Grace and peace to you, my sisters and brothers in Christ.
I haven’t gone shopping much since Laila was born, but I’ve seen enough advertisements to know that the school shopping season has already come. In only another month, kids will be returning to school. The summer seems to have flown by!
As a child, I was usually ready to go back to school. The summer would get long and boring, and I would be eager to see my friends again. I was like most kids and none too eager for homework and assignments again, but I found school fun enough. But there will be some who dread the return. Some kids will be returning to a social sphere that is difficult and dangerous. They may be left out and bullied: made to feel worthless and lacking socially, physically, or intellectually.
It’ll be all too soon when I’ll be bringing Laila to school. As I look at Laila, and (as I think of 10 week old Kinley Larck who will be baptized at Our Savior today) at Kinley, whom we’ll welcome in baptism today, I’m rather scared. At their age, we can hold and protect and shield these little ladies. They may not understand our words, but we can tell them that they are loved through all we do. But, they’ll grown older, and more independent, and they’ll have to face a world in which sin has made life painful.
It’s not only schoolchildren who face a daunting world. Bullying continues in our adult relationships. Whether it’s the media or our neighbors, we still hear that we’re not good enough, rich enough, smart enough, or beautiful enough. People have screamed in my face about everything they think is wrong with me. I have been haunted by those memories and focused on my failings. It’s hard to shake those words of judgement and rejection. They become part of my internal narrative, the story of who I think I am. I come to think of myself as a failure when that is what I am told.
One theory describing what it means to be a person explains that we are our relationships, both good and bad, those we have chosen and those we have not. We are the interconnections, the web of people around us. If there are people in that web plucking the strings with judgment of our failings, it only makes sense that the vibrations lead us to a sense of worthlessness. These shake us with messages that we are inadequate, unworthy of love.
As a friend and a parent, I hope that the messages of love and worth that I speak would be enough to outweigh the negative ones reverberated in the ears and hearts of those I love. Is this something you hope, too? Maybe then you’ve also come to realize that we don’t always have the power to outweigh those other voices. Have you found yourself like me, holding a loved one, crushed by words and judgement you have no power to erase?
The Apostle Paul’s words in Romans point to God as the one who has the power to transform our experience of this life and its judgements. It acknowledges the causes of pain: hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, and declares that none of this will separate us from the love of Christ. Not even those things which appear to have ultimate control: death, life, angels, rulers, past and future, powers, height, depth, anything on this earth, will have the power to separate us from the love of Christ. God speaks the one Word who has the power to break through all the other messages with the love that can heal the hurt they cause.
If we are at the center of our web and all those with whom we have any sort of relationship are around us, with their own strings connected to us, through which they send us messages about our value, then Jesus is the ring closest to us, surrounding us, through which all those other strings have to pass before they connect to us. Jesus filters those messages. Jesus doesn’t stop them from coming to us, but speaks his own message alongside them. If it is a message revealing your fault, Jesus has a message of forgiveness for you. If it is a message of rejection, Jesus tells you that you have been chosen, and that he died so that you would be restored to a relationship with him.
Jesus’ messages are truer than any others. They are based in his actions for us. Jesus knows what it is to be rejected and devalued. When we experience those things, Jesus can truly be compassionate, and suffer alongside us. Jesus will never abandon us in our rejection, but comes to us with a new experience that is birthed out of his own death and resurrection.
Paul, in Romans, speaks of Jesus as the “firstborn within a large family” (verse 29). In baptism, God brings each of us into that family. Today, Kinley will be claimed as a sister of Jesus, our sister, and a daughter of God. She will be set into a new web of relationships, in which her identity and value is held securely by Jesus.
Baptism removes us from this world of judgment. We often speak of baptism as dying to our old life of sin, being united with Jesus in his death, and being united with Jesus in his rising, to a new life, clothed in the righteousness of Jesus, freed from sin and death forever. I don’t think we always focus on the way in which baptism takes us out of this world and transfers us into the kingdom of God. We might think of our place in the kingdom as a future hope of life in heaven after we die. But this transfer takes place right now and is what makes possible our living through the hell our lives can sometimes become.
We receive a new identity in baptism, and a new source of our worth. In your baptism, you have been made a child of God, forgiven and much loved. You have been transferred from being a citizen of this world, to being a citizen of the kingdom of God. Your worth is that of Jesus. You’re not just Carmen/ Shane- whose worth is based on good deeds, income, family, and favors. In this kingdom of God, you’re Jesus. Jesus has put on you his own holiness, his own favor with God. You’re worth is based on Jesus. This is something God has done for you because of Jesus, and will never be reversed, no matter what you do or say, or what other people do to you, or say about you.
There is so much in our lives, in our interactions with people, that condemns and judges us. Through Jesus, God changes that. Not that we are always perfect, or that suddenly everyone loves us. What changes is where our identity is centered. It’s no longer our reputation, our riches, or the rewards we give to others. Our worth and our identity is grounded in Jesus.
As we baptize Kinley, and look forward to her growing up- this is perhaps one of the most important messages we have. We have only to look around us, turn on the news, to hear how cruel this world is, especially to our young people. Jesus raises us up out of the experiences of judgement this world is all to eager to offer. Through Jesus, we are raised up out of the waters of our baptism. Water drips off of us, as we shed the power of the world to name us as “unworthy” or “failure.” God names us as beloved child, worthy of God’s own incarnation and self-sacrifice.
This water, and this promise, this Jesus and this love, this is the gift that sustains and protects and heals. It is a gift given today to Kinley, and given today and every day, to you. May you find joy in living as a baptized child of God, beloved and of great worth.
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