(January 13, 2013)
My family went together and got me a genographic kit for Christmas. I had been talking about the National Geographic project for a couple of years. Taking a swab from each cheek is enough to get your DNA, and then you can find out what ethnic people you come from and even estimate geographical origins of your ancestors.
I learned that in 2010 they were able to extract the DNA from a Neanderthal bone and discovered that there were some markers from that indicated that 20 % of Europeans have traces of that now extinct branch of the human family. And that no African indigenous peoples carry that marker.
The results are not in, so I can’t confirm or deny that I have Neanderthal cousins. [The results were that I do.] I am reminded of the wife of an English Bishop1 who exclaimed upon hearing of Darwin’s Origin of the Species, “Descended from the apes! My dear, let us hope that it is not true, but if it is, let us pray that it will not become generally known,”
We realize now how related all life is, and DNA only presents a set of possible starting places for a life, as even identical twins are distinct and indeed can be very different in attitudes and lifestyle. DNA no more predetermines your life story than ink determines what the pen shall write, but there are these commonalities, these potentialities that we get by way of inheriting them.
Probably the thing that is a catalyst to our becoming all that it is in us to be is after all the people who are our family and friends.
I was with a rather large family gathering the other day and an old woman introduced me to her great grandson. “I have 21,” she proudly said, “and he is the oldest. I’m so proud. ” When he walked away she leaned in and said “My daughter could not have children of her own, and he was the first of three she adopted. He had been abandoned at an ATM when they found him. I don’t know,” she said, “Maybe the poor mother was in terrible desperation, but however it is he has a home now and God has brought him into our lives, and he could never have a family on earth that loves him more than we.”
There is a lot of meanings to baptism, but I want to suggest that part of what it is, is a ceremony marking a person as part of God’s family. And as part of that family we are being led to be certain kind of people.
The story goes about “an incident following an infant baptism. On the way home after worship, the brother of the baby who had been baptized cried from the back seat all the way home. Three times his dad asked him what he was crying about. Finally, he answered, “The preacher said he wanted us to be brought up in a Christian home, but I want to stay with you guys.””2
Let’s face it, no family or congregation makes a flawless Christian environment, but how to handle our flaws is something we need to learn as growing Christians too.
Part of what we say and do when we baptize is to declare our acceptance of the people baptized as part of our faith family. And being brothers and sisters in Christ means that we encourage one another’s growth in grace and service.
In Christ there is no East or West,
In Him no South or North;
But one great fellowship of love
Throughout the whole wide earth.
Join hands, then, members of the faith,
Whatever your race may be!
Who serves my Father as His child
Is surely kin to me.
Some people have been troubled by the seeming contradiction that Jesus was without sin and that he apparently was baptized by John who declared the baptism was for repentance. But others reply, “Jesus in this act stands beside us in our sinful, flawed existence. Baptism was a voluntary identification with the rest of humanity which was ultimately sealed on the cross when he shared our death and that as a person being publicly convicted and humiliated.”
So in a way baptism was Jesus’ affirmation that he was part of our family, and our baptism is an affirmation that we are part of his. Or as Irenaeus wrote in the second century, “The Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.” This transposition. In becoming part of the human family Jesus opened up the possibility that we could become part of his family.
How do we come to realize that change? Luke is shy about showing us Jesus’ baptism. Whereas Mark puts it baldly that John baptized Jesus, Luke has inserted verses about John being thrown in prison before mentioning Jesus was baptized. And we could go into the reasons for that but more importantly notice that Luke shifts attention to what follows the baptism. Jesus is out of the water and he is praying. And it is while he is praying, being intentionally open to God, that he receives the Holy Spirit on him and in him.
It is not the water alone, but the subsequent reverent waiting on the Father that is occasion of being overwhelmed by the Divine Spirit and given a power from beyond. And at the same time he receives this presence and power, he hears, Luke nowhere indicates that anyone but Jesus felt or heard this message, “You are my child, in you I am well pleased.” Or as Clarence Jordan puts it in the Cotton Patch Gospel, “You are my boy, Jesus. I am so proud of you!”
And here you have the deepest ancestry of all that trumps all other genealogies.
Isaiah 43 is such a ringing affirmation to the tribes in captivity. “You are my child. I made you, I fashioned you, you belong to me, I honor you, I delight in you, I know you particularly– I call you by name, I pay the cost for you.
And for all those reasons, “Do not be afraid.”
For— I will be with you….I will get you through troubles be it flood or fire.
You are mine….for keeps.
Paul in I Corinthians 6 puts it bluntly “Don’t you remember that wicked do not inherit–(they are not part of the family who stand to be part of )– the kingdom of God?” And then he proceeds to list a series of dings and dents in our fallen humanity only to end by saying – “And such people, remember, were some of you! But you have been washed from all that, you have been made whole in spirit, you have been justified before God in the name of the Lord Jesus and in his very Spirit.”
A new genealogy pertains. Your deep identity is Jesus.
Now some people say we become children of God when we repent and are baptized. Some say that baptism is when and how we recognize, realize, or accept that we are God’s.
This all has to do with the puzzle about how much being Christian depends on God’s grace and how much depends on our work– our decision, our walking the aisle, our going under the water, our staying clean.
I would say that most all versions of Christianity would say grace is trumps. But it is a human thing for us to focus on what we did when we got the new identity.
Chanticleer the rooster thought the sun came up because he crowed. We think our good life must be a contributing cause to salvation.
But the reality is that what changes when we are converted– and what has changed in our life is significant– but what has changed first is that we believe the good news that God loves us and has chosen us. But this isn’t a change in God, but in our perception of God, in our understanding of who we are. It gives us a new direction and a new incentive to be different.
The prodigal son wanted to be an individual. He felt smothered by his family and felt the only way he could find himself was to leave home altogether.
His father agreed to settle the will and give the boy what he would eventually get at the Father’s death. And off the boy went with his inheritance.
You remember how he was a miserable failure and soon he was without friends by his side or money in his pocket or food in his belly.
He realized that he had thrown away the rights of a child, he had spent everything coming to him. But it struck him there might be hope that his Father would take him on as a hired hand.
But the Father was not interested in that offer. No, he embraced his son for just coming home and treated him as if he had never gone at all.
The boy did not have to do something to become a child. His father always had felt he was. He was just glad that now he was back. “Once you were dead, but now you are alive.”
Baptism is homecoming.
Jesus said heaven is happier over a sinner who come home than the good folks who never left.
After the water dried the Samaritans received the Spirit, which bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.
Baptism marked the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. The significance of baptism is what it leads to. What happens when the water dries.
The ongoing presence of the Spirit of God in us that not only confirms God’s delight in us, but empowers us to do the work God has for us to do.
To live up to the name we have as God’s child.
Kenneth Carder :
Our primary calling, then, is to accept and live our baptismal identity! That is a ministry we share as laity and clergy. …. There is no higher calling than our baptismal calling. Baptism has to do with our being as beloved daughters and sons of God: it is who we are.
Epistle of First John: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. … Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (3:1-2).
“In his book Craddock Stories, celebrated preacher Fred Craddock tells of an evening when he and his wife were eating dinner in a little restaurant in the Smokey Mountains. A strange and elderly man came over to their table and introduced himself. “I am from around these parts,” he said. “My mother was not married, and the shame the community directed toward her was also directed toward me. Whenever I went to town with my mother, I could see people staring at us, making guesses about who my daddy was. At school, I ate lunch alone. In my early teens, I began attending a little church but always left before church was over, because I was afraid somebody would ask me what a boy like me was doing in church. One day, before I could escape, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was the minister. He looked closely at my face. I knew that he too was trying to guess who my father was. ‘Well, boy, you are a child of. . .’ and then he paused. When he spoke again he said, ‘Boy, you are a child of God. I see a striking resemblance.’ Then he swatted me on the bottom and said, ‘Now, you go on and claim your inheritance.’ I left church that day a different person,” the now elderly man said. “In fact, that was the beginning of my life.”
“What’s your name?” Dr. Craddock asked.
He answered, “Ben Hooper. My name is Ben Hooper.” Dr. Craddock said he vaguely recalled from when he was a kid, his father talking about how the people of Tennessee had twice elected a fellow who had been born out of wedlock as the governor of their state. His name was Ben Hooper.”3
1Exactly who it was has morphed over the years. http://quoteinvestigator.com/2011/02/09/darwinism-hope-pray/ writes “In 1924 Hugh Crichton-Miller, a prominent psychotherapist and founder of the Tavistock Clinic in the UK, published “The New Psychology and the Preacher”. This is the earliest citation located by QI presenting the quotation using phraseology similar to the most common modern versions. The phrase “let us hush it up” was replaced with “let us pray that it may not become widely known”
2Sermon by The Rev. Dr. Joanna Adams, Day 1, January 10, 2010
3Quoted by Joanna Adams and many others.