Living in the Grey—Why do we Die to Live?
Matthew 3:13-17 Rev. Leta C Arndt Behrens
We begin a new series today-Living in the Grey, throughout epiphany we want address how these stories we will hear speak to how we live as Christians in this time and place in history. Much of what we see and hear about Christianity ‘in the world’ through the media, defines us in very black and white terms—this is from the expression that said if it was in print then it was clear and well defined. These ways we are described are not always true and they are often not how we actually live or express our faith. Defining who we are, or who we are not, as Christians is seldom black/white. We still search for meaning and for definitions of who we are. We still long for knowledge of how to best life our lives. Living in the Grey is about the reality of what it means to continue to struggle, as all generations have, to live into God’s definition of life instead of our own or the world’s.
Our question today, why do we die to live, centers around baptism and how Paul writes in Romans that we die in baptism with Jesus and raise to new life. There are some who struggle with this story of Jesus being baptized. A very black and white definition of baptism states that it is for the forgiveness of sin—original sin that is a part of who we are as humans and if Jesus was sinless, then why would he need to be baptized? And Jesus baptism is in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. So it was remembered as significant in the life of Jesus. And so here is a first step into the grey—where we open our ears and hearts to the telling of Jesus’ baptism, not as a way to get a black and white definition of what happened that day, but instead as a way for us to understand how God is revealed—shows up—then and now. We ask the question—What are the definitions from the world that Jesus was releasing from himself and what new revealing definition of God does he bring?
We just celebrated Christmas, the declaration that God is human-a very big way for God to show up. God becomes human and takes on a new name—Emmanuel, God with us, and in the baptism of Jesus, another naming occurs—God names Jesus: Beloved. Naming is powerful and important in scripture. Names are given and changed to show a new thing is being done. Our names connect us to our past, history of our families, they ground us in the present as we live out and into our name, and they indicate a future, an ongoing tie to generations to come. One of the most powerful naming stories I have been a part of was a young girl here who was adopted into a family and then able to be baptized. This child had lived in several foster homes and had many ups and downs in her few years. So when she was adopted and made into the daughter and sister of a forever family she wanted a new name. I am not sure what she experienced in having this desire, but when she told me, I was overcome with feeling that the Spirit was here, that God in this name change really was showing up to do a new thing in her life. With the help of her family, she picked a new name and in her baptism her new name was announced and the waters poured on her head were waters that renewed and sealed her new life. Still, that was not the only name or the most important name she received that day. She also received the name- Beloved.
Yes, Baptism washes away sin, Baptism ALSO promises ongoing forgiveness of sin and relationship with God. These are both central and vital to our understanding of baptism as a sacrament. That this is a way that God is still showing up. But baptism also provides something more: a name – Beloved – a name that is not a description, it is a definition, an identity – child of God, one to whom God promises to remain committed to forever, sealed and marked with this love always.
We live in a time where I dare to say that this name Beloved has never been more important. There are so many voices, entities, governments, companies wanting to name us and by that name define us: American or foreigner, liberal or conservative, rich or poor, in or out. The products we buy and use seek to do the same thing; are you an iPhone or android, starbucks or dutch brothers, a nike or adidas, the list can go on and on. While all these things are not good or bad in and of themselves and they may even describe us in one way or another, they also try to lay claim on us in a way that can t push aside the spirit of God. All these brands, all these labels, all these ways of being named and identified have the potential to suck us into believing they are truth about us.
The thing is, that this is exactly what we die to in baptism. We die to the idea that things of the world define us. We die to the idea baptism is just a nice quaint ritual that we do for the sake of our grandparents. We die to the idea that we are separate from God here and now. We die to the idea that God is less and we are more. And instead, as Jesus is raised to life, we are raised to a life that is first blessed, held by the Holy Spirit and defines us as Beloved.
Baptism matters because it tells us again and again who we are and whose we are. This definition is not once, it is daily, it is all the time. The very next verses in Matthew tell us of Jesus being led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tested— after he is baptized, after he is named. When we remember we are sealed by the Holy Spirit, when we remember that we too are named Beloved, then we can live and face all life brings, knowing we are God’s child and that everything else that competes for attention and definition and loyalty is far less than who we really are.
See, Living in the Grey does not mean not being clear on anything—we are quite clear on who and whose we are. Living in the grey, means living into all the possibilities that God lays open for us in life here and now. Living into this kind of definition is not easy. It takes practice. It takes showing up and reminding yourself that God shows up too. Sometimes it takes physically putting water on your head and repeating the promise, I am sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the Cross of Christ forever. It can take knowing that we are often conditioned to see the negative, focus on the negative in ourselves and others and being conscious to express gratitude. It takes turning those negative thoughts and feelings that churn inside, you have your own, but things like: I am not lovable, I am stupid, I don’t have enough, I am worthless and interrupting them and turning them around to what God says: I am infinitely loved, I have a mind of Christ, I have all I need, I am precious and honored in God’s sight. Living in the grey, it does take practice, it takes being awake to ourselves and the Spirt of God. Also, it means we have a place to rest, a promise to hold us. Rest in the awareness that you are already and forever without any effort or doing or achievement or anything on your own part, a beloved child of God.