Sermon on January 13, 2019 The Rev. John M. Atkins
First Sunday after the Epiphany – The Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ

The Book of Isaiah 43:1-7
Thus says the LORD,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, "Give them up,"
and to the south, "Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth–
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.

Gospel of Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their
hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven,”You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

+ + + + + + +

On Friday afternoon, I joined the throng of shoppers at Walmart. By looking at the parking lot, many people were preparing for the winter storm. Yet, I’m sure there were at least a few people like me who just needed to pick up a few items, not particularly for the story.

I entered the double doors, searching for a small blue basket. I try to avoid
shopping with Walmart’s huge carts. They are like maneuvering a barge around
the store. I searched, but couldn’t find a blue basket. Finally, a sale associate saw me searching. She informed me that all but one of the baskets had been stolen earlier that day. Then she proceeded to give her commentary on the state of the world, how bad it has become that it either drives you to drink or to the insane asylum. I nodded, thanked the woman for the info, and headed off to shop without a blue basket or barge.

After picking up a few items that I remembered we needed, both arms were full
and I hadn’t gotten a couple items on my original list. I must have looked
distressed or discouraged. A worker from the automotive Department walked up to me and asked if I needed a cart. I smiled and said, “Yes.” She told me to stay put. The woman left the area, and in about 4 minutes returned with a cart. I was very grateful. I released the items I was holding in my arms, and felt the blood flowing once again. I expressed to the worker, “Thank you. Your kindness is appreciated more than you will ever know.” And, then I turned the barge and
headed down an aisle.

What I meant by my words to the woman was this. She gave me an affirmation
that this world isn’t completely bad – as was suggested by the first Walmart
worker. The dear woman from the Auto Department gave me a shot of confidence that the world is like what I believe. The spirit of kindness remains present. The spirit of compassion can be found. The Spirit of God has not abandoned us.

We need affirmations.

The writer of the 43 rd chapter of Isaiah compels the people still living in Babylon to reclaim their faith and their heritage, and return to their desolate homeland. After the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II destroyed the Temple and the city Jerusalem and took many of the residence captive, the Hebrews lived in Babylon 54 years before King Cyrus of Assyria set them free. But the people had become comfortable in a stable country. With an affirmation, the prophet implores the Hebrews to regain their faith, their heritage and their promised land. The Lord God spoke to them through the prophet: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”

We all need affirmations.

To begin his ministry, Jesus searched out John the Baptist and the community he was forming. By repentance and baptism, John was shaping a communion of Jews anticipating and ready for God to work in new and mysterious ways to bring about God’s justice, peace, love, equity, and mutual respect. Jesus wanted to identify with this newly forming community. After Jesus was baptized, he heard a voice from heaven saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus needed to hear an affirmation at the start of his ministry. Affirmations give us courage to face the risks of living as we are compelled to live from deep within our soul. We all need affirmations.

While I was home recovering, many of you sent ‘get well’ cards with words of
affirmation. Those words are more meaningful to me than you’ll ever know. To
me, those affirmations mean that I am following that I hear deep inside of my soul. And, that what I hear is God motivating me to life as God intends me to live.

Affirmations allow us to let our true colors of being to radiate out. We are God’s
children. We have many gifts. We have many different purposes to which we are called. When we let our true colors shine, we give glory to God and opportunity for others to see God shining through us as God’s beloved children.

There is a song I admire. The artist, though not the song writer, is Cindi Lauper. Whenever I hear the song True Colors, I think of it as God’s love song for each one of us. Listen to the words as God offers love and affirmation to you.

“You with the sad eyes, don’t be discouraged, oh I realize it’s hard to take courage. In a world full of people you can loose sight of it all and the darkness inside you can make you feel small. But I see your true colors shinning through. I see your true colors and that’s why I love you. So don’t be afraid to let them show. Your true colors, true colors are beautiful like a rainbow.”

“Show me a smile, then don’t be unhappy. Can’t remember when I last saw you
laughing. If this world makes you crazy and you’ve taken all you can bear you call me up because you know I’ll be there. I see your true colors shining through. I see your true colors and that’s why I love you. So don’t be afraid to let them show. Your true colors, true colors are beautiful like a rainbow.”

Artist: Cindi Lauper
Songwriters: Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly