Northern New Mexico is strewn with thousands of archeological sites, many very close to Los Alamos. On a recent visit to our son and daughter-in-law Karisse and I had a chance to visit the Bandelier National Monument, and to see the adobe and cave dwellings of the ancient people of the Pajaritos plateau. Another day we went to another site, not nearly as dramatic or developed. The local Tewa tribe does not want the site excavated. It is their ancestors who lived on that small mesa 1000 years ago. It was their flesh and blood that lived and loved and finally died on that small mesa, and they regularly come back to pray. I couldn't help putting my hand on one of the petro-glyphs, as if to try somehow to reach back through a millennium and touch a people distant, but clearly not gone.
This morning we do that for the Church. Like those ruins for the Tewa, the events we read about in Holy Scripture are not just distant memories of bygone events, they lay the foundation for today. Just as the Tewa go back to pray on that mesa, we go back and touch once again the mystery of those moments. It is vital that we do so, for that is the only way we can come to know who we are, and where we are supposed to go.
The moment we touch this morning is Jesus' baptism. John the Baptist has the lion's share of the story, but he is not the central figure. More significant is what the voice of God says, "You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased."
I you are like me when I read this passage I think, "Well, of course God the Father is well pleased with Jesus, He never committed any sins. There's nothing for the Father to be upset about. I, on the other hand..." and a great rift arises between our understanding of Jesus' baptism and our understanding of our own. Such could not be farther from the truth. Let's look at just what the Father said. Jesus is beloved because He is the Son of the Father. It has nothing to do with Jesus' worthiness, though he certainly has it. It has everything to do with who he is, not what he does. We are beloved of God because He is our Father, too. It has nothing to do with our sins, or our worthiness, it has everything to do with who we are—creations of God.
God is well pleased with Jesus not because he has not committed any sins, but because He surrenders to the Father's will. He goes from here to fulfill the mission given by the Father. Baptism leads to mission. God is pleased with us, not because we have not committed any sins (because we have), but because, following Christ's example, we surrender to the will of the Father. We go from baptism into the mission and ministry given us by the Father. Baptism leads to mission.
Baptism is the foundation, the ancient story behind our mission and ministry. Like with Jesus, baptism leads to mission.
What does this mean for us this morning? We know that the life of this parish has suffered this past year. We have lost members and revenue. If God the Father were a business mogul who had St. Christopher's as a local corporate store His words would not be, "You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased." We would be answering some hard questions and working overtime to fix the problems lest we get sold to the competition!
But God the Father is not a business mogul for whom the bottom line is everything. God is the God who created us, and for that we are His beloved. The first feeling that comes into God’s heart when God thinks of us is love. It’s like having a baby. One always loves the baby born in the household (unless one is the older sibling…) Now a baby is nothing but noise at one end and no responsibility at the other, but we love the baby for who it is, not what it does. In the same way God loves us because God made us. Just relax into that wonderful news! There's not a thing we can do to earn or erode God's love for us. It is a constant we can depend on, the first truth of who we are. In and with Jesus (hear me now!) WE ARE THE BELOVED!
His pleasure in us is a function of our surrender to His will. We would like to imagine that we bring to God a bunch of capacities, and gifts and abilities that He really can't live without. These are the necessary ingredients to success in the church, and if we will just get people to engage these gifts then the church will be fine and we will feel good and all will be hunky-dory. If something is going wrong in the church it is because someone is not following the rules or engaging their gifts as they should, and if only those who cannot express these essential gifts would just get out of the way we can make this thing work! If we don't we're being lazy and God has no reason to love us.
But that is to miss the point. It's like joining the army. You don't join the army in order to do a certain job (unless you're a warrant officer.) You join the army in order to serve your country, and then the Army tells you where you will serve and what you will do. We surrender to the will of God in principle and then find out what it means. Of course, at its best the Army will also recognize what your capacities and abilities are and capitalize on those things. God, who knows you more intimately than you know yourself, will do the same. But that is not why we surrender. We surrender because it is the one thing we can do.
It is the one thing we must do. Then, and only then, do we begin to build the Kingdom. Then and only then will the peace of God that passes all understanding overflow our hearts and fill us with joy. What will galvanize our hearts is hearing the Father's words to us, “You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
We are about to reaffirm our baptismal vows. Some of us remember our baptisms, others of us do not. Nonetheless, the commitment is the same. As we go through this listen carefully for the words of God to you. Commit yourselves once more to this great call, and let yourself be swept up in the great mystery we call The Church of Jesus Christ.