THE BAPTISM OF OUR LORD 2018 – GREENFIELD LUTHERAN CHURCH
Mark 1:4-11 Sermon by Rev. Dr. Rolf Svanoe
Who are you? When someone asks us that question we usually respond by telling them our names. “Who am I? My name is Rolf Svanoe.” We might tell them who are parents are or where we grew up. We might tell them about our ancestry. For instance, according to my DNA test, I’m 96% Norwegian. I’m not boasting about that. I often tell people that I’m 100% Norwegian, but I’m taking pills for it! There is this growing fascination with knowing who we are and where we came from. Just look at the popularity of DNA testing sites and TV shows like “Finding Your Roots” or “Who Do You Think You Are?” Somehow, we think that the answer to our question is written in our genes given us by our ancestors. And that‘s partly true.
Who are you? We might answer that question by saying what we do. “I’m the Pastor at Greenfield Lutheran Church.” “I’m a student at Fillmore Central High school.” “I’m a nurse at Mayo Clinic.” Many of us get our identity from our jobs. This is particularly true for men. But when we retire and no longer have a job, we have to ask that question again: Who am I?
Who are you? Women most often answer that question by talking about their relationships. They are a wife, mother, daughter, sister, or best of all- a grandmother.
Who are you? We try to answer that question at a funeral when we sum up someone’s life in a eulogy. We could talk about their accomplishments in life or what organizations they belonged to. We could describe the things they valued, what they liked and disliked, their character and how the impact they had on others.
Who are you? If you take a look in your purse or wallet you’ll find a number of things that identify you. According to the government you are a Social Security number. If a police officer pulls you over the first thing they want is your Drivers License number. To the store owners and salespeople, you are a credit card number. If you do any online shopping or banking you usually have a username and password. When I type that in at my bank’s website I get a message: “Please wait while we verify your identity. Your online security is important to us.” But is that who you really are, a username and password? We talk about identity theft today. People can steal your name and your money, but can they steal who you really are?
Who are you? Who are you really at the deepest center of your being? This is one of the most profound questions we ask in life, a question of identity and purpose. Who am I? Why am I here? We are given an answer in our Gospel reading about the baptism of Jesus. As Jesus was baptized a voice from heaven spoke and answered that question. “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” That is who Jesus was! The most fundamental identity Jesus had in life was his relationship with God. God’s voice rang in Jesus’ heart and soul. When things were good, Jesus remembered who he was. When things got tough, Jesus remembered who he was. He wasn’t going to let anyone else determine his identity or define him. He was God’s beloved Son.
Who are you? When you were baptized, God claimed you as God’s own, and named you a child of God. The answer to the question who we are is most fundamentally given in our baptism. “You are my child, my beloved. With you, I am well pleased.” That is your most basic identity, not given at birth but at baptism. It’s not given by anything you do to earn or deserve it, but simply as a gift of grace. New parents love their child not because of anything that child has done, but simply because of who that child is. God did the same for Jesus. And God does the same for you. God says to you today, “You are my child! I love you!” Don’t let anyone else define you or tell you who you are. Let God’s voice echo in your heart every day and every hour.
The messages we listen to can be so powerful in shaping us. Let me give you an example. I want to tell you about Grandma Faith. Faith was larger than life. We used to joke that we had a lot of faith in our family. She raised three children and then at the age of 50 decided to go to college and get a teaching degree. She was a strong determined woman. Faith loved music and we were a musical family. Everytime we sang, Faith would smile and listen and tap her foot. But Faith never sang. When we asked her about it, she would just shrug her shoulders. Years later, the truth finally came out. When Faith was in elementary school, one day the music teacher asked her to sing a few notes by herself in class. After she sang, the teacher made some disparaging comments about her voice. And whatever that teacher said, what Faith heard was that she didn’t have a good voice. And so, for the next 70 years Faith never sang. She went to church every Sunday, but never joined in the hymns. Toward the end of her life, Faith was in a senior care facility. She experienced some dementia. The family would go to visit her and as we always did, we sang songs. To our surprise, Faith began to sing along, and we discovered that she had a lovely voice. In her dementia, she had forgotten that old message that she couldn’t sing. How sad that for 70 years she had lived with a message that impacted her life and robbed her of the joy that making music can bring.
What are the messages playing in your head about who you are? Sometimes those messages are given by parents, sometimes by peers. Those messages can be powerful in determining who we are and the choices we make- for good or bad. But there is only one voice we need to listen to- the voice of God at our baptism.
When I was growing up, I was terribly shy. I had a poor self-image. There were times when I thought that I would never amount to anything. I wasn’t very athletic and was always the last one picked to be on a team. But there was one thing I was good at, however, and that was music. I started out in college thinking that I would be a band teacher. But one day, one of my college professors said to me, “Svanoe, you should really think about being a pastor. I think you have the gifts and temperament for it.” It’s amazing what a comment like that can do. I started trying that identity on. Could I be a pastor? It really scared me. Then I remember sitting next to our Campus Pastor one day at a football game. He started asking me about my plans for the future, and whether I was thinking about Seminary. And then he said something to me. “Rolf, you could be my pastor someday.” That message began to ring in my ears and give direction to my future.
Who are you? Martin Luther said that every day the first thing upon rising and the last thing before falling asleep we should remember our baptism and who we are. During the day we are often tempted to forget who we are. I don’t know about you but a week is about all I can handle before I need to gather with God’s people again and be reminded of who I am, be reminded that God loves me and has claimed me in baptism. The world tries to identify us in so many ways. It calls us names. We are tempted to believe lies about ourselves. That’s when we must stop and close our eyes, tune out the world’s voice and tune in to God’s voice. We need to remember God’s word spoken to us at our baptism- “You are my child, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” That’s the message that should ring in our hearts and souls every minute of every day.
I want to give you a special way of remembering your baptism today. Our choir is going to sing our Hymn of the Day. It’s a hymn called Waterlife, a hymn that reminds us that our identity is given us in the water of baptism. During the hymn, I’m going to invite you to come down the aisle just like we do at Communion, and as you pass the baptism font, dip your fingers into the water and then make the sign of the cross on your forehead. And as you do that, say to yourself, “I am a child of God.” Parents do this for your little children, or lift them up so they can splash in the water. Let’s all remember who we are- children of God.