The Baptism of Christ – 2019

Anne Coomes

Luke 3.15-17, 21-22

Well, as of this morning there are only 75 days to go until Brexit. And it seems to me that there are only three kinds of people left in this country at present. There are the Brexiteers, the Remainers, and there are the ‘I can’t stand any more of this’ people who are so sick of the whole thing, that they have turned off the Radio and TV.

But there is one thing that the Brexiteers, the Remainers and the ‘I can’t stand any more of this’ people deeply share – they are each concerned about identity. The Brexiteers badly want to be British and nothing but British. The Remainers want to be British – but also European. The ‘I can’t stand it any longer’ folk probably feel that the system has let them down, and are bitterly hurt, so they have withdrawn from the debate altogether.

Well, the Bible doesn’t mention Brexit, but this morning’s readings are about finding our own true self-identity. And we don’t have to fight for it, and debate and vote for it this week – we are given it by God.

We read just now in Luke:

And a voice came from heaven:

“You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

That is just part of one verse, 19 words in all. But you could argue that they are the most important, pivotal words in the whole New Testament. For Jesus was given his entire self-identity in those words. You are God’s beloved Son, and He is pleased with you. Everything Jesus did and said throughout his ministry was based on that identity.

And it was given to him by God. He did not have to struggle attain it. But what he did have to do was to remain in that relationship, and he did it by a life of total dependence and obedience to God. Jesus mentioned it again and again in his teaching: “truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” And again: “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me.” And again: “I am not here on my own authority, but he who sent me is true.” Jesus’s life was of total obedience to the father in all things.

You know, our modern minds so often rebel when we hear that someone is living in obedience. We think of it as being dominated. But with God, it is a life of joyful cooperation based on intense love. Have you ever watched Crufts dog show, and the trainers who dance with their border collies? Those border collies eagerly follow their owners every move, and never take their eyes off their faces. They live to please their owner, they delight in responding. This is not fear, but joy and unity.

And, as Jesus found his self-identity in his relationship to God the father, so the New Testament is clear that we also find our deepest fulfilment and identity in our relationship with God. Like Jesus, we cannot earn our place as children of God, we are given it by the Father, when we turn to faith in Jesus Christ. But we do have to respond – and live a life of obedience if we are to benefit from it.

St Paul is a good example. He had been a senior Jew, a Pharisee of the Pharisee – a real blue blood. But when he found Jesus, he considered all that he had been as mere rubbish compared to the joy of his new identity In Galatians he writes: “The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” And all that Paul did and taught were based on that one fact.

It was the same for the other Christians in the New Testament. When they turned to Jesus, they were born again into the kingdom of God, and sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Our reading from Acts tells us that Peter and John were sent to Samaria where ‘they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit.’ The Holy Spirit became their comforter, their assurance that God the Father was now Abba, their daddy.

Of course, most people today do not find their identity on a relationship with God, but on the things that are dearest to them in their daily lives. Some people identify themselves by their relationships. We all know people who live totally for their families, but what happens if the family goes wrong? Divorce or bereavement or simply children moving away can be devastating if your main role in life has been that relationship. Some people identify themselves through their work. Poor Andy Murray comes to mind. He is losing his tennis and he is only 30. He must feel that he will never be able to be his true self again. Many years ago, when BBC reporters had to retire at 60, it was well known that they often died within two years. Loss of self-identity is devastating. Some people identity themselves by their wealth. Think of the wife of the founder of Amazon. She is about to become the world’s richest woman. But what happens to her if she loses it? And finally, some people identify themselves by their power. Donald Trump comes to mind. He has closed the American government. That takes power – if no sense.

So – family relationships, work, wealth and influence – of course these should all be excellent things in our lives. But they do not make a good basis for your deepest self-identity. None of them are permanent, they depend on other people, and you can lose them at any time.

We as Christians have something that will last forever, and which will bring us nothing but blessing: God has called us to be in his kingdom. We respond by living lives of daily dependence and obedience to him.

Our Old Testament reading give us a picture of just how wonderful that relationship can be. To paraphrase Isaiah:

he created us,
he has summoned us by name,
we are his,
he will be with us,
we are precious in his sight,
he loves us,
he wants to bring us near to him,
he created us for his glory.

When we have that as the basis of our self-identity, we can love and enjoy our families and work, and use our wealth and influence wisely and for the good. We can even keep our sanity this coming week, when Parliament votes, and who knows what happens to Brexit then.

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