January 8, 2017
(from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)
I know thinking about the recent political season while we are preparing to attend a worship service focused on the baptism of our Lord Jesus seems a little strange. But I think making a connection may help get to what I want to say in this letter. How many of the candidates in the recent election do you feel confident that you really knew? This question is directed to any candidate of your choosing, local or national. Over the preceding 18 months we were bombarded with their stories, messages, and promises. After all of that, when you went to the polling stations did you truly know the person you voted for, or against? I confess that I was not confident that I truly knew any of them. And I was not certain any of them were flying their true colors as individuals.
This brings me to the point. Fully knowing anyone is a near impossibility. This is true of our acquaintances, friends, and family members. This may be why many are able to say their spouse continues to be a person of mystery to them, even after 50 years. The human being is a complex being.
We can turn this around. Do any of us truly know ourselves? Last weekend my family watched the Netflix movie Barry. It told the story of President Barack Obama’s college years. The central theme of the movie was his coming to grips with who he is, and who he felt called to become That same movie could be made of each of our lives. In Hamlet, Shakespeare’s Polonius said to Hamlet “Above all else, be true to thy self.” This presupposes a depth of self knowledge few of us possess. Not only do we remain mysteries to those around us, we are mysteries to ourselves. Who are we, and who are we intended to become?
Imagine for a moment what it would be like to know the answer to these questions? As Polonius said, if we knew ourselves well enough to be true, we would then, as a consequence, be true to others. This is something most of us call integrity. This Sunday is a good day to reflect on this.
When we deeply read the accounts of Jesus’ baptism, something emerges that is often overlooked. No matter what Jesus may or may not have thought of himself up to that day, all of that was eclipsed in those baptismal waters. Jesus emerged from the Jordan knowing full well who He was and who He was to become. Reading the accounts of Jesus’ life is reading the record of a life of power few of us can imagine. This power came from Jesus’ embracing His identity as revealed within His relationship with the Creator of All.
We Americans tend to define ourselves by our independence. We are quick to separate ourselves from family and community ties and insist we be judged entirely on our own, and build our own empires. This sets up a shaky existence with little margin for error. Our Lord and those of His time defined themselves by their relationships, or to whom they belonged. As Christians, this is the place to begin to answer our questions, “who am I, and who am I to become?”
Each of us, through our baptism, has been welded to Jesus’ side, or the other way around. Our lives have been co-mingled with His. Our destinies have been meshed and we are to “grow into the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). How this plays out in each of our lives will be our unique story. Leaving unknown specifics aside, this means that we are called to reflect in our being what we see revealed in Christ’s. This life possess an integrity that empowers. Even better, Jesus’ baptism demonstrates that we are not asked to do this independently. He and we have God’s help in doing so. That’s the power of knowing ourselves in Christ. For the baptized, this is true self knowledge.
“Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.” (BCP 214)