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Accept That You Are Accepted

Lesson: Mark 1:4-11

I’ve spent my whole life spelling my name. When someone says, “Name, please?” I rattle off “Joanne Whitt, W-H-I-T-T.” Just like that, every time. Whitt doesn’t sound complicated but it’s often confused with the more common German version, Witt, W-I-T-T, or someone tries to add an “e” to it to make “White,” which seems to makes more sense to people. If I’d taken my husband’s last name, it’d be even worse. Not only does he do the same thing: David Buechner, B-U-E-C-H-N-E-R, but people routinely butcher his name even if they’re looking right at it. Buckner, Buschner, and Beekner, because of author Frederick Buechner who spells his name exactly the same way but for some reason pronounces it differently. My daughters’ last name is Meredith. More than once, someone would ask for their last name and when they’d say, “Meredith,” the person would smile indulgently and say, “No, sweetheart, your lastname.”

Even if you don’t have a hard-to-pronounce, hard-to-spell or unusual name, I’ll bet it’s important to you that people get your name right. I’m not saying you throw a tantrum or anything; just that our names remind us who we are, and in this world, it is hard enough to remember who we are. In order to be what we are supposed to be and do what we are supposed to do in this life, we need to remember who we really are.

That isn’t always easy, is it? Not for anyone; not even for Jesus. At Christmas a couple of weeks ago, we celebrated not just his birth but “Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us,” that God took on the human experience. If Jesus really were a human being then he had to struggle with who he was, what his purpose was, why he was here, just like us. That is what humans do; it’s what we all do.

Why else did Jesus walk out to the edge of the wilderness by the Jordan River to join all the other folks listening to John the Baptist? You might not know that John didn’t invent baptism. Ritual bathing was and still is a part of the Jewish tradition. In Jesus’ time, the pilgrims who came from the hinterlands to the Temple in Jerusalem were understood to be “unclean” because of their contact with people of other religions and cultures. Special baths were constructed around the Temple so worshipers could ceremonially wash off that contamination and present themselves to God as “clean” people again. During the time of occupation and domination by the Romans, it helped to preserve their religious identity.

John performed his baptisms not in Jerusalem but over 80 miles to the north and east; not in private holy baths but in public, in the countryside on the banks of the Jordan River. John was announcing that traveling to a special city and an opulent building would not make people clean and holy. What they needed was not a change of location, but a change of heart. John’s baptism was a protest – John the Baptist was out there protesting the establishment.[1]

That means we can assume something about the folks who gathered at the river to hear him: All those other folks who didn’t find comfort in traditional religion, who weren’t sure traditional religion could address their questions and doubts, or that traditional religion cared about their real lives and real problems, including the problems of an oppressive regime and inflexible religious leaders. That’s who was desperate enough to traipse out into the desert to listen to a man every one thought was crazy.

Then along comes Jesus. He asks John to bless him, to baptize him. In doing so, he’s identifying with the protest. He’s dunked in the river just like everyone else. Mark says that it was as he was coming up out of the water that he saw the sky torn open, and the Spirit coming down like a dove onto him. A voice from heaven answers his question: “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

Beloved. That was the name God gave him. And that is the name God gives you, too. And you, and you, and you, and me, and you: Beloved. That is the gift of baptism: Each of us longs to hear words of acceptance, identity, blessing, and commitment, and we receive that assurance in baptism. We do not have to do anything to receive God’s acceptance. The beauty of infant baptism is that you can’t do anything – not even make a decision for Jesus, let alone commit your life. We are called God’s beloved children not because of something we do but because of who God is – a loving parent who wants nothing more than to see us flourish.[2] It is our most holy and sacred work to remember our names and to live as though we believe them.[3]

But it isn’t easy work, is it? All those messages from school or work, culture and even family telling us we aren’t good enough, smart enough, popular enough, pretty enough, rich enough – we just aren’t enoug