The other weekend, Annie and I went to see the new Star Wars movie. It’s the last of the series of movies that have been grouped into three trilogies, and this final trilogy follows the main character, Rey, in her discovery of her force powers, her calling as a Jedi, and how she saves the galaxy from evil—more or less. But a huge part of this otherwise massively heroic plotline is Rey’s search for her parents.
Now, I’ll skip over the specifics in case anyone hasn’t seen it yet and doesn’t want any spoilers, but the discovery of her identity—her lineage, her parents, who she is—has a major impact on her. Being able to name who she is, being able to define that identity, also helps shape who she’ll become, what her destiny will look like, how her actions are shaped. Identity, being able to name who we are, matters. And it matters more than just what you call yourself.
Without using your name, I want y’all to answer this question: Who are you? Take a moment to think about it. Who are you? We can have a lot of answers to that question. It might be the role we most identify with: parent, student, farmer, truck driver, teacher. It might be a quality: strong, kind, level-headed, industrious. It might be something we hope to do or to be. Or it might be something else entirely. But the way that you answer that question is part of your identity. It says what’s important to you about who you are.
When Jesus went down to the river to be baptized by John, his identity is what came out of it. It’s an odd little exchanged that happens between him and John. John knows who he is; he knows Jesus’ identity. He’s the Messiah—there was no good reason why John, so much lowlier than God’s anointed, should baptize him. It should be the other way around! But Jesus knew his identity too. It needed to be done, because people needed to see what kind of Messiah God was giving them. So John did it.
And then the heavens opened up. And the Holy Spirit descended like a dove. And a voice spoke: “This is my son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” God was declaring who Jesus was to everyone there, including Jesus. Not just a Messiah, but God’s own beloved Son.
Theologians are pretty quick to point out just how different Jesus’ baptism is from our own. After all, Jesus didn’t need to be forgiven of any sin, because he didn’t have any. He didn’t need to be filled with the Holy Spirit, because he was already one with the Trinity. His baptism, so it goes, was a symbolic act of solidarity with us. But I want to challenge that. Sure, all of those things may be true, but one thing is exactly the same between his baptism and ours—it names who we are. In baptism, as much for Jesus as for us, God tells the world what our identity is.
And that identity is as a beloved child of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. You are a beloved child of God, called to make God’s kingdom known, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to make a difference in the world.
Baptism isn’t a one-off event. So much of the time, we understand baptism as this thing that happened years ago when we were too young to remember it. It’s a day when we were put into a funny little white gown and doused with water; our parents took pictures and maybe there was cake afterward. But baptism is more than just an event that happened once upon a time. Baptism is the event that makes our lives as Christians happen.
Martin Luther said that, because of our baptisms, we can die to sin and rise to new life every single day. The ongoing effect of baptism is to gird us in our struggle to follow God’s commands and live the way we are called to live. Baptism is the water that brings new life not just once, but every single day. And baptism is the bath that makes us find our identity not in any kind of worldly expectation or temporal occupation or fleeting personality trait, but in the eternal promise of God that you are a beloved child, called to make the kingdom known, and empowered by the Spirit to make a difference.
And that difference looks like living differently. It looks like modeling what the kingdom of God looks like to the world. We can see it in the description of the servant in Isaiah: “a bruised reed they will not break, and a dimly burning wick they will not quench; they will faithfully bring forth justice.” The world has no patience for broken reeds or dimly burning wicks—whether it’s Puerto Rican families grappling with earthquakes or opioid addicts going to recovery again. But we, children of God, called to make the kingdom known, empowered by the Spirit to make a difference—we heal the reeds and give oil to the wicks. We are called to share God’s kingdom by lifting up the lowly and bringing justice to the forgotten parts of the world.
We will hear all about this identity as we continue to read from Matthew’s gospel. Jesus describes what it means to be a child of God when he climbs up the mountain and starts giving that world-altering sermon “blessed are the poor in spirit…” It all starts with baptism, where we are named children of God. It begins in the waters that free us from the power of sin and give us a new identity, one that points us toward the hope of the entire world. And from that point on, God will always call us to share that identity with the world, so that God’s goodness will be made known throughout the world.
Identity matters. And it’s good that God has told us who we are, and has shown us what that means in Jesus’ life and teaching. It’s part of our identity as Christians to continue learning what that means for our lives and the lives of those around us. So let’s go into the world remembering that we are beloved children of God, called to make God’s kingdom known, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to make a difference in the world.
Thanks be to God. Amen.