Paige and I have gone to quite a few rock concerts in our life together. All of them though do the same thing near the end of the concert. They shout, speak or mumble into the microphone, “You’ve been great. We love you Columbus.” This is something a rock star says without really meaning it. I don’t think they are lying. They don’t actually hate us. I just don’t think there is any chance on our part of taking him or her up on what seems like an offer of a relationship. Can you imagine showing up at the front gate of Springsteen’s mansion in New Jersey and telling the guard why you are there. “Just tell Bruce, it’s Karl out here. He’ll know me. He should, he’s told me he loves me in four different cities now.”
We talk about God’s love so much, that sometimes it starts to sound like a rock star screaming his affection from the stage. It’s not that we think it is a lie. It just doesn’t sound particular to us or our lives. God loves everyone, sure. But if I rang on God’s pearly gates, would I be able to talk the guard, St. Peter I suppose, into letting me in? We are hoping so, but if Bruce ain’t opening those gates why do we think God will?
To this insecurity baptism speaks. The love of God won in our baptism is not a general promise shouted from the stage of heaven. Baptism is a particular promise, whispered in our ear, I love you. In Jesus’ baptism, God rips open the heavens to speak to Jesus directly. The analogy that works isn’t God as a rock star but God as a little league mother that can’t contain herself on the sidelines when her child wins the championship. In Jesus’ baptism and our baptism, God is not observing from heaven. God rips open the heavens, jumps over the fence, lifts us up, holds us tight, in the victory we have won, and says I love you.
The victory we have won is becoming a child of God. God claims us by naming us as God’s own in baptism. From the moment of my baptism in 1964 at Augsburg Lutheran Church in Toledo, Ohio I have belonged to God. On that day, God ripped open the heavens and whispered my name in my ear. Karl. Child of God. Beloved. We know whose we are from the moment of our baptism. My last name of Hanf is not nearly as important as the new last name I received in these waters, Child of God, beloved.
All of us are on a constant search for purpose. If you have had children or a good memory, you know how hard it is at 18 or 20 to figure out who you want to be. Then in middle age, you discover that the purpose we found at 20 or 25, doesn’t quite feel like it fits at 50 or 55. Who are we, we ask. Baptism helps us answer that questions by answering an even more primary question, to whom do we belong. Knowing that goes a long way to helping us figure out who we are.
When I graduated to be a pastor I was offered a job at the seminary to be Director of Admissions. I said no to the job, not only because I had just spent all of the 1990’s trying to get through seminary and become a pastor. I said no because the seminary really needed more students. The president told me he thought I could do this. In my summer in the Admissions office before I was offered the job, I had already been successful. My success though came with a temptation to recruit people who had really no discernable gifts for pastoral leadership. I am ashamed to say, I encouraged one person to sign up who I was sure would fail and he did. When the President offered me the job, I knew that my ambition to succeed would conflict with his hope and God’s hope to get the best candidates. For me, this job would not go well with to whom I belonged. I am always Karl Child of God. To find out who we are, we have to know to whom we belong.
In baptism, God claims us and calls us beloved. Sin is about ignoring or forgetting to whom we belong. Would this action or this thought be something a child of God would do? It is tempting to only have our child of God hat on on Sundays or when it is convenient. Paige and I were in downtown Minneapolis last week in frigid temperatures. They have an extensive second story walkway system that connects all of the downtown buildings so you don’t have to go outside. We weren’t the only ones who were cold though, panhandlers abounded in the walkways, too. Usually, I try to listen, if not offer some aid. I walked by all of them last week ignoring them. Hey, I was on vacation, I don’t have to be Pastor Karl. Even if I had my pastor’s hat off, my name was the same. Karl, Child of God.
In baptism, God claims us as His child and calls us beloved. We belong to God. We must take every opportunity to remind ourselves of whose we are so that that we don’t live lives forgetting it. We have a baptismal font at the door of our church with water in it. The hope is that as you enter, you remember whose you are by dipping your fingers in those waters and making the sign of the cross on your forehead. Any child that has grown up in this church, has a tactile memory of me making the sign of the cross on their forehead. You are beloved. You belong to God. When I visit shut ins and give communion, I make this same sign with my fingers on their forehead before I leave. When I come to the side of a bed for an anointing ritual before a brother or sister dies, I take oil, just like on the day of their baptism and I make this same sign of the cross.
God is not a rock star shouting words He doesn’t mean from heaven. In Jesus’ baptism and our baptism God ripped open the heavens, jumped the fence, lifted us up and claimed us as His child, beloved. From that moment on, forever and ever, we are marked with the sign of the cross. We belong to God. Whatever purpose you find in your life, must conform to your new last name, Child of God. In 2018, remind yourself constantly to whom you belong. Receive the sign of the cross today, splashed with water from the font. You are marked. You are beloved. You are a child of God. Make that mark on your forehead every day in prayer. Make that mark on your children or grandchildren’s forehead whenever you get near them. Let none of us forget this year or ever, to whom we belong. Amen