Baptism of the Lord C
All of us some of the time and many of us most of the time use negative motivation in our lives. We put tremendous pressure on ourselves. We value our worth based on our success. In other words, we are utilizing the fear of failure to move us. We say things like. “I will be ruined if this does not work out.” Or “If I let everyone down, no one will like or respect me.” Success then is the border not between doing something well or poorly; it is the border between whether I am good or bad. We weaponize our insecurity.
This works well enough to deceive us. We use our fear of failure and we get the good grade, we finish the project, we have our fastest time. Then we give credit to our fear. However, now we have invited fear to always be at our door, in our thoughts. And we are only one mistake, one bad day from feeling like a failure.
This attitude can even creep into our prayer. Religion is not above negative motivation. Hell is the most successful negative motivator ever. But even if you are not afraid of Hell, guilt we do the trick. We turn to God and say not just that I am sorry, but I am bad, unworthy of your love. This happens to me when I bring my frustrations to God in prayer. I pray, “I am not a good servant. You must be disappointed. I am a bad priest.” Then having finished my rant, I pause and hear a slight chuckle and a voice that says, “Yeah Bob that is exactly what I was thinking.” We have that kind of relationship. It is a little funny and a little sarcastic. It serves as a reminder that God is never non-supportive or demeaning. God is light and encouragement. I was simply letting my words and fears block God from saying the words I need to hear.
I bring this up because there is a subtle difference in Luke’s account of the baptism of the Lord than the other Gospels. Yes, the dove appears in bodily form and yes, the voice from heaven is heard. But it is not the result of the baptism. It comes as Jesus is praying after this stirring event at a critical moment as he is about to embark on his public ministry. Do you think God used negative motivation? Can you imagine a voice thundering from the heavens and saying, “You are my beloved son. Don’t mess it up?” Or “Not to put any pressure on you but the salvation of humanity is riding on your shoulders.” Did God say, “Son, you better keep up the family name?” No, he said the most positive words possible. “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
God knew the best way to guide his son and how to guide us. God chooses love over fear. Think about those words. “You are my beloved Son.” Go through this confident you belong to me; I have your back. “With you I am well pleased.” Know that you are loved. This gives Jesus all the faith and confidence to accomplish his mission. God wants to do the same for us. Let us run to the light of grace and away from fear. We do not live one step from the abyss, but we are being transformed from glory into glory. We are raised up by God to do good things. Our God believes in us.
So if your prayer (and your life) is filled with anxiety and negativity. If your prayer depresses, represses or oppresses, run to the sunlight and away from fear. Hear what God truly wants to say to you:

You are my beloved son. You are my beloved daughter. With you I am well pleased. I am lost in the beauty of what I have created in you. You too are filled with grace like my beloved son and his Virgin mother. Unlike them, you will make some mistakes, but that is o.k. I want you to experience forgiveness so that you might offer it to others. I have made you stronger, wiser and more lovable than you will ever know. Come journey with me and come closer to this truth. I smile when you understand your power and goodness and I love the things you cannot stand in yourself. I did not make you to be perfect or above suffering. I made you like a jigsaw piece so that you might not exist by yourself but be clamped one to another. So that nose, that weight, that intellect, that phobia, that grade, that shyness, that hesitancy, that blunder – I love it all and wait patiently for you to love it as well. I am not going anywhere; you can never put me off. Even if a mother could unfathomably forget her child, I will never abandon you. I am here to forgive your sins, to heal your brokenness and to cheer your triumphs. Heaven was too far away so I placed my Spirit within you. It is my Spirit that pulses your blood, that colors that wonderful imagination, that falls in love. I have planted forever within you and mean for you to come home to me. You are my beloved daughter. You are my beloved son. With you I am well pleased.