January 14, 2018

Baptism of Jesus, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling

Mark 1:4-11

Jesus baptism was his initiation into ministry.  When he came up out of the water, the voice in his head was quoting little pieces of the ancient coronation psalms, spoken in a personal way, “You are my child, my beloved.  This was the language used for God’s anointed.  Jesus must have felt that he was being anointed, chosen by God, to do special work.

We might say that he discovered his vocation.  Being an anointed one was what he was meant for, the reason he came.  Later, Christians would say he was THE anointed one, The messiah, and then later that he was “God incarnate, Son of God.”

I wonder sometimes if Jesus might have thought that was all a little much.  He wanted the people around him to know the God that was deep in his being, forming his identity, was in his disciples, too.  His first sermon would be “The reign of God is among you.”  I suspect he didn’t mean, “Just look at me.”  But look within yourself.  This Spirit, this descending dove, is coming on all of us.

If you hear anything else today, hear this: You, too, are beloved.  God’s precious child.  God is pleased with you, too. For all of us, our first calling is to be a child of God.  It is our primary vocation, our job, so to speak, is to be.

When I was in seminary, the graduating class chose the preacher for the closing Eucharist. We chose Dr. Rudolph Featherstone, one of the theology teachers, because he was one of our favorites.  I was working with the Dean of the Chapel, so I was in charge of the bulletin.  I called Dr. Featherstone and asked him what I should include about his accomplishments.  He said, “Just write, Rudolf Featherstone, child of God.”  I said, “Shouldn’t we put your title, at least?  Rev. Rudolph Featherstone? Or say what you teach?  Our parents are going to be there.  We want them to know how accomplished you are.” “Nope, Child of God.”

It’s taken me all these years to figure out what he was doing.  He was the only African American professor at a very white seminary, in a very white church. I suspect he was forcing us to acknowledge what the culture and the system often refused. All the titles; all the accomplishments; all the pedigrees don’t matter if we can’t trust that one basic thing:  We are ALL children of God FIRST.

He wasn’t being humble.  He was being prophetic, “A black man is a child of God.”  Dr. King called the nation to act as a “beloved community.”  Not a white nation.  Not a white and black nation.  Not a divided nation.  Not even, exactly, a nation as we tend to think of nation states, but a community, a beloved community. It can still be prophetic to call the global community a beloved community.  I don’t think everyone believes that.

When most of us hear the word “vocation,” we tend to think of our jobs, because in America making money or producing something is how we label our value.  Jeremy Posadas, who is a young and very promising scholar at Austin College in Texas, is writing a book that challenges the American Protestant Work Ethic, saying that work is not our very reason for being.  Our reason for being, as he says, is “to flourish with one another.”  Work plays a role in that, of course, but God did not make us first to be “workers.”  The image of God isn’t about work. It’s about flourishing, and it’s about creating the conditions in which all can flourish.  Enjoyment and health and safety and well-being are the echoes of the image of God played out in a beloved community.

The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word “vocare,” which means to call.  Our vocations are what we are called to be and do.

It’s too bad that we reserve the word “calling” for jobs in the church, or jobs that take a whole lot of passion or that just don’t make a lot of money so we have to find another justification.  Many of us may not think of our jobs as our calling.  But, what if we have it backwards?  Maybe we’re not called to a certain job, as if there is one thing that God wants us to do, and all we have to do is figure out what that is. Maybe our calling is to be a child of God as we do our work.  Our calling is to be a child of God as we parent.  Our calling is to be a child of God as a friend.  Our calling is to be a child of God in retirement.  Our calling is to be a child of God in the fifth grade.  Our calling is to be a child of God while unemployed. Our calling is to be a child of God while serving in elected office or at the bank.

We live our lives from this place where heaven and earth come together, this place where the heavens open and fill this world, this life that we have, with Spirit.

Luther understood this.  He saw the townspeople around him, struggling to do their trades, raise their families, and respond to the world in all its terror and disappointment, as the places where they were all ministers–serving God and their neighbor.  We are partners with God in creating, redeeming, making this earth a beloved and heavenly place.

What it means to have a vocation is to be faithful, honest, dependable, and compassionate in our work.  To be joyful and loving in our interactions.  To seek peace in the world; to speak well of our neighbors. To make sure whatever we do has a benefit for our neighbor.

So the question for our lives and our work isn’t necessarily, “Is this my calling? as if there is only one thing that we do, but “Does this contribute to a flourishing world for all?” “Am I being a disciple, a child of God?”

Over the next several weeks, we’re going to end each service with a blessing for different ways of being a disciple.  Today we’ll give thanks for baptism and for service in the church by recognizing Pat Derry’s change in title.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll bless all kinds of ways that we live out our vocation in the world.  We’re going to invite people to come into the aisle during the sending procession for these special blessings.  Some of you may find yourselves in multiple categories.  We hope the categories are big enough so that everyone will find a place somewhere.

Because all of us are called to be the anointed ones.  Maybe you’ll even hear an ancient coronation psalm, speaking to your heart, the heavens opening and Jesus saying to you:  You are, indeed, my beloved.  With you, I am well pleased.