Grace to you and peace, from God our Creator and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today’s appointed story from Matthew seems a bit out of place to me. We’ve just heard story after story of people encountering the risen Christ, and we’ll continue to hear stories of what resurrection means in the real world. But today, we flash back to the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life — and perhaps the defining moment of his ministry.
Jesus meets John at the Jordan River where everyone else is being baptized. Jesus wants in on the action too, but John isn’t so sure. Wouldn’t it be better for Jesus to baptize John? Yes, but “let it be so for now.” For if Jesus is to crush hell under foot and open the gates of eternal life, he must fulfill all righteousness. So John agrees to baptize Jesus. And just as he comes out of the water, the heavens open and a voice declares, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” At that moment, Jesus becomes a somebody — a somebody that will do astounding things.
Now, this is different from Luke’s version of this story which we read in January. Today, we’re not sure who else catches this magnificent scene. Matthew explains that the skies “were opened to him,” and that Jesus saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove. Maybe this is a private occurrence that only Jesus witnessed, and maybe everyone had their own one-on-one encounter with the Word of God and maybe even a dove.
That’s the traditional approach to this bible story. It’s one part hyperbole with a whole lot of theological importance. I think that’s why this is such a fantastic way to talk about baptism — that at the moment we are washed in that simplest of elements, the skies rip open and a voice from heaven says “you are my child, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” In that very instant, nothing we have done can prevent us from being loved, from being valued, from the ability to do astounding things.
That message is as important today as it was upon your baptism. See, our skies still rip open and voices speak, but they’re not the voices we need to hear. Instead of “you are my child,” we hear “ you are a nobody.” Instead of “you are beloved,” we hear “you aren’t enough.” Instead of “with you I am well pleased,” we hear “with you I am disappointed.” And before long, that cacophony of voices makes us jaded. It drowns out the voice which we heard at our baptism, the voice that made us somebody.
Now, I’ve preached on this text before, and I’ve heard others preach on this text — and it seems that each time, the listener is reminded of that claim: “you are my child, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
But something is different about this time. This time, we hear these words in the midst of the Easter season — a season of joyfully running away from the empty tomb, telling others that Christ is alive. So what would it mean to interpret this story in light of the resurrection? I think it’s easy.
Where in your own life can you drown out the voices that tell people “you aren’t enough” or “you don’t have enough,” and instead sow words of love, and value, and inspiration? Where can you silence the words of doubt with words of faith? Where can you comfort sighs of agony with the hope of promise?
In spite of what the world tells you, you are somebody with the ability to do astounding things. So go tell somebody else that they’re a somebody who can do astounding things, too. Amen.
This homily was preached at St Michael’s Episcopal Church in Trenton, NJ on Wednesday, April 13, 2016.