Who are you? Whose are you?
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
I heard a story recently about a young actor. He had been out of work for a while, and saw an advert for a job in a zoo. It wasn’t a normal zoo job; no mucking out of cages, or selling ice cream to visitors, the job was to be one of the monkeys. Clearly this zoo had fallen on hard times, and had decided that, rather than buy real monkeys - which, after all, are expensive, and have to be bought in from overseas, with all the complex paperwork that requires - they would hire an actor to dress up and be a monkey.
That sounded like more fun than working in McDonalds, so the actor applied for the job - and he got it. So, a week later he found himself behind the bars of a cage in the zoo, wearing a monkey suit, being watched by hundreds of visitors who were delighted to see what seemed to them to be a real, live monkey.
At first he just sat there, but that got boring, and he could tell that his visitors weren’t very impressed either. So he started jumping about a bit - and people loved it. After a while he worked up a whole routine of swinging from the bars, climbing the trees and bouncing around in a convincingly monkey-like way. As he got better at swinging and climbing, he became more confident and adventurous, and one day he tried something new, a huge leap off a tree branch. He leapt, but he misjudged the jump and went much higher than he had expected, up and over the bars of his cage, landing in the cage next door - which, it turned out, was the lion enclosure. And there, padding towards him, is a huge lion. He looks to see if he can climb back out of the cage, but there’s no way to do that, so he looks to see if there’s an exit, but not surprisingly the doors are all locked. And the lion is getting closer, and it definitely looks like its hungry, and he decides the only thing he can do is to shout for help.
But the lion by now is very, very close - and the young actor can feel his breath on his cheek and he closes his eyes, waiting for the lion to bite. Instead though, he hears a voice, and it’s coming from the lion……’shut up, you’ll get us both fired!’
We’re all hiding behind masks of one sort or another.
We’re all scared that we’ll be found out one day.
We all have times when we feel like we’re playing a role for other people, or when we’re not really sure who we are.
We are all aware of the different voices and forces that want us to be like this, or to be like that; external voices that say we should look like them, or behave like them, and internal voices that say we’re only good enough if we do X or don’t do Y.
Today we remember Jesus’ baptism and hear again who we are, and whose we are. We get to hear that we are God’s beloved and that we belong to him, and to him alone.
We have baptisms here in church, sometimes in our main services, and more often in the afternoon. These are wonderful celebrations of the life of the person being baptised. But baptism is so much more than just a chance to say ‘yay, baby!’. Baptism is when we discover who we are and whose we are.
It’s hard to explain this to the parents of a beautiful new born, but when we’re baptised we die. When the water is poured over us or, if we’ve gone for a full immersion, we plunge under the water, we are dying to our old selves. St Paul, writing to the church in Rome, puts it like this, ‘we are buried in baptism into death in order that, just as Jesus Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.’
In baptism we are losing an old life and gaining a new life. We no longer belong to the world, the flesh or the devil. Those voices that tell us stuff that isn’t true have no power over us. The forces that try to shape our lives for purposes other than God’s are just whispers in the wind. We have died and we have risen again. Now we belong to Christ and we are his forever.
It’s why, before the baptism itself, the person being baptised is marked with a sign of the cross on their forehead with the words - Christ claims you for his own. Receive the sign of the cross. Do not be ashamed of Christ. You are his for ever. You are his forever.
Who are you? You are God’s beloved child.
Whose are you? You belong to Christ.
Jesus knew that he was loved by God. That’s who Jesus is, that’s what makes him Jesus - he knows in every particle and atom of his being that he is entirely and completely loved by his Father. And as a result he is entirely free - free from any worries about status, about having to compete, about which voices to listen to and which to ingore; free from any need to put on a mask; free from any fears about who he is and whose he is. He knows he belongs to his Father and that he is his Father’s beloved. That’s who he is.
And so he steps freely out into the world, with all its dangers and horrors - all of which he will encounter, all of which he will carry on his shoulders, and he does so without fear.
And all of that is offered also to us.
You are God’s beloved child and you belong to Christ.
When you were baptised (or if you haven’t been baptised, when you are baptised) Christ claimed you as his own, and you were buried in the waters of baptism with him and rose again to a new life. The life of a beloved child of God. Entirely loved, entirely welcomed, entirely safe.
It’s still early in the new year - as 2019 begins, I want you to hear this….really hear this, to hear it in those deep down places where the Holy Spirit stirs and moves. ‘You are God’s beloved. He loves you.’ and ‘You belong to Christ. He will never leave you’.
God loves you. Jesus has your back. You are safe. You are never alone. You have a purpose and a destiny. You are His.
Hear that, and everything changes. It won’t solve all the bad stuff that’s happening in your life, and it won’t stop other bad stuff happening in the future, but it does change everything. You belong to Christ. Not when everything is sorted out and life is great; not when you find enough time to live that perfect prayer rhythm you feel guilty about, not when life pauses for a minute so you can breathe properly. Right now, and in every right now.
Who are you? You are God’s beloved.
Whose are you? You belong to Christ
And here’s a simple way to hold on to that truth - I’ve shared this before, but it’s worth repeating. Say these words as often as you can. Write them down on the mirror in the bathroom, stick them on the fridge and on your computer. Put them on the car dashboard. Remember them and say them all the time.
"I am Hugh, in whom Christ dwells and delights. I live in a strong and unshakeable kingdom”
Say those words, and know them to be true.
Who are you? You are God’s beloved.
Whose are you? You belong to Christ
What are your thoughts and feelings about your baptism? What does it mean to you?
Read Romans 6:1-11. What do you think Paul is trying to say? How can it help you in your faith?
The sermon suggests that there are external and internal voices that try to tempt to us away from knowing that we belong to Christ? What voices do this for you? Have you discovered ways to silence these voices?
When could you use the phrase suggested in the sermon? Would it help you remember who you are and whose you are?