enough THEN I'll redeem you- it says (read it with me) "Don't be afraid- I've redeemed you!" I have redeemed you! Or in the words of Paul- 'yet while we were still sinners'... or in the words of Jesus, "forgiven them, they don't know..."
I’ve called your name. (Says God) You’re mine.(Says God) That's your identity- named, claimed and called as a child of God! "I am named, claimed and called as a child of God." (say it to yourself, tell someone next to you) Put this up on your bathroom mirror or next to the star on your fridge- I am named, claimed and called as a child of God- and we need to say it over and over and over to ourselves and to the people around us so we can constantly remind ourselves who we are, what we're doing, and why we're doing it!
God has given us a huge ministry landscape out there- and invites us/ calls us to go into it. And just as in jesus' baptism God continues to proclaim his great love for us, and gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit to empower us, and my friend, is so pleased with you that he has given you her blessing, so confident in you that God has put a journey ahead of you...
And yes, it can be as exciting as that feeling we remembered just a few minutes ago of being children eager to get out into the freshly fallen snow... forging new paths... choosing intentionally where to step. And yes, we need to be careful too- others will be watching us, and will know where we've been and how we got there. Whenever we are doing ministry, we leave a trail- and yes, sometimes our trail may look less artistic, and even somewhat messy- that's ok... all our journeys are different- but the fact that we might make a mess, or that we might, or will mess up can not deter us from embracing the adventure.
Remember always that God's got us in this- not only will God not leave us, God will work through us! In Thessalonians it says: the one who called you will be faithful and God will do this! Go back to the Isaiah sheet-here the words of God: When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with ___________. When ___________ is in rough waters, ____________ will not go down. When ____________ is between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end-- Because I am God, your personal God, The Holy of Israel, your Savior.- msg
Can you acknowledge today that God has called you to something bigger than yourself? Can you acknowledge today that though you may not know what that call is or where it might take you, that God will be with you on the journey, no matter what? Can you recognize that your calling may take you not just outside the backyard, but outside of your comfort zone- into places that may be new, or unfamiliar? And I know that may be a little unnerving- a little unsettling- I know our desire as humans is for security, and safety, for someone to tell us it's all going to be ok- but beloved we were not created to seek safety in anything or anyone but God! Our security is in God. Our trust is in God. Our hope is in God. Psalm 121- God is your protector! God wont go to sleep, or let you stumble and fall- The Lord will protect you and keep you safe, the Lord will protect you now and ALWAYS- wherever you go! (not, wherever God tells you to go, when you go to the right places- no- wherever you go... We are in God's care.
You know, the thing about leaving that path in the snow- you can look back and see where you've been, and if it gets too cold, or too hard, or too painful, you can always follow that path right back here. The backyard can always be your place of rest, of home. And there may be times when you just want to sit and watch the snow from the inside, and that's ok too. God's call is for a lifetime... but know that whether you are sitting with your nose pressed up against the glass, or out trudging through the frozen tundra, God loves you enough to always call you, keep you, and embrace you...
That’s how much ______________ means to me! That’s how much I love _______________! I’d sell off the whole world to get ______________ back, trade the creation just for _________________.