Sermon Luke 3:15-17, 21-22; 1st Sunday after Epiphany – January 13th, 2019

 

Some years ago, I stumbled across a great short film that actually won a few awards. This short film is called ‘Validation’. I strongly recommend you watch it, I think it’s very uplifting – and makes you think! You can find it on You Tube.

But a little bit about this short film. We first see a typical public parking garage, with a sign, ‘2 hours of free parking with validation’. Then we see a sad and tired looking man approaching the parking garage attendant with his parking ticket in his hand. He hands it to the attendant and says, ‘I am here to get validated.’

At that, the parking attendant, a young guy named Hugh Newman, lights up and says, ‘You – you are awesome! You got a great face. You have powerful features. Has anyone ever told you that?’ To which the man replies, kind of taken aback, ‘Um, no.’ The conversation continues, during which the sad looking man is encouraged by Hugh. Slowly, his demeanor changes. You see the pleasant surprise on his face, and he even starts smiling. There’s someone who believes in him. Those kind words of validation make the man’s day. AND he gets his parking ticket validated as well…

Then there is a montage of different people coming to get their parking tickets validated – and getting much more than they expected: kind words and encouragement by this parking attendant. They are transformed by this simple act of caring.

Word about Hugh Newman spreads, and soon people park in that particular garage just to experience validation. You see long lines of people waiting for Hugh to validate their parking ticket – and to be validated. And just the anticipation of hearing a kind word transforms them – they chat and laugh with each other as they are waiting.

This catches the attention of the management. And the manager of course complains that folks just come, not to do business, but to hear a kind word from Hugh. So the boss sends some tough security guards to tell Hugh to stop validating people – after all, this is a business, and not a therapy session! But guess what happens: Hugh starts validating those security guards, ‘Gosh, you have a hard job, I wouldn’t want to do it. I am sure you often feel underappreciated…’

So the guys who were sent to prevent Hugh from doing what he is doing are transformed. They take him to their boss, who in turn is transformed by Hugh’s validation, and eventually Hugh is sent to the highest political instances to validate them. The world is transformed through Hugh. A TV news show even does a segment on him: ‘Hugh Newman – the man who changes the world by providing free parking – and free compliments.’

The story then takes another turn, but I don’t want to get into that right now. Watch the short film!

What I really like about this story is that it shows you that it doesn’t take much to make someone’s day. We all like it when we are appreciated, when we are validated. We all have something to offer. We all are worth something. And it’s good to be reminded of that once in a while. Because we experience a lot of criticism and even negativity. Sometimes we may not believe ourselves that we have something special to offer, that we are worthy.

What struck me about the Bible lessons for today is that we hear beautiful words of encouragement and validation from God. In the Book of Isaiah, God speaks tenderly to the people of Israel, ‘Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name – you are mine!’

And we hear words of validation coming from the open heavens as Jesus is baptized: ‘You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ It seems that even Jesus needs to hear these words as he is baptized, as he is about to change his life and embark on a way that eventually will take him to the cross.

Now baptism has been an important element of Christian faith and identity since the beginning. Baptism marks a new beginning, a new life in God. In the olden days, when adult baptism was the norm, this was often signified by giving the newly baptized a new name.

However, in baptism God doesn’t simply push us out into this new life – now sink or swim!

No, baptism in itself is also a validation and an encouragement. In baptism, you and I and all the baptized are given the promise that we belong to God, and that nobody and nothing can ever change that. In baptism, God declares us God’s beloved and endlessly precious children. Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name – you are mine.

This promise, this encouragement, this validation changes our lives. And, ideally, this change then influences how we live, with our hearts overflowing with love and grace that then reaches our neighbor.

But we also know that it doesn’t always work out that way. We just have to look at the current state of the world to see that. Love and grace often don’t flow freely – on the contrary, they are withheld – that’s why the post-modern fairy tale of Hugh Newman has the element of surprise. And I am wondering if we can’t share God’s love and grace in part because we don’t feel it; because we feel unworthy, like we’re not enough, because we don’t feel validated. For how can we lift someone up if we feel down ourselves?

I don’t know about you, but I have plenty of days when I feel down, when I am discouraged, when I let some criticism really get to me, when I can’t forgive myself for a stupid mistake I made. There are days when I think that I am somehow not enough, that I am not worthy. There are days when I forget the promises God made on the day I was baptized. Do you sometimes feel that way, too?

I think it’s important that we are reminded of our baptism, of God’s promises, of God’s validation. We need to hear words of encouragement in a world that more often than not is hard on people, hard on us. We need to be reminded that we are embraced by God’s love and grace. That we are precious in God’s sight, no matter, what others might tell us.

I think it’s also important that we are reminded that all the baptized are God’s beloved and precious children. The homeless, the stranger, the refugee. Those we don’t agree with. Those who look different, those who think differently, who live differently. They are God’s, redeemed and called by name. They are brothers, sisters, siblings, and we are entrusted to each other’s care.

It’s important and good to be reminded of all that – and so let us remember our baptism now. Let us remember that we are validated, that we are precious in God’s eyes, always – as are all our siblings in Christ – and that this validation has the power transform us and change the world.

Watch ‘Validation’ here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cbk980jV7Ao

picture from Wikipedia commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

This post is also available in: German