Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
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.” (Read the Whole Passage)
John the Baptist is at it again, preaching about winnowing forks, or rather shovels, that gather grain from the threshing floor. It was only the third Sunday of Advent, less than a month ago that John was preaching this same sermon!
These crowds that gathered on the banks of the River Jordan came because they were searching. They were looking for something, someone to tell them who they were. They are misfits and trouble makers. Soldiers, tax collectors, the lame, sick, blind, deaf and poor. They were considered outcasts, those unloved by God, those without a place in the religious order, they were on the outside. And so when they hear of a Holy Man preaching on the outside, they go to see what he has to say, that maybe he will say something different about God, that maybe he will have a different story. Maybe this John the Baptist will tell them that they are something different from outcasts, misfits and troublemakers.
As Wesley stood on platform, he was terrified. Voices from the water were mocking and teasing him, calling him names like, “Wes the Mess” or “Wesley the Sissy”. Wesley was standing in the community pool, trying to reach for the rope that hung just a little too far for his reach. The voices from the water were the other kids and they were calling out from the water.
Wesley had always been picked on. He was the smallest kid in the class, the first to wear glasses, he liked reading about baseball more than he liked to play it. Wesley was a smart a whip, except that he hadn’t learned to read until he got glasses and he had been labeled poor student and he just couldn’t shake that identity.
As Wesley reached out to grab hold of the rope, which he couldn’t see very well without his glasses, he slipped. Instead of swinging on the rope, Wesley tumbled head first into the water making a big splash. And then from under the water, Wesley’s swimming suit came floating up to the surface a few seconds before he did. The other kids just laughed and laughed…
Its not too hard to identify with those outcasts standing on the banks of the River Jordan. Like them, we live in a society that makes distinctions, that tells us who we are based on what we do, where we live, how much money we make, what toys we buy and how many people we know.
And while we might not imagine ourselves standing on the banks of the Jordan, waiting to hear some good news, to hear from a wild hermit preacher about God… we do know what it is like to search our world for affirmation. And we are bombarded by messages telling us who we should be… message in the media, messages in our families, messages from our communities.
As we sift through all these messages, we search for ones that might tells us how we are loved, how we are accepted. Yet, most tell how we can be better… which really means that we aren’t good enough.
As Wesley looked around for his bathing suit, he turned beat red in embarrassment. He couldn’t see his bathing suit without his glasses.
Then someone started shouting from the rope platform. It was a boy about Wesley’s age. The boy was making a big deal of not being able to reach the rope and then the boy slipped and fell into the water making a big scene. The laughing kids turned their attention to the newest loser to fall from the platform.
When boy came to the surface he grabbed Wesley’s bathing suit and quickly swam over to Wesley. Wesley put it back on under the water and the boy said, “Come with me.”
The two boys swam over to another group of kids.
“I’m David” the boy said, “what is your name?”
They swam up to the other kids.
A tall lanky older teen with hair in his eyes playfully punched David in the arm,
“Nice fall” he said, winking at the same time.
“Thanks Josh” said David.
The group introduced themselves to Wesley. The two oldest were Josh and Grace. David’s sister Lizzie was there too as well as others.
“We are the youth group from St. David’s church.” said Josh. “Why don’t you hang out with us Wesley.”
“You sure you want me?” said Wesley “Most people think I am a loser.”
“Don’t worry about that” said Grace, “A lot of us thought we were losers too before booming part of the group. Some of us still are,” she elbowed Josh.
“Anyone can join our group. We would be happy to have you.” said Josh. “You are always welcome with us”
As Jesus steps down from the crowds and into the water, God prepares to show the crowds, and to show us, precisely what it means to be gathered up, what it means to find an identity in God.
As Jesus is baptized, God declares from the heavens “This is my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased”. John’s sermon is about the coming Messiah. Yet today, God preaches with his own voice. And God’s sermon is short and clear. “This is my son. I love him and he is wonderful”. God’s sermon is preached not just to Jesus, but to each and everyone of us. As we are baptized and as we live each as God’s named and claimed people, these clear yet profound words are spoken about us and spoken by God.
And yes, there is nothing we can do to control God’s love. We cannot make God love us more and we cannot make God love anyone else less. This is the scary part, this is the part that feels dangerous. God’s love for creation us untameable. And its by this untamed love that Jesus is revealed to the crowds on the banks of the Jordan and again this love reveals us as belonging to God.
To each one of us God says,
“You are my child, the beloved, with you I am well pleased. You are always welcome with me”