Sermon Delivered at The Local Church
January 9, 2022 • Baptism of the Lord Sunday C
Scripture: Isaiah 43:1–7, Luke 3:15–17, 21–22
In 1930, the famous economist John Maynard Keynes published an essay about the future. It was called, “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” and in this essay, written at the start of the Great Depression, Keynes made a bold prediction. He wrote, essentially, that within the next 100 years, because of all of the advancements to industry and technology and the growth of wealth to come, no one was going to have to work more than fifteen hours per week. And it would only be that much, Keynes said, because a person needs to work in order to feel content. They’d do it not because they had to, but because it would give them some satisfaction in contributing to society.
He wrote, “In quite a few years—in our own lifetimes I mean—we may be able to perform all the operations of agriculture, mining, and manufacture with a quarter of the human effort to which we have been accustomed.” But Keynes warned that, as wonderful as this is, it would actually leave us with a different and much more challenging problem. It basically boiled down to this: What are we supposed to do with all of the free time that we have?
Which raises another question: How are we doing? Are we getting close? We still have about eight years before we hit that century mark… Plenty of time.
So that was his bold prediction, but he wasn’t wrong — at least with regard to the technological advancements and progress of industry and science and manufacturing. We can carry entire film studios in our pockets, chat face-to-face with people on the other side of the world. You can participate in worship from home. We have the Metaverse and NFTs (and somebody’s going to have to explain it all to me). We developed a vaccine for COVID within a year. It’s mind-blowing.
But where he was wrong was his assumption that all of that progress would lead to leisure. To just kicking back. To contentment and free time.
Instead, we created a different problem: It was never enough.
It’s like when a new technology promises that with this shiny new product, you’ll be able to do whatever it is in half the time. And we buy into that thinking that we’ll have all this time to relax, and watch Succession or Outlander, and read our Bibles. We’d probably pray more, too. But instead, what we do is just… fill it with more. We end up not doing half as much as we used to, but instead twice as much.
This is exactly what happened to the future that Keynes predicted. Instead of all this leisure time, we bought into the idea that even with our needs met, it wasn’t enough. We realized that we could keep going. If we just cut some costs here and made improvements in efficiency there — better, faster, stronger — we could fill it with more. We could accrue more influence and capital. And chances are good that even then, it wouldn’t be enough.
This is not just about the economy. This is about us. These are the waters we’re swimming in each day. Because from an early age, this is the message drilled into us. I’ve bought into it, too. It’s never enough. I’m never enough. There’s always more.
You need to be doing more to prepare your kid for school.
They need to be playing more sports or performing better to get that scholarship.
They need to have more extracurriculars or community service for that college application that leads to a better school which leads to a better career which leads to more money.
And it’s not just about education and achievement and money.
You could be more popular.
Get more sleep.
Have more of an aesthetic on Instagram.
You could gain more followers.
Have more quality relationships.
Spend more time working out.
Be more intentional about being present with your family.
You could be more productive.
Get more accomplished.
Eat more vegetables.
Be more organized.
Read more books.
And if one more person lectures me on the need for more self-care…
On Christmas Day, once our breakfast had been eaten and the presents had been torn open and batteries inserted and toys played with, Emma and I settled down to watch a movie, and we chose the new Disney film, Encanto.
It’s set in Colombia, and it’s the story of Mirabel Madrigal and her family who live together in a magical, enchanted house. Each member of the family has a special gift they use to help the surrounding village. One has the gift of a shapeshifter. One has super-strength. One has super-hearing. One makes things beautiful. One can cook food that is healing. Each one has a gift — except Mirabel for some reason.
The music is fantastic, too. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the songs, and there’s one song in particular — probably the best one if I had to pick — that demonstrates this whole idea of “never enough” and feeling like there’s always more. It’s called “Surface Pressure,” and it’s sung by Mirabel’s sister Luisa whose gift is super strength. A friend sent me these images from the song on Instagram along with the caption, “Luisa is all of us.”
Luisa is all of us. This is our story. I don’t know about you, but I resonate so much with this song and with Luisa because I am her. I mean, not the super-strength part… but everything else.
Again and again, we are fed the lie that there’s never enough, and we’ve internalized it. We’ve taken it on. It’s not just that there’s a nebulous something out there that’s never enough. Instead, it’s us. We’re not enough. We’re never enough. There could always be more.
“I’m worthless if I can’t be of service.”
“Who am I if I don’t have what it takes?”
And this is precisely why we need today.
Today, in the church calendar, we celebrate Baptism of the Lord Sunday. Each year it falls on the Sunday after Epiphany. And on Baptism of the Lord Sunday, we hear the story of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River — this year from Luke’s gospel, Luke’s biography of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
The story opens with John at the Jordan. Remember, John is Jesus’ cousin, the one who was sent to prepare the way of the Lord. We talked about him in Advent. And that’s what he’s doing here. He’s preparing the way for Jesus, saying to those who had gathered, “Look, I’m baptizing you with water, but the one who’s coming will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” In other words, what I’m doing is nothing compared to what he’s going to be able to do. What you’re getting from me is symbolizing something new but when he comes, it’ll actually make you new — heart, mind, soul… everything.
For the Jewish people, baptism was a ritual act of cleansing or preparation, and it also served as an act symbolizing conversion to Judaism. It was about forgiveness and repentance. Initiation into a community. That’s what it was about when John baptized those who had gathered. They were likely Gentile converts.
But when Jesus is baptized, the meaning of baptism is enlarged. It’s expanded. It takes on a new dimension. It still represents a cleansing and repentance and belonging — an acknowledgment that something new is taking place, but there’s something else that happens, too. When Jesus is baptized, he’s given his identity.
“When Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”
At his baptism, Jesus is given his identity: that of God’s own child with whom God is well pleased. He’s called “Beloved.”
There’s nothing conditional about it. It’s not contingent on anything. It just is. He can’t earn any more of it, and it can’t be taken away. This is who Jesus is: Beloved.
And the same is true for us.
On Baptism of the Lord Sunday, we remember that this is who Jesus is — the Beloved son of God with whom God is well pleased. Wholly and unconditionally. But we also remember our own baptisms, too. That’s part of what makes today today.
We remember our baptism. If you’ve been baptized, whether it happened as an infant or when you were older, with a whole lot of water — dunked and immersed — or with just a sprinkling, we believe that what happened is that you were baptized into the body of Christ. In other words, in the mystery of faith, we are baptized into Christ — with Jesus. And as a result, we can lay claim to that same identity, Beloved, because God claims us.
And it’s so important for us to remember today — barely over a week into this new calendar year. Moreover, this is what the church has to offer this world: in a world that often seems like it’s gone off the rails, amidst all the uncertainty and striving, the relentless never enough-ness of this life, one thing that is certain in that you are beloved. That God has called you by name and said, “You are mine.” That, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, you are precious in God’s sight, and God says, “I love you. I am with you. You are my beloved, and with you, I am well pleased.”
This is the scandal of it all. In baptism, God’s love was declared over you — before you did anything. Before you took your first breath or said your first word or learned to walk or got behind the wheel of a car or graduated high school or landed your first job or got that promotion or made that sale or bought that house or held your newborn or said goodbye to a career or played with your grandchildren or took your final breath… before it all and in it all, God said, “You are my beloved.”
And when everything fell to pieces or you felt that twinge of shame or you lost your cool and weren’t your best self or you were at your breaking point or you had a hard time giving yourself some love, in all of that, too, God says, “You are my beloved.”
There’s nothing to earn. That love can’t be taken away. It won’t run out. Just as you are, right now, and tomorrow, and the next day and the next, God loves you. And God is proud of you. And God delights in you. God says, “You are my beloved and with you, I am well pleased.”
Normally at this point in a sermon, I’d circle back and pick up a thread from a previous section and weave it through. For instance, I really want to talk about how the ending of Encanto offers the perfect way to wrap this message today. It really does. But I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t seen it. Make sure you have your tissues ready is all I’ll say. Once you’ve watched it, let me know, and I’ll give you this sermon’s alternate ending.
Instead, here’s how I’ll end. Here’s the truth I want you to carry with you into this new year. Don’t wait until you have all that leisure time in 2030 to sit with this. Let it linger now.
Your identity isn’t rooted in what you can do. In who your friends are. Your number of Instagram followers. It’s not about how much money you make or your GPA or what kind of car you drive or how productive you are or how clean your house is or how much sleep you get or how much you can bench or how many emails you can respond to or your batting average or how many minutes of mindfulness you do each day.
Listen to me. Hear this good news: Your identity is rooted in the God who loves you more than you will ever know. Always. Always. Always. It really is that simple. That’s the promise spoken over you at baptism. That’s what we remember today. Even if there are times when you want to ignore it or run away from it or deny it, this is the truth: You are God’s beloved, and with you, God is well pleased.
So remember your baptism, and be thankful. Amen.