Isaiah 43:1-7

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Three years in Jesus’ future, when it became clear that the path of faithfulness was going to lead through an agonizing death, when the Roman soldiers laughed and spat at him for being the wrong kind of king, I can imagine that he might have struggled to hold onto this scene when the heavens opened and the Spirit came down in the body of a dove. We can assume that he did never lose his sense of himself as a beloved child of God, because we say that he was without sin – and sin is what we call the violation of our identity as God’s beloved children. But we also know, from Luke’s gospel, that Jesus spent the night before his blasphemy of a trial praying so hard he cried blood. We know that as Luke tells the story, Jesus was desperate for a reminder of who he was and who God had put him in flesh to be. Was he closing his eyes and hoping that the image of that dove was still burned on the back of his eyelids somehow?

Martin Luther recommended that we always remember our baptism – not that I can remember mine or he could probably remember his – remember that we are claimed as God’s beloved children and nothing (not even the church) can ever take that away. That was an especially important idea for someone who was at odds with almost every religious authority (and many secular ones) he came across. It might be important for us when we’re led to live or speak out in ways that run against the grain of popular opinion. As God’s beloved children, we are under nobody’s power or judgment.

Of course, that’s not to say that we’re exempt from criticism. Godsownself will say yes or no to our behavior, just as any good parent should. But remember our Children’s Story: Mama never stopped loving her daughter, even when she was upset or scared. Even if a human parent would forget how to love his or her children (and this happens sometimes), God doesn’t. We’re not God’s children because of what we do or don’t do, we are because God loved us first.

In The Shack, we got to meet a God who had such special love for each of her children. She’d always say, “I’m especially fond of” so-and-so. At first you only hear it about the main character’s deceased daughter, but then you realize that God says that about everybody. To our ears, that sounds disingenuous, like God is some divine politician trying to be everybody’s best friend. Or maybe it just sounds trite, the kind of thing American Protestants might really like to believe about their God. But just stop and think about what it would actually mean to be especially fond of each person in the world. Each of us, with our ideas and our flaws and our gifts and our worries – God loves us especially. God loves who we are, in all of our specialness, in a way that God can only love us in particular: that’s especial.

When we stop and think about baptism, we sometimes miss that part where it’s absolutely rooted in God’s love. The symbolism is against us here, because it sure looks a lot like the act of washing off your sin. It is that, of course, but it’s much more. It’s a new creation, the way God created the world by raising up dry land from the waters or the way He created the people of Israel by leading them through the Red Sea and the Jordan River. It’s rebirth, for people who need to become God’s children again and again. It’s Jesus’ death and resurrection, which he showed us when he himself descended into the water and rose up again. If it’s tricky to think about why a sinless person would have to be baptized, that’s because his baptism – our baptism – isn’t primarily about washing away sin. It’s about being marked as God’s beloved child. Jesus wears that sign, in a dove that tore down from the open heavens and pronounced him God’s Son. We wear it too, even if it’s harder to see our doves.

So that’s why the font is up here on the chancel today. I want to make the memory of our baptisms more prominent for awhile. It’s at least as important as the table it’s next to, right up here where you can all see it. But it doesn’t only belong up here on this chancel (neither does the table, as it happens). It belongs down on the main floor with the main part of the church (and up in the balcony with the hangers-on, and behind me in the choir loft). It belongs by the door where we come in, and back in the South Room. This symbol could live in many places, and for the next few weeks, we’ll play “find the font” as we explore some of the symbol.

There are many different meanings to baptism, and it has many different implications for our lives. In a way, we explore a new meaning of baptism every week, even beyond this series where I want to bring them out more clearly. Baptism means that we are God’s people. Being God’s people is our basic identity, even as it calls us to live in certain particular ways. Some among us are called to spend the next few years in service as deacons and elders, and we give thanks for the service of some others. Anything we’re called to do flows out of this basic identity as God’s children. We are baptized. Nothing else can make that kind of claim on us.

The offertory is coming up in a moment. While the offering is collected, I invite you (if you’re so moved) to come and receive a blessing again at this font. This is the symbol that we are God’s beloved children. Nothing can ever separate us from that love. Thanks be to God.