Marked for Mission – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord: The First Sunday after the Epiphany

Isaiah 43: 1 – 7
Psalm 29
Acts 8: 14 – 17
Luke 3: 15 – 17, 21 – 22

Grandmothers are some of the most important people in the world, at least in my world. I adored my two grandmothers, and I think it is safe to say that they adored me and my siblings. Both of my grandmothers were knitters. One of my grandmothers, whom we all called Grandma, kept us well supplied with mittens. I am proud to say that a red pair Grandma made for me while I was at university, complete with idiot string, became a fashion trend setter as over the winter more and more of my fellow students, seeing me with mine,began showing up on campus with homemade mittens and idiot strings. My other grandmother, whom we all called Nanny, made a series of Cowichan sweaters; a heavy, patterned, zippered sweater made popular by the Cowichans, a First Nations people of Vancouver Island. We wore these sweaters in the late fall and early spring before the winter coats came out or after they were put away. Nanny made several of these sweaters, and as we outgrew one, another larger one, would be passed down by an older sibling who had outgrown the next one up.

I remember one of these Cowichan sweaters in particular. It was bright red and had a white pattern around the waist. I “inherited” this particular Cowichan sweater from an older sibling when I was about 3 or 4 and wore it for a couple of years before passing it on to my younger sister, Katie. I loved this sweater, and somewhere I have not only a mental picture, but an actual snapshot of me in it. Inside the sweater, on the back, my mother very carefully sewed in a label that said:

My Name is Jamie Koester.
I live at 87 Angus Crescent.
My telephone number is LA3-6943.

Discovering who we are and where we belong can be a wonderful adventure and an arduous journey. For most of us, it is the task of a lifetime. Sometimes we are given clues, as I was in the back of that sweater. But at other times, we are completely on our own and there is no reassuring label sewn into our sweaters that tells us who we are and where we belong. At those times we have to figure it out for ourselves. But knowing who we are and where we belong is only a part of it. There are a few more questions we have to ask of ourselves. Maybe you’ll remember back in public school when you were learning to write stories, the five most important questions any story had to answer were: who, what, when, where and why.

From an early age, I had a pretty good notion who I was, or at least knew my name. My name is Jamie Koester. I had a certainty, at least all the certainty that this four year old needed, of where I belonged. I live at 87 Angus Crescent. But the reality is that as comforting as that label was, it was only a clue, and as long as I didn’t lose my sweater, my parents didn’t fear that I would get lost. Someone could always bring me home.  But that label didn’t even begin to answer that other question, why.

My hunch is that things were no different for Jesus, at least in the way the three synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke portray him. He didn’t have his identity figured out from an early age.He knew who he was, or at least he knew his name. He knew where he belonged, at least he knew where he lived. Maybe Mary, like my Mum, had stitched a label into the back of his clothes.

My name is Jesus.

I live next to the carpentry shop in Nazareth.

But in reality, these were only clues. Like us, Jesus spent much of his life coming to know who he was, where he belonged, and just as importantly, why. For Jesus coming to know “the who, the where and the why” of his life was a wonderful adventure. It was also an arduous journey. It was certainly the work of a lifetime. But like us, he was not without clues. Today we hear one of those clues.

Now when all the people were baptized, and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven. “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.[1]

There can be little question, at least for us, Luke’s audience, who Jesus is, or rather to whom he belongs: You are my Son, the Beloved. In Luke’s gospel, the baptism of Jesus is one of those moments when the true identity of Jesus is revealed to all, or at least to all who have eyes to see and ears to hear. You are my Son, the Beloved. This is not a cute photo opportunity but an act of divine revelation. You are my Son, the Beloved.

It is no different for us. Just as Jesus’ true identity was revealed as he emerged dripping from the waters of the Jordan, so too when we emerged dripping from the waters of the font, our true identity was revealed. You are my daughter, the Beloved. You are my son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.

As with Jesus, so with us. Baptism is one of those profound moments in our life when we were marked by God. Marked as God’s beloved daughter. Marked as God’s beloved son. And proclaimed as well pleasing to God. Think for a moment, this is who you are. You are God’s beloved daughter. You are God’s beloved son. With you, God is well pleased.

My name is Jamie Koester.
I am God’s beloved son.
With me God is well pleased.

What a great label that would make for the inside back of our clothes!

It is no less than that, which happens to us in the waters of baptism. We are marked as God’s own forever[2], and thus marked, we can never truly be lost.

Now if baptism marks us as to who we are, and where or to whom we belong, it also hints at that other question. The why of our life. Why was Jesus sent? To whom was he sent? For what reason was he sent? None of us sitting in this church today have not asked that question of ourselves. Why am I here? What am I supposed to do? Does my life have meaning?

My hunch is that Jesus asked those same questions of himself. Why am I here? What am I supposed to do? Does my life have meaning? Those questions have not been easy for me to answer for myself, and even though standing here, I may look as if I have figured it all out, the reality is otherwise. I frequently ask myself, why am I here? What am I supposed to do? Does my life have meaning? I cannot believe that Jesus found it any easier to answer those questions than I do.

And that’s why I think what happened next is so significant. Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.[3] Mark in his gospel uses a much stronger word here. Mark tells us that Jesus was driven into the wilderness.[4]

It was there, driven by the Spirit into the wilderness that Jesus struggled with his identity, and in a sense came to terms with it. It was there in the wilderness that he struggled with those same questions that we do in our own wildernesses: Why am I here? What am I supposed to do? Does my life have meaning?

It’s tempting for us to think that Jesus had it all figured out from the very beginning. But I don’t think that’s the case. There on the banks of the Jordan, dripping wet, he had a sense of who he was, and to whom he belonged but it was only after his wilderness experience that he could answer why. Why am I here? What am I supposed to do? Does my life have meaning?

And the why comes next.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour[5].

We cannot separate Jesus’ baptism in the Jordon from his temptation in the wilderness or the proclamation of his mission in Nazareth, for the first naturally drove him to the second and marked him for the third.

If this is true for Jesus, then it is also true for us. In short, baptism marks us for mission. As God’s beloved daughters and sons, we like Jesus have a gospel to proclaim; a gospel of release, recovery and liberation. It’s not just Jesus we read about here in the pages of scripture, we read about ourselves as well. As we discover who Jesus is, we find out for ourselves who we truly are as well. As we watch Jesus struggle with the meaning of his identity and come to grips with the One to whom he belongs, we know our own wilderness as we also attempt to answer the why of our lives: Why am I here? What am I supposed to do? Does my life have meaning? In the end we know that Jesus’ life had profound meaning, meaning which we continue to discover even here, even now, even today.

In his baptism, Jesus began to discover who he truly was. The beloved Son of God. It is no less true for us.

By his temptation, Jesus began to discover what it might mean for him to be God’s Son. It is no less true for us.

My name is Jamie Koester.
I am God’s beloved son.
I have been marked for mission.

If you look, you may very well discover a label such as that sewn into your very own sweater.

Baptism, and the renewal of our baptismal promises is not some empty ritual. It is a solemn declaration of our identity as God’s beloved daughters and sons with whom God is well pleased. And in knowing who we are, and whose we are, we discover why we are: I have been marked for mission!

Today we discover something profoundly true about Jesus, but as we discover it about him, we come to know it for ourselves.

My name is Jamie Koester.
I am God’s beloved son.
I have been marked for mission.

If this is true for Jesus, it is true for me, and if it is true for me, then it is certainly true for you.

[1] Luke 3: 21, 22

[2] Book of Common Prayer, page 308

[3] Luke 4: 1, 2

[4] Mark 1:12

[5] Luke 4: 18, 19

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  1. John G. on February 4, 2023 at 12:09

    Thank you, Brother James. My mother used to sew name tags into my clothes too. I knew I had a home and family, a father and mother. As a child, I attended church with my mother and saw her pray as though she were talking with Someone who understood and strengthened her (as indeed she was). I listened to the Bible stories read in church and Sunday school by people of faith, and I began to find my experiences reflected in Biblical people. But those very stories raise the same questions for me as they do for you. Why am I here? Does my life have meaning? I find hints in the glimpses I get into the lives of others. In the love, loyalty, and faithfulness I see in others and whom I strive to imitate. Thank you for this illuminating sermon. It both affirms and challenges me.

  2. anna zilboorg on February 4, 2023 at 10:11

    Lovely sermon! And all too true. I’m sitting here in my ninetieth year trying to figure out what that mission is for me today.

  3. Bill Burke on January 13, 2020 at 22:22

    Brother James,
    What a beautiful and moving sermon. I will imagine I have that label sewn into my shirts and sweaters! Even if I find myself driven into the desert – and it does happen to me – I can have faith I will make it home. As a man who is lacking in faith in the traditional sense, I want to do and contribute to good works. Your ‘words’ and sermons are helpful and restorative to me. You are a kind, gentle, and loving man and I appreciate your work!

  4. Constance on January 13, 2020 at 14:56

    Thank you Br. Koester.

  5. Ruth on January 13, 2020 at 07:50

    Thank you. What a beautiful and simple way to explain vocation. It is our mission. God gives it to us because He loves us. We are His beloved child.

  6. Amey on January 13, 2020 at 06:29

    You are here for many reasons one being an excellent writer gifted at discerning the Word and doing the difficult work of living it out in ways that touch others lives. Thanks be to God for your ministry of writing.

  7. Robert on January 15, 2016 at 23:31

    Thank You Br.Jamie, your sermon certainly made me think! Through all my 92yrs I have always tried to follow Jesus (Although, at times, I have failed miserably) but truly discovering that which is true about Jesus ” I can know for myself” gives me a spur to carry on.

  8. Ruth West on January 14, 2016 at 19:35

    Br. James, what a significant sermon!! Thank you for bringing our identity to mind. We should know who we are, where we belong and for what purpose we are here are so important. Christ gives us the right label for “our sweater.” Why?
    Because he loves me and you. Thank you.

  9. T Sterling on January 14, 2016 at 07:34

    Thank you Brother James.

  10. Bonnie Hill on January 10, 2016 at 21:09

    Thank you so much Brother James for those uplifting and loving words. I was fortunate to be able to hear your sermon this morning and your message has stayed with me all day.

    • Jeanne DeFazio on January 13, 2020 at 10:12

      Wow! It’s so important to have a solid identity in Jesus. This is a beautiful reminder. Thanks

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