Who You Really Are: a Baptism Selfie
Preached January 12, 2013: Watonga Indian Baptist Mission Watonga, OK
It’s a picture you take of yourself when there is no one else around to take your picture and then it is usually posted right away to Facebook or other social media sites (I took the one to the right when I was writing this sermon).
One of the responsibilities I have with Feed The Children is to volunteer with their social media department so I’ve watched the headlines closely on this growing trend. Teenagers in particular love it (Checked out Instagram lately?) And so do politicians. It made the headlines of the national news on Friday, June 14th of last year when former first lady and secretary of state, Hillary Clinton posted her first “selfie” a photo of herself with her daughter Chelsea. And then posted the photo to Twitter. Then, religious folks are into it too. Pope Francis is known to allow students—when they met him to pose for selfies.
We are a self-obsessed culture it seems. We like taking pictures of ourselves. We like taking pictures of important people.
But let’s continue the trend here this morning. Have a phone with a camera in it? I am doing something that a lot of pastors would not ask you to do in the middle of the sermon. I want you to get out your phone and if it I has a camera function I want you to position your screen on this page. Now, what I want you to do is get in groups with folks sitting in the pews beside you and take a picture of yourself with them.
(Later if you want you can share this with your friends/ family who aren’t with us in church this morning and show them through your smiling face what they are missing out on! Or you can post it to Facebook or the like).
But, now that we’ve taken these shots, pause with me and look at the picture of yourself. Who are the people in the picture? And then who are you? What is your full name? What is your story? Where did you come from? Who are your parents? What events in your life have led you to this moment right now when you are a part of this worship service? What does this picture you just took say about you?
In our gospel reading for this morning, we meet Jesus in what one Biblical commentator calls the “Jesus selfie.”
Though we read the baptism stories in the three other gospels—Mark, Luke and John, only in Matthew does the narration focus our attention solely on Jesus. In Matthew’s story, there’s no indication of the heavens ripping dramatically open as there is in Mark’s gospel. And there’s no lengthy description about the Spirit coming down and descending among the scene as there is in John’s gospel. And furthermore, there’s no emphasis on the crowd gathered like in Luke’s gospel.
Nope—in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism what we get is the straightforward story. The author’s intent is clearly to focus our attention not only the main event at this juncture in time, but on the main person we need to get to know: Jesus.
Jesus came forth from Galilee to the Jordan River where a crowd had already been gathered for quite sometime and John comes to Jesus and says (look with me at verse 14): “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
But then Jesus answered John saying, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”
And in these few words, I believe that Jesus is giving us revelation into what this “selfie” moment is all about. Jesus wants us to see him as Lord. Jesus wants us to see him as the ONE that John had been preaching and teaching about when he quoted the prophet Isaiah and said, “The voice of the one crying out in the wilderness; ‘Prepare the way for the Lord.’” Jesus wants us to see him the Messiah that Israel had been waiting for all these years—the one who would bring salvation to all.
But it’s interesting isn’t it that Jesus says “It is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness?”
What does this mean? Often when you and I think of the word “baptism” we equate it with forgiveness of sins. Especially in the Baptist tradition where we don’t baptize infants but we wait for a person to get old enough to recognize their own faith and choose salvation found in Jesus for themselves—it is very easy to think baptism is about repentance.
And then this gets confusing when we see Jesus submitting himself to this act in the passage before us today because what did Jesus do to need forgiveness from? Wasn’t he perfect after all?
Yes. I believe he was perfect and lived a perfect life and this moment was not about making his life pure or right with God (for he WAS God). Rather Matthew is trying to show us Jesus’ moment of commissioning. It was his moment to stand before a gathered group of people and for as verse 16 tells us for the “heavens [to be] opened to him and [Jesus] to see the Spirit of God to descend like a dove aligning on him.”
This was no joke. Jesus was the real deal.
Jesus’ life would be forever changed from this moment on. He had a calling on his life. He had a life path full of places to go and people to see. He had a kingdom to bring to earth.
In baptism, this was the start of great things to come: the binding up the brokenhearted and bringing good news to the poor. It was the start of Jesus teaching, preaching and healing. It was the start of Jesus’ fulfilling the calling that he was born to fulfill.
And so it was a perfect day for a selfie.
If there was Facebook in ancient Palestine, I can only hope that this photo would have gotten lots of shares and likes if Jesus later posted it. Or at least lots of second looks—something was certainly changing by the Jordan River that day and the world would never be the same.
For those of you in this room who have been baptized, do you remember your baptism service? Who was the pastor? Do you remember who attended the service? Or even how you felt being touched by the cold water?
I was seven years old when I first touched the baptismal waters. It was in a Tennessee church. The baptismal pool was positioned in the sanctuary to the side of the pulpit—much like this one. I remember being excited about the big day. My grandparents had come for the service—both sets. I was getting a new Bible from the church with my name monogrammed on the outside cover. My father, the pastor, would be the one immersing me in the water.
I don’t recall much about the actual baptism service other than the waters being cold (it was a especially cool March morn). And being glad that it was all over. I never much like all the attention being focused all on me.
But how did I get there? About out a month prior I’d told my parents I wanted to become a Christian. I felt sorry for the things I’d done that had made God sad. I wanted to be an official part of the congregation. In my church growing up only baptized Christians could take communion. I didn’t want to be left out of that anymore.
Looking back on my seven-year old self now, I am not sure quite I had any idea what I was getting into. And maybe I was too young to have making such a life decision but regardless it was a choice I made and waters I entered into and my life was never the same.
For me it would take a church camp experience as a 12 year old to begin to understand what happened to me when I made the choice to follow Jesus—and for me to begin to really claim Jesus for my life slowly but steadily of course with some major bumps in the road. And in those moments at camp as I tried to make sense of my life and what God wanted from me, the thing that came back to my mind was my baptism.
I remembered my baptism. And I knew that in remembering it my life’s direction was no longer just about what I wanted to do. Rather it was about connecting my life to a greater mission. And that mission was of Jesus—a Jesus who wanted to know me personally.
See because in that moment when my dad baptized me in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit—calling upon the names that were present at Jesus’ baptism, my life was affirmed as not my own.
And yours, oh baptized friends of mine is not yours either. Hear me say this: baptism is not about you. I dare say it is not about feeling guilty about sin. It’s not about making sure you’re on the rolls when you get to heaven. Rather it’s about you following in the footsteps of Jesus in such a way that you allow Jesus to have ownership over your life.
Though we often celebrate in our churches baptism as happy, celebratory times (we get cakes, we threw parties afterwards or we might even give the person being baptized a gift), I believe that baptism as Matthew’s gospel shows us today is about death as much as it is about life. It’s about dying to our self—our own desires, our own plans, and our own goals and saying to Jesus, “What do YOU want from my life?”
Before performing a baptism, the pastor approached the young father and said solemnly,’ Baptism is a serious step. Are you prepared for it?’
‘I think so,’ the man replied.’ My wife has made appetizers and we have a caterer coming to provide plenty of cookies and cakes for all of our guests.’
‘I don’t mean that,’ the priest responded.’ I mean, are you prepared spiritually?’
‘Oh, sure,’ came the reply.’ I’ve got a keg of beer and a case of whiskey.’
We can laugh about it but also know that this father had missed the point altogether.
It’s about a moment of spotlight yes. It’s about a moment to take a picture. It’s about a moment to take a picture and share with others—as we do in 2014 called a selfie.
But it is also about what we DO when we get out of the waters.
In whom do our loyalties lie?
By whose life do we model our life after?
In Marcus Borg recent book: Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, describes the conversion experience of baptism in this way: it’s “more than changing religions or joining a new church. It can also mean [and should mean] ‘a process, whether sudden or gradual, whereby religious impulses and energies become central to one’s life.”
Baptism, thus is not something that we do, or is done to us, or gets us into membership at the church (as many might think), but the first step in our process of formed in a completely new way of thinking and being in the world than is natural to us.
Because no longer as a baptized follower of Jesus do we get to sit on the sidelines of life and pretend like being a Christian is someone else’s job or just the preacher’s responsibility. It is all our responsibilities because it all of our stories to tell.
You may have been baptized years ago, so long ago that you barely even remember the occasion or who was there or how you felt. But it doesn’t matter. You are still a baptized believer and because of this you have a calling on your life.
Take a minute and go back again to see who you were sitting next to as you took your selfie this morning—look at the picture again. And consider it your remembering your baptism photo. That on this day when you came to church, this picture can remind you of whose family you belong to and whose you are.
You are a beloved child of God for in whom God is very well pleased.
Say it with me: “I am a beloved child of God in whom God is very well pleased.”
For some of you in this room, baptism is something that you’ve thought about or maybe even considered but you’ve never chosen for yourself. You’ve never had a pastor place you under the water. Today, on behalf of this entire community that loves you and earnestly wants to know more talk to one of us about being baptized in the near future. It’s a big choice. It’s a scary choice. But I have to say that it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
And for you it will be too. For in giving up control of our lives and allowing God to do what God can only do, we actually become who we were really meant to be in the first place: first and foremost a child of God with purpose and mission for your life today and moving forward in the future.
Thanks be to God for the gift of baptism and for this day to remember it!