Love is Who We Are
Baptism of our Lord, C-16
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
My three sons are busy figuring out who they want to be—and it’s no joke. Freedom, future and opportunity have become something sharp and cutting for them, as they get ready to take possession of these gifts of life for themselves.
What do they say no to—and to what do they say yes? Which friends? What subjects? Where for college? The resolution of life-questions takes on heightened meaning when the answers begin to be our own.
As proud parents, Kari and I are vicariously reliving our adolescence along with them—the beautiful, terrifying, sad, lonely, confusing, and wonderful days of youth. I wonder what memories come to mind for you? When has life so changed that familiar routines of the past offer little or no guidance for the future?
Of course, as my three sons are working out what they want, they are also uncovering who they are. They are sketching the outlines of their character and values with each succession of yes’s and no’s. That’s what we come to learn, isn’t it? Through all the change, the one lasting and most important thing we possess is who we are.
As Christians, we learn from Jesus that love is who we are. Who and what we give ourselves to is what ultimately defines us. As Christians, we know all our yes’s and no’s find their proper direction in alignment with God’s yes in baptism. The most beautiful life it is possible for us to live begins and ends with uncovering who we are in God.
God’s words to Jesus, “You are my son,” is God’s graceful Living Word for you: ‘You are my child, a member of my beloved community, a living sanctuary of hope and grace in the midst of a dark world, with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22b)
We wash ourselves daily in the renewing power of these words in the water of our baptism. Brother Luther has said, “A truly Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism once begun and ever to be continued” (Large Catechism). Day by day, through all our yes’s and no’s the old self is drowned, replaced by the Holy Spirit with new life in Christ. Love is who we are.
We are gathered today with people who are On The Way who have been led by God’s Spirit to affirm their baptism. We celebrate this calling in them for renewal and strengthening of faith and are confident through their journey among us God will breathe new life in our community.
God uses the hinge-points in our lives, as we move between the chapters of what is familiar to something new. God accompanies us through life’s journey waiting for the teachable moments when we are open to grace.
Truly, as finite and contingent beings we are always in motion. We are having to deal with life without Luis. Or we are preparing for new opportunities in mission in the ministry center. Or we are exploring ways to open our hearts and our church to our Hispanic neighbors. We are coping with whatever is going on in our lives and in the wider community.
God walks with us. God accompanies us through life’s journey. In baptism, God promises to work with us through all our yes’s and no’s, to renew our strength, to restore our hope, to make us better, more generous, more compassionate, and to give us peace—because love is who we are.
God is the one in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). ELCA Bishop of the Minneapolis-area Synod, the Rev. Ann Svennungsen, writes ‘the voice of grace is the abiding melody that runs through our lives.’ Here in worship, we find some respite from all the noise and “hear anew the abiding melody” of “God’s unconditional love.” What is the melody running through your life now? Listen for the abiding melody of God’s love, in your life and in this congregation, in water, word, wine and bread. (Daniel Hazard, Affirmed by Love, Beloved, be Love) Beloved, love is who you are.
The abiding melody to which we dance makes sense of all our yes’s and no’s is the Spirit of God. Unfortunately, this word spirit has come to mean something nondescript and shapeless, like an unmade bed.
“School spirit, the American spirit, the Christmas spirit, the spirit of Chicago, the Holy Spirit – each of these points to something you know is supposed to get you to your feet cheering but which you somehow can’t rise to.” (Frederick Buechner, Weekly Sermon Illustration)
Like its counterparts in Hebrew and Greek, the Latin word spiritus originally meant breath, and breath is what you have when you’re alive and don’t have when you’re dead. Thus spirit = breath = life, is a measure of the aliveness and power of your life, and to speak of a person’s spirit (or soul) is to speak of the power of life that is in them. When the spirit of someone we meet is unusually strong, the life in them unusually alive, they can breathe it out into other lives, become literally in-spiring. (Frederick Buechner)
God is Spirit, says the Apostle John (4:24). Thus God is the power of life itself, has breathed and continues to breathe God’s own life into creation, literally in-spires it. This spirit of God, Holy Spirit, Holy Ghost, is highly contagious. When Peter and his friends were caught up in it at Jerusalem on Pentecost, everybody thought they were drunk even though the sun hadn’t yet climbed past midday (Acts 2). They were. (Frederick Buechner) Because this spirit, this life in God, the true self of who you are, and have always been in God’s eyes, is at its core, love itself.
In baptism God works through our yes’s and no’s, through all the changes and challenges to renew your life in love. There’s nothing you can do to make God love you more; and there’s nothing you can do to make God love you less. All you can do is let the Spirit lead you into the unique form of love becoming love called “me.” (Richard Rohr)
Through all our striving, little by little and all at once, the Holy Spirit has shown us who we really want to be is who we are in God. As a proud parent, this is my prayer for all my children. As your pastor, it is my prayer for you.
In Marilynn Robinson’s lovely book, Gilead, a dying old preacher writes a long letter to his very young son for when the boy grows up, long after he is gone. He writes, “There is a reality in blessing, which I take baptism to be, primarily. It doesn’t enhance sacredness, but it acknowledges it, and there is a power in that.”
Jesus commanded we be baptized so that this power might finally work a new knowledge in us, so we might know who we really are and what our life is worth. (Matthew 28) We baptize to participate more fully in the mysterious presence of the undying life that even now draws us together, into a living sanctuary of hope and grace.