Year C; First Sunday after the Epiphany, The Baptism of our Lord, 1.13.2019

Isaiah 43:1-7; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22


I’ve learned recently that a simple, low-tech change in operating rooms has led to saved lives. Dr. Rob Hackett, an anesthesiologist in Australia has led a change in his operating room that has reduced mistakes. One day in the operating room full of professionals who were called there for emergency heart surgery, he noticed that he had trouble getting the attention of other members of the team. Everyone was in scrubs, with masks over their mouths. Everyone had a scrub cap on and it was difficult to recognize people and their roles.

After that day, Dr. Hackett decided that he would take a Sharpie and mark his name on his scrub cap with his role in the operating room below his name. So the top of his cap read, “Rob.” And below his name it read, “Anesthesiologist.” There was no question what his name was. There was no question what his role was. Surgeons and nurses began to do the same. This practice is catching on all over the world. And the outcome is fewer mistakes and more lives saved because the professionals are called by name and their roles are clear.

Sharing one’s name is not only a practice catching on in operating rooms. Sharing one’s name is fundamental to being human. Everyone receives a name at birth. Some even know how they came to be named. My mother’s name is Carol. And so, my parents named me Carolyn. Do you have a story behind your name?

In baptism, we give the name of the child or adult.  Godparents, parents and sponsors give the name of the person who is to be initiated into the Body of Christ in baptism. The very first thing they say is, “I present Keenan Carroll Murphy to receive the Sacrament of Baptism.” And they say the entire name out loud.

We delight in hearing our name – well, except maybe when our parents called it sternly before we were scolded!  A friend of mine never, ever fails to sign off from our phone conversations without saying, “Good-bye, Carolyn.” I love that he always says my name and I wish to respond in kind.

Our names are precious to us. Whatever their origins, we live with our names and they acquire great meaning to us.  People of faith believe that being named is a holy enterprise. We believe that God is involved in naming and claiming us for God’s own. In the reading from the prophet Isaiah today, we hear the comforting and intimate words God gave the exiled Jews in Babylon. “I have called you by name, you are mine…” God names and claims them in one brief statement. Surely it gave hope to a population of exiled Jews who ached to be reclaimed by the God who was deeply devoted to them. “…I have called you by name, you are mine…when you pass through the waters, I will be with you…”

We are named and claimed in the waters of baptism. We need no specific training, status, ancestry, experience, merit, striving, wealth or power to receive God’s promise of calling each of us by name and claiming each of us as God’s own. God has no reason to call us by name and claim us other than God loves us and wishes to give us God’s glory. As if God says, “Look, holy, precious daughters and sons of mine, I choose you for my sheer delight.”  And the truth of God’s claim on each of us is that we can do nothing to erase it from our “foreheads.”

Though the words of the passage from Isaiah were written for the exiles of Israel, we too can hear these words to help us understand the fidelity and delight of God for all God’s people. One bible scholar shares this insight about what God’s deep devotion meant to the exiles,

“A tiny, miserable and insignificant band of uprooted men and women are assured that they – precisely they – are the people to whom God has turned in love; they, just as they are, dear and precious in his sight. And think of who says this – the LORD of all powers and authorities of the whole history and of all creation!”  (Claus Westermann, quoted in Isaiah 40-66 Commentary by Walter Brueggemann).

This assurance is for all of God’s people. And we affirm that it’s an unbreakable bond by the waters of Baptism.

What difference does it make in our lives if God is deeply devoted to God’s people? What does it mean for us when we hear several times in Scripture that God calls God’s people by name?  When God called his Son Jesus “Beloved,” is that beloved-ness meant for us, too?

I imagine each one of us to have surgical scrub hat, or a ball cap, or a hand – knit winter cap, or a ski hat with a bob on top, or a sun hat…whatever hat we might have, I imagine taking a Sharpie like Dr. Burnett took that day in the operating room, and writing our name on the forehead of our hat. God calls you by name.

I also imagine writing God’s claim beneath our name. That claim is “Beloved of God.” “Carolyn, Beloved of God.”

What might my beloved-ness look like day-to-day? I believe that it’s a challenge to live as beloved of God day by day. It’s a challenge because there is so much division and hate in our world. Each day we are witnesses to increasing hate talk and even profane language that is accepted from people who are in positions of respect.  I can tell you personally that it’s not easy to live by God’s claim of my beloved-ness.

Just yesterday, I saw a speech online that our Senator Angus King gave in the Senate calling on the President to let go of the wall idea and open up the government. Senator King gave a measured, common sense and calm argument for opening the government. I wrote my thoughts approving of Senator King’s speech in the comments section.

Well! Immediately, a barrage of mocking, ugly, personal attacks appeared. I was mocked because I made a positive comment about our senator and I was blamed for a decision he had made in 2003! Someone else said that I should go back to my “flock” and leave politics alone.  Another person wrote a string of profanity to me.

I replied by quoting one of the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will see God.” Well, then the mockery got worse. I was mocked for being a “hippie Jesus freak.” Someone else called me an idolater of that particular verse of Scripture.

By this time, you can imagine all the things I WANTED to write back to these people who didn’t even know me. I spent a fair amount of time rehearsing the words I might post to them. I was tempted to cuss right back at them!

Instead, I remembered our call to lead civil discussions as a way to lower the hateful tone and vitriol of division in this country. I hoped to change the tone.  So, I began by writing that I thought the way they were attacking me was unlikely to get me to change any position I might have. That I regretted their mockery and profanity.

My victory was that I did not fall into the trap of becoming like them and continuing what could have been an escalating, denigrating back and forth that gets nowhere. It was much later, though, that I thought of my “beloved-ness.” That forced me to remember that God calls the “other” “beloved,” too.

I wonder, what does it mean to accept God’s claim of beloved-ness every day? What might that look like as we live in God’s love day by day?