What do we know about Jesus as a young man? The gospels tell us almost nothing about the early life of the man Jesus. After the story of his birth, we have very little information on his childhood, his adolescence, his early adulthood. As far as we know, he lived a very ordinary life in the very ordinary town of Nazareth. Apparently, no one seemed to think he was anyone special.
Until he shows up in our passage this morning. This ordinary man from an ordinary town steps into the waters of the Jordan to be baptized by a ragged prophet and receives a call.
Jesus was a small town man. Montesano doesn’t show up on a lot of maps. When I tell someone I am from Montesano, I often get this look with a question mark. Where is that? When I say “I live in Montesano” to people who have lived in western Washington—maybe in Seattle or even Olympia—all their lives, many of them have no idea where our town is. Nazareth was a bit like that. First, it was in Galilee, kind of a backwater place with little strategic importance and worse, it was the home of the hicks. The Galileans were a culturally mixed people, the working class fisherman, the blue collar workers. Later in the gospels, when a future disciple hears Jesus is from Nazareth, he says; “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
But here he is, a working man from a family of carpenters, fresh from a backwater town, stepping into the Jordan and hearing God’s voice. What an amazing experience that must have been!
Why wasn’t Jesus born to a wealthy family? He could have at least been born in Jerusalem, the center of religious and cultural power. Better yet, how about a wealthy Roman family who could have given him all the privileges of an upper class life? But when God reveals himself in the flesh, he comes to a poor, working family, living far from the centers of power.
By doing that, Jesus identifies with us, with the little people. He stands on the side of the poor and the backwater towns and the people that are not even noticed by the rest of the world. He stands on the side of the homeless, the nobody, the immigrant. By the side of small town people.
And the baptisms don’t stop with Jesus. In our passage in Acts, more little people are baptized. They are Samaritans, a renegade sect of Jews who intermarried with the wrong people. They were part of the group that good religious people did not associate with. And the baptisms continue to this day. We are part of Jesus’ motley band of followers, part of the fellowship of the baptized, part of the nobodies welcomed by God. Let’s not forget—this is Epiphany, the time where we celebrate the coming of the three wise men to see the Christ child. Let’s not forget that these men were likely of a different race and religion than the Holy Family and they were welcomed and celebrated just the same.
Several of us are part of a discernment class, meeting every week to try to better understand what it means to be part of this fellowship of the baptized and what it means for each of us individually.
We all have a call. It comes with the fellowship.
Let’s go back to the passage for a moment. Jesus steps into the water and he receives baptism at the hand of his cousin. Then he hears a voice—God’s voice coming out of heaven; “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus heard what we are all looking for, what we are specifically looking for in our discernment class—to hear God’s voice of love and acceptance.
When I went to England last summer on pilgrimage, I was looking to hear that voice too. I had decisions to make in my life and I had this sense of call and I wanted to listen for God’s voice. At one point, in this enormous cathedral, standing in an empty, gloomy chapel, I stopped by the open lectionary at a table where passers-by were encouraged to write their prayer requests. I sat for awhile and I opened the book to the bookmarked page. And there were the words of our first reading this morning; “I have called you by name, you are mine.” I cannot tell you what that meant to me, there and in that place.
Because baptism and entering in that fellowship are not comfortable things. It is scary. What do we do with our call? Why would God want us? We can’t do anything. We’re no good at this or that.
But these are the words given to all of us this morning;
“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.”
Because the God of love calls the little people. God accepts us even when we do not accept ourselves. And makes us a part of a great destiny.
When this young carpenter from a backwater town steps into the Jordan, the world changes and we are part of that change. He knew where this mission would lead him. The voice from heaven was for him, but it was also for the poor and the outcast. The people no one noticed were to be told that God loved and accepted them.
The fellowship of the baptized is destined to complete Jesus’ mission to offer welcome to all. Not only must we become aware of the fact that God accepts us, we must extend that acceptance in the world. We live in a world full of strife and violence and despair. A world where people are excluded because they are not part of the right group. A world where people without resources live on the streets in the rain. A world where we kill each other over religion and wealth. A world where little kids have to wonder if they will get dinner tonight.
It’s to this world that we are called to extend the acceptance and love of God.
That is message of our baptism. That is the message of Epiphany. Amen.