I bring you greetings from my congregation, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in South Hadley, Massachusetts. They send their love and their support to your congregation, as well as to Topher and his parents and other family members on the momentous occasion of his baptism into Christ’s church.
If you’d told me when I first met the man now called Joseph Peters-Mathews that I would someday be here in Washington, baptizing his son, surrounded by people from both coasts and in between — well, I probably would have believed you, honestly.
I’m also thinking that this is very likely the largest gathering of Alabama natives anywhere in Washington state right now.
It is a custom that I learned from a mentor of mine in Atlanta that when one preaches at a baptism, an ordination, or a wedding, that one should proclaim the Gospel to the person or people receiving the rite, and let everyone else listen in for the Good News.
And so today, I’m mostly talking to Topher. Well, sort of. I mean, he’s a baby. Even for a child of two linguistically talented parents like Joseph and Brandon, he’ll be working on his words for years to come — and those trips to the library with his parents will help.
I’m not usually one to hand manuscripts to people, but I think this occasion is different.
So this is for Topher, whenever his dads think he’s old enough to read it, or whenever they think he’ll need it.
And it’s also for you — Joseph, Brandon, the rest of Topher’s family, and all of you gathered on this Baptism of the Lord Sunday.
In today’s Gospel text we have Jesus’ first words in the New Testament. If most of us had to guess what they were, we’d probably guess that they were something about love, or starting ministry, or our neighbors, but they’re not. They’re Jesus, asking John to baptize him: “let it be so now.”
Baptism, we learn from the very beginning, is important.
Shortly after he’s baptized, a voice from heaven also comes. Besides Jesus himself, this is the first time that God speaks in the New Testament. Up to this point in the story, the Angel of the Lord has been doing all the talking for God. If you know your Old Testament, you know that God is quite chatty in the Hebrew Bible, but less so in the New Testament.
But here, God’s voice rains down from heaven at Jesus’ baptism: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Topher, this is important.
You will hear many voices in your life. Your dads will tell you that you are loved, and so will the rest of your family. We’re all excited to watch you grow and learn. You’re gonna be part of a big family, both blood family and Christ’s family. You are already so loved. And today is about that, but it’s about more than that, too.
Because as much as everyone in this room would like to shield you, you’re going to hear other voices, too. You’re going to hear people point out your flaws, tell you that you’ve failed, and tell you that you’re anything but beloved.
But today is about one very clear thing: you are beloved. You are beloved of God, and you are beloved of us, and you are part of a giant worldwide family called Christ’s church.
You are beloved, Topher.
There’s this guy from your dad Brandon’s home state of Minnesota. He’s a Lutheran and a a theologian and a rapper (weird, I know). And every night, he tucks in his son and he says these words that I want you to remember, especially when you don’t feel very loved: “You are God’s beloved, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Your dad Joseph and I went to college together. If you want any embarrassing stories about him when you grow up, track me down and I’ll tell you all the funny ones that my brain can remember, including how he started dating your dad Brandon and was super cute and smitten… and still, in many ways, is. You’re a lucky kid, Topher, and your parents love you.
Way back when we were in college, many, many moons ago, I ended up falling in love with liturgy and the Bible and pretty vestments in large part thanks to your dad Joseph. He was there when I preached my first sermon, and told me with a hearty Joseph laugh when I sat down that my first sermon was a full three and a half minutes long.
Though he was a year behind me in college, your dad Joseph patiently taught me about the sacraments, including baptism. He taught me a song that I still listen to on the hard days when I’m finding it difficult to hang on to my own belovedness. I’m sure he’ll share it with you too.
It goes like this: “Even when the rain falls / Even when the flood starts rising / ‘Cause even when the storm comes / I am washed by the water.”
This is the day, Topher, that you follow Jesus into the waters of baptism. This is the day that we all declare you beloved and welcome you into the family of God.
Whenever you touch water, remember that here, at your baptism on this day, the Baptism of the Lord Sunday, January 12, 2020, God declared you beloved, and God’s Word stands forever.
Whenever it rains, whenever you look out at the ocean, whenever you wash your hands (which you should do frequently, by the way), remember that you are God’s beloved, and there’s nothing you can do about it. No failure, no insult, nothing on earth can separate you from that love. You are washed by the water.
I don’t know what the world will look like when you grow up. I hope it’s a better place, somehow, once your parents and I and our generation are through with it. I know that you’ll grow up and make your mark on this world, too, and I can’t wait to watch. In the words of the musical Hamilton, I’m certain you’ll “blow us all away.”
But no matter what happens, dear one, you are washed by the water, here in 2020, when you are tiny, at very likely the largest gathering of Alabama natives anywhere in Washington state right now.
And you, people gathered in this place: the same is true for you. As Jesus was declared beloved as he began his life and ministry, so were you. You are washed by the water. Every time you come in contact with water, remember that you, too, are beloved, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
On this baptism of the Lord Sunday, remember that. As we remember how Jesus came up out of the water and began his ministry, remember your own ministry, your own baptism, your own belovedness.
We are washed by the water. Alleluia. Amen.