Sermon for the Baptism of our Lord -
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. -
I like social media. I enjoy keeping up with friends and acquaintances via Facebook. I also find it quite helpful for ministry, both in finding resources and touching people’s lives. Facebook includes a private page for ELCA clergy with nearly 6,000 members. Our new Mt. Olive Facebook page has 237 “likes” and grows by one or more each week. I try to share something each week about the previous worship weekend, including photos whenever possible. Many of you saw Samantha’s wonderful photos from our “Three Kings” celebration there.
In 2013 I taught a seminary course on “New Media and Ministry.” In that course, I agreed with Ash Greyson, one of today’s leaders in religious social media, who states that anyone who is alive today should have a Facebook presence and if you are a professional you should have a LinkedIn presence. These are very important tools for ministry in the 21st century.
Last fall, a woman began worshipping here at Mt. Olive. She is from Persia and her primary language is Farsi. She asked if I had any Christian resources in the Farsi language. I did not, so, I posted a request in the ELCA clergy meeting on Facebook – quite quickly I heard from an ELCA pastor who had a contact in Turkey who had translated the small catechism into Farsi. Within minutes, I had this translation in my email inbox. I also found a Farsi translation of the Bible through the American Bible Society. I was able to give both to a new adult member who I baptized several months later.
Several of you were able to witness that adult baptism and I know share with me the power of that moment and witness. It was one of those times in my life were I could feel the very presence of God. Fatimah and all of us gathered to witness her baptism knew in that moment how baptism equals acceptance, acceptance first by God, forever and forever, acceptance by this Christian community and even acceptance into the wider community. She was, as we state in the baptism service, “sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”
I got thinking about baptism and social media this week when I read Scholar David Lose thoughts about today’s culture’s emphasis on affirmation. Facebook gives us a chance to “like” movies or books or posts and to have things we write or post “liked” by our “friends” in return. Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram invite us to collect thousands of “followers,” “fans,” or “friends,” most of whom we have never met. I myself have nearly 2,000 Facebook “friends,” but certainly no more than half of these are actually my friends. Deep down, of course, we know that this kind of affirmation doesn’t mean all that much. Or at least it shouldn’t. Many of the folks we encounter via the web, after all, don’t really know us and we don’t know them, so how can their “likes” or “hearts” create any enduring sense of value or worth? And yet, it is hard not to wonder what was wrong with the picture we posted on Facebook if only twenty people liked it when another photo garnered hundreds of “likes?”
So while this affirmation may be somewhat superficial, it is at least better than nothing. As human beings, we crave recognition and interaction because we are, at heart, an inherently social people. Almost every element of our being reflects God’s observation in Genesis that it is not good for us to be alone, and so the affirmation social media offers, relentless as it is pervasive, creates the perception that we are linked somehow to so many others – indeed, that we are surrounded by a community of like-minded, and like-able people, people who like and value us.
But, Lose notes, that while this may be our perception, it is also an illusion. He quotes Sherry Turkle, a scholar and author of the book, Alone Together, saying that Turkle has discovered that “people today report feeling more connected and lonelier than ever before.”
You see, while we may crave affirmation, what we really need is acceptance, acceptance that is not about changing yourself to “fit in,” but is about being accepted and valued just as you are. And that sort of acceptance is very important for any or all of us to lead a healthy, productive life. Being accepted and valued just as we are.
And that is where baptism comes in and today’s Gospel lesson from St. Mark’s Gospel of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River. Lose notes two things about this lesson.
First we have God’s words to Jesus. They are personal, poignant, and powerful. “You are my beloved son. With you I am well pleased.” Acceptance – identity, worth and unwavering regard.
And, second, right after this text ends, in the very next chapter after this text, comes Jesus temptation in the wilderness, followed by the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. This event – Jesus’ baptism – is not incidental to Mark’s story of Jesus, it is foundational. Indeed, it comes right after the introduction to Mark’s gospel – no birth stories here. This is the very first story of Jesus’ life that Mark wants to share with us.
And, Jesus’ baptism is not a preamble to all that comes later in his life, it is the highpoint or climax of the story in a nutshell. Again and again in the Gospels, as Jesus casts out unclean spirits, heals the sick, feeds the hungry and welcomes the outcast, Jesus will only do to others what has already been done to him, telling them via word and deed that they, too, are beloved children of God with whom God is pleased. And the darkest moment of Jesus’ life, when Jesus feels absolutely abandoned on Good Friday, that moment is almost immediately followed by Jesus’ resurrection, proof that God has kept God’s baptismal promise to Jesus and continues to accept and honor Jesus as God’s own beloved Son.
This is something for us all to remember in and for our own lives, too. At our lowest moments it is helpful to remember that the God who raised Jesus from the dead is the same one who promised in our own baptism never to abandon us and to love and accept us always as his beloved children, even and especially when we have a hard time loving and accepting ourselves.
Do not be afraid, God is with you!
At this point in the sermon, musician Samantha LaDue sang “You Are Mine” by David Haas.
Here are the lyrics:
I will come to you in the silence. I will lift you from all your fear.
You will hear My voice. I claim you as My choice. Be still, and know I am near.
I am hope for all who are hopeless. I am eyes for all who long to see. In the shadows of the night, I will be your light. Come and rest in Me.
Do not be afraid, I am with you. I have called you each by name.
Come and follow Me. I will bring you home. I love you and you are mine.
I am strength for all the despairing. Healing for the ones who dwell in shame. All the blind will see, the lame will all run free.
And all will know My name.
I am the Word that leads all to freedom. I am the peace the world cannot give. I will call your name, embracing all your pain. Stand up, now, walk, and live.
Never be afraid – God is with you! Baptism, Jesus’ and our own, offers us the acceptance, not merely the affirmation, but the acceptance of the creator of the universe and thereby empowers us to accept others in return. In baptism, we are “sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”
Baptism reminds us that wherever we may go and whatever we may do and whatever is done to us, God will continue to love us, accept us, and hold onto us.
Baptism equals acceptance by God for us. Our baptism empowers us to accept others in return. We have a God who will continue to love us, accept us, and hold onto us. Baptism reminds us that we are loved and accepted by God no matter what. Do not be afraid!
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Baptism = Acceptance (aka - Do Not Be Afraid)
Sermon for the Baptism of our Lord
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
January 10 & 11, 2015
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica