Gospel: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
1st Reading: Isaiah 43:1-7
2nd Reading: Acts 8:14-17
The people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts who Maisie was becoming as she grew from an infant into a child. Would she be short tempered or even tempered? Would she be opinionated or laid back? Would she thrive in the company of others or spend long afternoons by herself? Would she see situations in terms of a glass half full or half empty? Would she be a daddy’s girl or want to do everything with mom? Would she be a tom-boy or love to wear frilly dresses?
They wondered what she would be when she grew up, what her life would be like. No matter what else happened, her family wanted her to be baptized. They wanted to begin her life with a blessing. It was a blessing that had been important to them. It had meant a life as part of a community of faith. It meant life seen in the context of a loving God. It meant passing on spiritual practices that might be helpful, such as prayer and singing and volunteering and reflecting.
When the scriptures speak of the threshing floor and the winnowing fork, that’s about Jesus mixing things up. He is giving us a changed life. We want Maisie to have a blessed life—a different life than she would otherwise have. We want to give her an alternative to the messages that the world gives. We know she’s got spirit. We want to let her know there is something special about her. We want her to know that she’s set apart. We want her to consider God’s plans for her. A changed life, doesn’t mean an easy life. We want her to have a meaningful life, a life where she can give of herself, where her gifts will be recognized and used, where she can make life better for someone else.
The scripture says that many were baptized along with Jesus. Maisie enters the community of the baptized. Jesus was baptized. The people in this community have been baptized. Her community at Redeemer Lutheran in Portland will share with her what it has meant to them to be baptized. She is a part of something bigger than herself. What does it mean to be baptized? Yes, it means to be blessed. We aren’t just blessed to go on with business as usual. And it means to be a blessing to others. To those whom much is given, much is expected. As Maisie grows, she will take on responsibilities. Her sponsors and family pledge to give her many of the tools she will need to grow in faith and love such as teaching her the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments, placing in her hands the Holy Scriptures, etc.
Finally, she starts her journey of faith with encouragement. It is a message from God, “You are my precious child, Maisie. With you I am well pleased.” Before Maisie has ever done anything, her life of faith begins with this profound message. And the community echoes these words. “Maisie, you are precious. We care about you. You are a part of us. We are part of you. You are of value.”
I hope all of us remember those words as we go about our lives. It is so easy to forget that we are loved from the very beginning, because the world sends us messages that we aren’t good enough. We make mistakes and do things we regret. But we have a forgiving God. And we are called to be forgiving, both forgiving of others and of ourselves.
“The heaven was opened,” it says. At Maisie’s birth the heaven was opened and this angel came to bless our lives and lives of her family and this world. At her baptism, just like that of Jesus, “The heaven was opened,” and God speaks a word claiming her. At different times in her life, it will seem that door is closed. She will experience illness. She will have troubles. People will bring pain and heartache to her and she will bring them to others. There will be times when she gets discouraged. It will seem the heavens are closed. Into her life, God speaks, “You are my precious child. The heavens are always open to you.” When the world says there is no god or make money or power your god, it may seem like the heavens are closed, but God is still there saying from the open heavens, “You are my precious child.”
The heavens are open and always have been. God walked among the first humans. It was humankind who tried to shut the doors between heaven and earth, when they hid from God in the garden after disobeying God. God opened the heavens and spoke to Abraham, promising him family, community, place. God blessed him so that he would be a blessing to others. God opened the heavens to the Israelites, leading them out of slavery and giving them the commandments to live by so that doors could be open between them, so that they could be a blessing to one another. God showed the people an open door between heaven and earth in the temple, where people could sacrifice and worship and come together in devotion and have access to God.
But people kept trying to close God off and to have a monopoly on God. They tried to say you had to have money or a priest or follow a complicated set of rules or know the right people. So finally, the heavens were opened and God came as a human being to open the doors of heaven, permanently. The heavens were opened and God’s birth in Jesus was marked by the appearance of a star in the heavens. The heavens were opened to reveal the plan that God had in mind where people cared for one another and everyone had what they needed to have abundant life. Jesus showed what it meant to live a godly life, caring for the poor, being a blessing to others. The heavens were opened in Jesus’ baptism and God’s voice proclaimed God’s blessing and favor. In the transfiguration, the heavens are shown to be open as God makes another appearance and proclaims in a story that bookends this one, that Jesus is God’s son and that God is pleased. Finally, on the cross the heavens are opened and the temple curtain is torn from top to bottom to show there is no barrier between heaven and earth. God has entered our lives and the heaves are open. We have access to God. God is not in any church or temple, but within and between us in every generous and loving act.
The heavens are opened, this morning as Maisie is baptized. May she experience them as open as she goes about her life. May she experience God as close by. And may we have that same experience. May we live a life that reflects the open heavens, the availability and nearness of God and God’s Kingdom until everyone recognizes that heaven is right here and right now, and that we are all part of the Holy, a family with one another, empowered to make this world just and loving. May we hear God’s word of approval claiming us this day and everyday and go forward with hope and joy and boldness. And may we communicate with each person we meet that they are God’s precious child, with whom God is pleased.