January 12, 2020
Village Chapel Presbyterian Church
Dr. Todd R. Wright
As part of her interview with Krista Tippett for “On Being”, Brené Brown said, “I was doing some research, and I was in a middle school, and I was doing focus groups … And I was asking these middle schoolers what they thought the difference was between fitting in and belonging. And they had these incredibly simple and profound answers: ‘Fitting in is when you want to be a part of something. Belonging is when others want you.’”1
That’s powerful, isn’t it?
Brown goes on to observe, “We are neuro-biologically hardwired for belonging and connection. As a social species, to not be wanted and to not belong to the tribe or the clan or the group meant death. We’re hardwired to want it and need it so much that the first thing we do is sacrifice ourselves and who we are to achieve it.”
I’ll bet everyone in this room knows what she is getting at – our need to belong – which regularly leads to the joy of finding our people and the pain of feeling like we do not fit anywhere.
I think the question of belonging sets up Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism.
According to Matthew, Jesus had a difficult childhood. His family was forced to flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath. They returned and settled in to Nazareth in Galilee, but there must have been persistent whispers – how he was different; how he had picked up some funny; foreign ways; how he had survived when all the others were killed; how he had a sense of where the future would lead him that was … unusual!
I wonder, did he feel long to fit in? Did he feel like he belonged?
Maybe with family. Maybe especially with his cousin, John.
They shared a history of unusual births, the imprint of God’s hand on their lives, a sense that they had been born for something special.
So Matthew tells us that Jesus left Galilee and sought out John at the River Jordan.
John had been there a while, preaching repentance, crying out in the wilderness, living the life of a prophet. The crowds had flocked to him. Some were curious. Some were lost … or afraid … or searching. Some were spiritually hungry. Some didn’t know why they were drawn to him, except standing there on the riverbank they felt part of something bigger than themselves!
Their ancestors had crossed that river from the wilderness to the land of milk and honey.
Their ancestors had become a people crossing that river.
Their ancestors had discovered God’s powerful, persistent, merciful, molding, incomprehensible, unconditional love in those waters.
And ever since they had told themselves that they belonged, body and soul, in life and in death, to the One who created them and sustained them and promised to redeem them.
But sometimes they forgot.
So I wonder, did Jesus come to the waters to be baptized because he was trying to fit in, or was he seeking something deeper, like belonging?
Some theologians would scoff at the idea, as if Jesus, the son of God, could need anything! Maybe the idea makes you squirm too.
But the Church has long affirmed that Jesus was both human and divine. The divine part was sure of his relationship with the Father and the Spirit; but the human part hungered and thirsted, grew weary and angry, felt pain and joy and sorrow, just like us. So is it not impossible
that a part of Jesus needed to belong, just as we need to belong?
So on this day when we celebrate Jesus’ baptism, and remember our own baptisms, I invite you to consider baptism as a sign, of not just fitting in, but belonging.
According to Matthew, the moment Jesus is baptized, the heavens open up, the Spirit descends like a dove, and a voice from heaven proclaims, “This is my Son, the Beloved …” In other words, he is reassured, in triplicate, that he belongs.
So today, during the singing of the middle hymn, you are invited to come forward and touch the water in the font and remember your baptism; but also that you belong to God and to each other.
And a little after that, a new class of elders will gather up here to answer questions and experience the laying on of hands and be prayed over – all ways of marking the reality that they belong to God and each other. So it is no accident that we will do this around the font.
But I don’t want you to miss, in these twin special moments, that we transact holy business at the font every Sunday. Every time we gather, someone stands at the font, and says some words. We join them, and our words give voice to our fear that we have messed up so badly that we will no longer be welcome, no longer be loved, no longer belong! But while our actions do threaten to break our relationships, the truth is that they are no match for the grace of God! And so every time we gather, we are claiming that in our baptism we always belong to the One who loved us into existence, and loves us through all of our bright days and long nights, and who will always call us “beloved,” just like our brother, Jesus!
So hear this good news: this day and every day, you belong! Not because of some water, though it helps us to remember, but because to the love of God! You belong! Amen.
1 see https://onbeing.org/programs/brene-brown-strong-back-soft-front-wild-heart/#transcript