January 6, 2008
Baptism Of The Lord, Epiphany Sunday
Every Day God Empowers"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
Throughout life we use the word edge for lots of different things, a lot of our usage has to do with business like Maintaining your competitive edge. Or being on the cutting edge or leading edge of the industry. We talk about edging people out and being on the edge of a new frontier or development. Sometimes things will drive us over the edge or set our teeth on edge, or just plain set us on edge.
There are lots of theories for how to maintain your edge in whatever sport or business we're in. This morning we are starting a new series titled: Life With An EDGE. How do we maintain our edge as Christians? Where does it come from? My personal answer, of course is God, through the power of God's Holy Spirit, the presence of Christ in our lives Every Day.
We have a God is approachable every moment of every single day. We have an Every Day God. And Every Day, God is molding, leading, guiding and shaping our lives. In the next couple of weeks we're going to look at how our Every Day God does that with words that fill in the Acronym. And today, we're going to look at how Every Day God Empowers our lives.
A. Let's look at His story. He began life with a checkered past. His birth scandalized the community of Nazareth. He was conceived and born out of wedlock. His mother gave birth to him before she even married the man to whom she was engaged. And this guy wasn't even his real father. It was a time of shame and anguish for the families. I don't think it was that hard for this young couple to leave Nazareth and go to Bethlehem. At least there, they could leave some of the stares and whispers behind.
But it didn't end there. You see, all the hoopla caused by his birth made the local King mad. And as a result, he and his family had to flee. They became refugees and exiles. They were homeless people. His stepfather may have even been forced to hold up a sign for passersby to see: "Will work for food."
Once they found out it was safe to return, he didn't grow up in splendor. His stepfather had a good job but he was a blue collar worker. Joe worked in one of the trades. He worked long hours and he was his own boss but it meant his adopted son couldn't go to the best schools. The family couldn't afford it. But then that was pretty normal for the times. Only a few of the select and wealthy got to attend the finer schools. Despite his beginnings, Jesus had a pretty normal upbringing and lead a pretty normal life.
B. And that's what makes this day and the events of this day so important. Jesus came to the Jordan River living a normal life. He heard the call of his cousin, John the Baptizer. And like so many of his neighbors and friends he came to be baptized. He came to physically and symbolically claim a new direction for his life.
And God, his father, ratified that direction; and ratified His acceptance of Jesus. "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 was absolutely clear to everyone who heard, that Jesus was accepted. That Jesus belonged. And that God was well pleased.
That's His story, now here's My Story. I'll never forget my baptism. It wasn't one of those knock you off of your feet experiences. I didn't feel transported to the seventh level of heaven. I didn't speak in tongues. There was no manifestation of the Holy Spirit. And the heavens didn't open. But for this kid with the checkered past, it was a life changing event. You see, this kid's father was a drunk who left when he less than a year old and never came back. This kid grew up in a home that was both normal and abnormal. It was a typical blue collar home. And for the most part this kid lived a normal blue collar life.
Except at times my stepfather made it very clear that I wasn't his real son. And I didn't really fit in. The words "I Love You" were rarely if ever spoken. I was the unwanted stepson who just wanted to be loved, accepted and respected. There was a hole in my life that I kept trying to fill. Consequently, I did a lot of dangerous and foolish things trying to gain that acceptance from others.
Luckily God intervened with the love of a beautiful woman whose quiet faith and faithfulness had a big impact upon my life. Through her love and acceptance of me and her gentle witness, I became curious about this guy Jesus. I began reading the Bible. I even started going to Church.
And then one day it struck me that the message the preacher was preaching wasn't just for all those other people there. It was for me. It was real. And it made it difference. The Church, the people, the preacher, Mary and God had all conspired to bring me to this point. I stood up the day I was baptized and knew that I belonged. I was a child of God. It didn't make any difference what others might think. That little bit of water on my head marked me and sealed me as one of God's children. And no one could ever take that from me.
A. And that's OUR story. You see Baptism is about belonging. Oh, it's about a whole lot more stuff, too. It's about repentance and forgiveness and grace. But it's basically about belonging; belonging to God; belonging to God through faith in Christ.
One of the greatest blessings of life is knowing who you are and to whom you belong. Jesus had that blessing of belonging to God confirmed at his baptism. Through baptism, God confers that same blessing upon us. God reveals to us our true identity. Through our baptism we become the sons and daughters of God. Through our baptism God tells us that we belong not only to God but also to the people of God. We are not alone. We belong.
During every baptism we use some form of these words. "Through baptism [we] are incorporated by the Holy Spirit into God's new creation and made to share in Christ's royal priesthood. We are all one in Christ Jesus. With joy and thanksgiving we [are all] welcomed as members of the family of Christ." (1)
B. We come into this family by professing our faith in Christ and by getting rid of the junk that keeps us separated from God.
Tucking his six-year-old son into bed one night, Dad tapped his son's chest and asked, "Do you know what you have in there?"
The boy looked puzzled and responded, "My guts?"
"No, you have a piece of God," his father replied.
After a brief silence the boy responded, "God is in my guts?"
"No," said his Dad, "we have a piece of God inside of us; it is God's gift to each of us." The boy smiled, tapped his Dad's chest, and asked whether his Dad had a piece of God in his guts. They laughed and together they began to ask the same question about the rest of the family.
"Does Mommy have a piece of God?"
"Yes," they answered, laughing.
"Does brother have a piece of God?" "Yes."
Dad knew that the boy attended a day care center with a little girl named Mary who was so spoiled she made the people around her miserable. He said, "You know, even Mary has a piece of God."
The boy looked stunned, and then he said emphatically, "No, not Mary." When his father insisted the boy said, "Daddy, I have been with her more than you. She doesn't have a piece of God."
Dad told his son that God never missed anyone; everyone has a piece of God inside. The boy pondered that for a while, and then said, "Well, her piece must be all covered up with junk!" (2)
It's that junk that separates us from God. And it's that junk that Christ came to remove. It's why he was baptized. Not because he needed to remove any junk from his life, but so that he could show us, all of us with checkered pasts and junk filled hearts, what is normal. What is expected. And! And, what the outcome will be.
It's for this reason that Jesus went to the cross. To show us just how much God loves us and how much God wants us to belong to family of God.
You have been created by a loving God. You are a designer original. There are no plain label or generic brands in God's eyes. Each of you is a unique creation. You have been created in the Image of God, therefore, you each have a famous maker label.
It doesn't matter if you have a checkered past. It doesn't matter if you've never felt good enough to belong. There's no time like the present. God wants you to belong. God invites you to belong. Every Day God wants to empower your life for Kingdom Work.
Every Day God wants to Empower your life so you can live fully as a child of God. All it takes is a little faith and a little water. You are a child of God, that's what the Gospel of John says. "But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:12-13)
Get rid of the junk and affirm that. Let our Every Day God Empower your life and confirm that you are a child of God.
Today as part of our service I want you to take time to remember your baptism and be thankful.
1. pp. 98-99, United Methodist Book of Worship
2. Mark Victor Hansen & Barbara Nichols with Patty Hansen, OUT OF THE BLUE: DELIGHT COMES INTO OUR LIVES (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996), 30-32.
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