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Isaiah 43:1-7
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

        If the secret to salvation is being a “good" person, Jesus wouldn’t have had to leave his workbench in Nazareth to make a long, dangerous journey.

        If religion is all about following the rules—doing good things, not doing bad things, and believing without doubt—Jesus wouldn’t have needed to make the steep descent through the barren ochre hills leading to the River Jordan.

        If meaning and inner peace are to be found by following our own path in our own style whenever we feel like it (or not), Jesus could have stayed in the comfort of his own home, on his own yoga mat, following the prompts of his favorite meditation app—instead of walking for days and then sinking down into that muddy brown water.

        If self-fulfillment comes from doing things our way, on our terms, taking full advantage of our status and privilege and relatively clean hands, being pretty sure we know what’s best, and having lots of cool stuff, Jesus never would have gathered on the riverbank with sinners and outcasts, the poor, the sick, the oppressed, the desperate, the homeless, the racists, and all those people who voted for the other guy.

        If discovering who we are and how we fit into this crazy world is a matter of simply following the directions and doing what’s expected of us, or at least what feels right, Jesus would have consulted his gut, his mother, his rabbi, his buddies, or maybe his horoscope—but not that wild-man relative of his who ate bugs, called people names, and told them to get right with God.

        And if the way to make ourselves feel worthy and needed and part of something is to keep busy, going going going, doing doing doing, constantly wearing ourselves out for others, Jesus might never have stopped long enough to pray. The Holy Spirit looking something like a dove might have failed to get his attention. Jesus might never have heard those tender words of love, belonging, and acceptance—words that changed his life, the world, and us.

        Oh, Jesus didn’t know everything; he was, after all, one of us. But he knew the most important things: That what he needed was outside him, beyond him—but also with him. That he needed to submit his will to God’s. That even if he was a good person—a really, really good person—he was the product of a bad system, a way of life built on power and privilege, greed and control, hatred and division. That change comes not from fighting the present or the past, but in surrendering to a love that wants to build a future of peace and plenty for all. That we can trust God’s love to gently transform the parts of us that interfere with God’s dream for us and all humanity.

        Jesus knew that we are all in this together. That we are all connected, all one.

        And so Jesus did not pass go. He did not assert his privilege. He did not book a seat in first class, go to the front of the line, ask for a waiver, or present his get-out-of-life-free card.

        Instead, he made that journey. Instead, he walked mile after dusty mile to get to that river. He saw himself in the sinners and the seekers, the lost and the left out—and he saw God’s love for them. And so he stood with them in love, in solidarity, and in humility.

        And when his turn came, he, too, asked for forgiveness and committed himself to change. He, too, opened himself to God’s mercy. He, too, submitted to John’s authority, and went down into the water.

        Jesus also was baptized.

        Jesus also was blessed. Jesus also was beloved. Jesus also belonged to God.

        And so do we, whether we have been baptized or not. The baptism just makes it official. The baptism simply consecrates what is true, giving us and everyone who loves us an opportunity to declare who and whose we are, to embrace the grace we have been given, to renounce all that would come between us and God, between us and who we were created to be.

        We also belong to God. We also are children of God, beloved. With us, God is also well pleased. We are precious in God’s sight.

        You are precious in God’s sight.

        Not because you are a “good” person—but because God is good, and true, and steadfast. Not because you have somehow earned God’s love—but because God created you and formed you, and God can’t help but love you, though you sometimes break her heart.

        We need not fear. You need not fear—not because the world isn’t a scary place, not because you can control anything, but because God’s got your back. God is with you through it all. When the way ahead is uncertain, God will make a way out of no way. When the darkness is about to overtake you, God’s light will shine. When you stop rushing and running and doing, even for a moment, you’ll see God showing off in a child’s joy or a partner’s eyes or a friend’s touch or a pet’s loving look or the sun coming up yet again.

        When you are broken in body or heart, burned by disappointment or rejection, weakened by age or despair, you will know that is not the end. When you are far from home or don’t even know where home is anymore, God’s love will gather you. When you feel the force of life carrying you to places and situations you never imagined, you will know the gift of grace.

        You, who were created for God’s glory. You, who were formed and made by the Holy One.

        You, we, all of us living, also are called by name. We also belong to God.

        And so Jesus calls us to come to the water, to be baptized into the light of Christ and, like him, clothed with the power of the Spirit and raised to new life in God. As Jesus’ identity and purpose were revealed through his baptism, so may ours be. Just as we recall Jesus’ baptism to see again who he is, we remember our own baptism to see more clearly, to be reminded who and whose we are, and to what great works of love and mercy we are called. Just as Jesus’ baptism inaugurated his ministry of radical love and self-giving, we remember that our own baptisms commission and empower us to live our own ministries of healing, teaching, renewal, reconciliation, liberation, resisting the darkness, and shining the light.

        We have some water here this morning—water from the tap of First Church Amherst mingled with a little water from the River Jordan.

        Our closing hymn will invite you to come to the feast of love and the water of life. After you receive communion you may come here—not to a river and not to the font (this is not a baptism)—but to this bowl of water and light and Spirit.

        If you have never been baptized, I hope you will consider how baptism could bless you, the church, and the world. Perhaps you could begin the journey today toward making that public commitment, letting all the world see that you belong to God.

        I invite all of you to come to the water for a blessing, to remember who and whose you are, to renew your promises to God and to Christ’s church, to re-claim your identity as God’s beloved, to know that with you God is well pleased, and to take full hold of the abundant life God wants for you.

        Come, as Jesus did. Be blessed and beloved, as Jesus was.
Come just as you are to renew your promise to follow Jesus.