(Sermon for Sunday, January 13, 2013 || Epiphany 1C || Luke 3:15-17, 21-22)
Last Monday evening, I sat down to watch a very entertaining football game. Now, I know up here is Pats’ country, so many of you probably didn’t even realize the college football championship game was going on. But I grew up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, so I was ready for my Crimson Tide to take it to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. (Which they did, by the way.) Because I was watching a live sporting event, I didn’t have the opportunity to fast forward through the commercials. One commercial aired several times, and I became more and more uncomfortable every time I watched it.
The commercial is for a new smartphone, the “Droid DNA.” The thirty-second spot begins with a man being strapped to a chair. A lab-coated technician secures the phone to the man’s chest, and over the thirty seconds of the commercial, the phone “rewrites” the man’s DNA. A mechanical voice announces that the man’s “neural speeds” are increasing and his brain is upgrading to a “quad-core processor.” At the end of the commercial, a voiceover says, “Introducing Droid DNA by HTC. It’s not an upgrade to your phone, it’s an upgrade to yourself.”
Now, perhaps I was uncomfortable with the idea of a phone taking the place of my brain because ever since I wrote Digital Disciple I have been fighting this tendency tooth-and-nail. Or perhaps I was uncomfortable because by the end of the commercial, the man looked like one of the Borg on Star Trek. These two surely played a part. But I think I was uncomfortable mostly because the commercial let me know something about myself that I didn’t know before. According to the commercial, I am due for an upgrade. I am deficient in some way, and only the Droid DNA smartphone will make up for that deficiency.
This is how marketing campaigns work. They tell us ways we are defective, and then they try to sell us products designed to improve those defects. Truck commercials tell men they aren’t manly unless their vehicles can haul a couple tons of dirt. Toy commercials tell kids they won’t be happy unless they receive the hot new toy for Christmas. And don’t get me started on commercials aimed at women. Judging by the ads, women in this country have hair that isn’t shiny enough; bodies that aren’t the right shape; the wrong handbags, clothes, shoes, and earrings; too many wrinkles; and not enough diamonds.
All this must be true, right? I mean, we are bombarded with our supposed deficiencies everywhere we turn: the TV, magazines, Internet ads, the sides of buses. Then we repeat them over and over again until they seem like truth. And pretty soon, it’s not just the marketers, but everyone getting in on the fun. And that’s when the boy feels deficient because he hasn’t played the video game all his friends are talking about. That’s when the girl feels defective because she doesn’t quite fit the clothes her friends have started to buy. That’s when the parents feel substandard because they can’t afford the tuition at the “best” college. At one point or another, our society as a whole started believing in our supposed deficiencies, hence why Americans aren’t very happy people.
But we have been deceived.
Today’s Gospel reading uncovers the deception and offers the supreme truth that has the potential to scrub away all the battering our self-esteem has taken over our supposed deficiencies.
At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus is baptized. After he rises from the water, he prays, Luke tells us, and the heavens open. And the “Holy Spirit descends” on Jesus in “bodily form like a dove.” The voice of God speaks from heaven: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Now, you might be wondering what these words have to do with counteracting our supposed deficiencies. After all, God is talking to Jesus, not to us, right? Of course, God would be well pleased in Jesus, who has no deficiencies.
Ah, yes, we who have been programmed to think of ourselves as hopelessly deficient beings wouldn’t possibly presume to think that God might be talking to us as much as God is talking to Jesus. But we would be wrong.
Remember that the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove. This same Spirit dwells within each one of us, animating us and speaking life into our souls. Thus, we are connected to the God who spoke those words to Jesus. But we are not just connected to God. Hear what Paul says to the church on Rome: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (8:14-17).
Not only are we connected to God, we are God’s children, and not only God’s children, but heirs right alongside Jesus. So God’s words at Jesus’ baptism are not just for Jesus. They are for us, as well. You are my son. You are my daughter. You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased.
With you I am well pleased. Notice that God loves Jesus, God is pleased with Jesus, even though Jesus has done nothing yet to earn God’s love and pleasure. At this point in Luke’s Gospel, we are at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. All of his miracles, his sermons, his death and resurrection – they are all ahead of him. Before any of that happens, God showers upon him God’s love and pleasure.
Likewise, you and I who are joint-heirs with Christ have never done anything in our lives, nor will we do anything in our lives, to earn God’s love and pleasure. They are ours intrinsically. They are ours because we are God’s. And because we cannot earn God’s love and pleasure, we cannot do anything to lose them either. They are part of what makes us who we are – the best part of what makes us who we are.
At Jesus’ baptism, God took the opportunity once for all time to tell all of God’s children that we are loved and that we are a delight to God. We can ignore these fundamental truths. We can choose to think they don’t apply to us. But we cannot undo them, no matter what.
That God chose Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan as the opportunity to reveal these truths to us is simply wonderful. What is the one thing in this world that is more prevalent than advertising targeted at our supposed deficiencies? That’s right. Water.
So the next time you take a shower, the next time you wash your hands, the next time you take a drink or get stuck in the rain, I invite you to feel the water touch your skin. Remember your own baptism. Remember that all of our supposed deficiencies, which teach us to think we are defective or substandard, are no match for the fundamental truth that God has built into the fabric of life. You are God’s children. You are God’s beloved. And with you, God is well pleased.