Most of us have had occasions in life that we might describe as “defining moments.” Some obvious ones are when we receive a degree or a title, such as BA, Ph.D., MD, CPA, RN, or even the Rev. Such times can also be the birth of a child, a marriage or a death.
Sometimes defining moments come when we are struck by an image. I’ll never forget the feelings of awe and wonder the first time I entered the Washington Cathedral, also called our National Cathedral, in D.C. As a young teenager I was struck by its immensity in the vaulted ceilings and it pulled me up to a vision of the glory and grandeur of God, even joy. Then there are those sobering times that challenge one’s heart and soul to its depths. I entered Yad Vashem, the holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem. At the entrance was a sculpture made up of a mound of dozens and dozens of worn and discarded shoes from the gas ovens. It was entitled, “All that remained.”
Then there are the defining moments that can come from another person. Mr. Keith Harmeyer, my 11th grade Analytic Geometry and Trigonometry teacher, met me at the door of the classroom the day of report cards and shook my hand as a way of congratulating me for my grades in the class. On the flip side, people have told me stories of poor teachers who shamed them with messages of non-worth. Defining moments can enable us to feel cherished and valued. They also can make us feel devalued and take away our dignity.
Today we get to celebrate one of the defining moments for a Christian. Let me show you (go to the baptismal font). What happens at this font, the word from which we get the word fountain by the way, is a celebration, an immersion if you will, of God’s love for all humanity. How do we know? It was Jesus’ defining moment as we discover in the account of his baptism in Mark’s Gospel today.
Jesus was baptized by John, called the Baptist for obvious reasons, and in poetic language we discover the heavens were torn apart, the Spirit descending like a dove on him, and a voice coming from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” In Mark’s account the voice of God confirms Jesus’ identity as “Son,” and also his value, “with you I am well pleased.” Later on in the Gospel, when Jesus is asked by what authority he goes about his ministry, he recalls that time in the Jordan River when he asks the elders in the temple, “Did the baptism of John come from heaven or was it of human origin?” He left it to them to decide.
Today’s celebration of Jesus’ baptism, is an “epiphany” or “showing forth,” of Jesus’ defining moment at the beginning of his public ministry. It is also our defining moment of empowerment to be disciples of Jesus. Martin Luther, in a period of his life when he was feeling most attacked by the religious authorities of his day, over and over again repeated to himself, “I am baptized. I am baptized.” He was reminding himself of his own defining moment as a person of Christ. No matter how he was tempted to doubt himself, he kept coming back to that truth. We can do no better.
There is a psychological theory called Rational Emotive Therapy. In short it points to an understanding that the manner in which a person perceives an event is affected by that person’s internal belief system. So, for example, if I have learned to have a high need for acceptance and love because of certain defining moments in my life, perhaps when I got the picture I was not acceptable or lovable, then when I am negatively criticized I hear those tapes playing again, triggering a voice telling me I don’t measure up. The cause of my distress is my belief system, not the one doing the criticizing.
To the contrary, I invite us to see and incorporate ever more deeply into our heart and soul an awareness that our baptism into Christ is the bottom line for our belief system. At our own baptism the heavens were torn apart, the Spirit descended, and God’s voice said to us, “You are my child, my beloved, with you I am well pleased.” Please repeat after me, out loud: I am God’s child; I am beloved; God is well pleased with me.” Do you see? You have inherent worth before God. It is because you belong to Jesus, forever.
The Spirit’s gift then is freedom, the freedom to be the human being God created you to be, to be the human being God says you are. That freedom then empowers us to speak, act, witness to the love of God in Christ in whatever situation we find ourselves. Our baptism, just as it was for Jesus, is our authority for Christian ministry.
I encourage you to claim your baptismal authority, given as a gift of God, empowered by the Spirit to be a person on this earth who is always pointing to the new reality God wants to bring about through you. It is to offer a different voice to the ones that trumpet power, domination and accumulation. We are to be a voice pointing to a different reality that is willing to challenge anything and everything that would deny the dignity of every human being.
Live in the light of God’s baptismal promise. You are chosen, Spirit-blessed, and beloved of God. Be the light God created you to be.