Scripture passage: Matthew 3:13-17
Meet Nadia. Some of you may already know her. If you don’t you can find out more here. The reason I was talking about her in worship this morning was because of the story Nadia tells about the time she told her own parents about her call to ministry. Nadia grew up in a denomination that doesn’t recognise women as pastors, so she wasn’t sure how they would take the news. If you’ve got time you really need to hear her tell her story herself which you can do by following the above link to her page, clicking on media and watching the interview there.
Spoiler alert. When Nadia told her parents, her father’s first reaction was to get his bible, (oh no – a beating with the Scripture stick? – but no), and turn to the Book of Esther, chapter 4, and read, “But you were born for such a day as this…”* They prayed for Nadia and gave her blessing. Their love and acceptance of her released, she says, her to be free to do the work that God had assigned for her.
When Jesus went to the Jordan river, he seemed to recognise that he was, ‘born for such a day as this…’ His being baptised by John, (who was, at first reluctant to baptise Jesus, saying that, really it should be the other way around), was a prophetic act. Jesus was putting himself alongside and on the same level as, the people he had come to redeem. In Matthew’s Gospel, there are many parallels in Jesus’ life with the history of the people of Israel – but really that’s a different sermon for another day. “Let it be so,” says Jesus, “For in this way we fulfil all righteousness.” As Jesus emerges from the water, the Spirit, like a dove, descends upon him and God speaks and says, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
These words confirm, not just Jesus’ identity, but his divine purpose and anyone about to embark on such difficult ministry, needs to have that recognition and blessing. You only have to consider the challenges that Jesus met along the way…. “if you are the Son of God….” “Who are you Jesus of Nazareth, what do you want with me?” Questions that arise from forces that oppose the will of God. Jesus identity, in God, confirmed at his Jordan baptism, allow him to fulfil his purpose; free him to do the work that God has ordained. His identity does not come from his abilities or talents; not from his work, (it’s not this is my beloved carpenter); Jesus identity is that of a beloved child of God.
For those of us who bear Christ’s name today, we would do well to remember that our own identity is not bound up in what we do or to whom we’re related or anything else other than the fact that we, too are beloved children of God. We do well to remember this. Imagine a world where people believed this and treated one another accordingly…
The world will happily tell you what you are and assign you a label of one sort or another. Look at any newspaper and there, amongst the headlines, you will find people described as ‘shirkers’ or ‘strivers’ or ‘scroungers’ or another title that pits the good, (us), against the bad, (them). Exploiting our human tendency to be self-centered, to think only of our own needs, these headlines allow us to turn away from our neighbours and forget that our own quality of life comes, not from our own efforts, but from an accident of birth that sees us born into a developed country with many opportunities. In the Kingdom that is being proclaimed at the Jordan river, the story is different. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’ only beloved children of God. Brothers and sisters set free to live their lives abundantly.
* In the story of Esther, Esther is put in a position where she may be able to save her people, but she is afraid. That is when her relative, Mordacai tells her, “But you were born for such a day as this.”