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Baptism of Jesus: Beloved of God

Preached: January 13, 2013
Scripture: Luke 3:15-17, 21, 22

We often think baptism was something that Christians invented, but in reality, it was an ancient ritual of purification, renewal and preparation for new life in Judaism. The old self descends into the water, is washed clean and rises again to new life. John the Baptist used baptism as a method of calling for repentance. To return, to follow the way of the Lord. The Greek word metanoya meaning to “go beyond the mind that you have.”

For Christians, Baptism has marked entry into the Christian Church, which is why medieval churches have the font at the back of the Church near the door, symbolizing entry. As one of two sacraments in the Protestant church, Baptism represents an outward and visible sign of an God’s inward and visible grace already at work within us.

When God called Jesus, “my Son,” it speaks of the unique relationship that Jesus has with the God. But scripture also affirms that, through Jesus, we are all drawn into intimate relationship with God. So the same could be said of each of us when we were born or baptized: “You are my child, my Beloved; upon you, my favor rests.” For me, Baptism is a reminder of being Beloved of God. To be baptized means that we are joined to God, just as Jesus was. We may not see an opening in the heavens and hear God’s voice telling us we are beloved; we may not see the Spirit descending like a dove; and yet, one of my few firmly held beliefs is this: I believe God continues to utter this affirmation of grace to us, “This is my beloved child with whom I am well-pleased.”

Story from Rachel Naomi Remen’s book, My Grandfather’s Blessings:
“My grandfather was a man of many blessings. These blessings were prescribed generations ago by the great teaching rabbis, and the blessings are acknowledgment that holiness resides in the midst of ordinary life.”
“Every week I would go to Grandfather’s house for tea. Grandfather would light the two candles on the table. Then he would have a word with God in Hebrew. When Grandfather finished talking to God, he would call me by a special name, “Come, Neshume-le,” which means Beloved little soul. I would stand in front of him and he would rest his hands lightly on top of my head. He would begin by thanking God for me, and for making him my grandfather. He would specifically mention my struggles during that week and tell God something about me that was true. Each week I would wait to find out what that was. If I had made mistakes, he would mention my honesty in telling the truth. If I had taken even a short nap without my nightlight, he would celebrate my bravery of sleeping in the dark. Then he would give me his blessing and ask the long-ago women – Sarah, Rachel, Rebekah, and Leah, to watch over me. These few moments were the only time in my week when I felt completely safe. My family of physicians were always struggling to learn more and to be more. It seemed there was always more to know. It was never enough. If I brought home a 98 on a test, my father would ask, “what happened to the other two points?” I pursued those 2 points relentlessly throughout my life. But my grandfather did not care abut such things. For him, I was already enough. When I was with him, I knew with absolute certainty that this was so. Many years after he died, in some mysterious way, I realized I had learned to see myself through his eyes. And that once blessed, we are blessed forever.

But there are forces at work which make it difficult for us to hear truly receive the blessings that God has for us, and to receive the name “Beloved of God”. It’s easy when we look at babies who are being presented for baptism that God sees them as beloved. When we were babies, hopefully we had people in our lives, like Rachel’s Grandfather, who exclaimed what a delight we were. But when we grow up something happens to that sense of belovedness.

Personal stories: Go away little girl….. Short People….. Ugly Stick…

You probably have different stories. Somewhere along the journey we learn this motto: “You aren’t smart enough, successful enough, athletic enough, good-looking enough. This enough, that enough.” As we grow up, we often no longer believe that we are God’s beloved. And yet within each of us is resides that deep longing to be God’s beloved. “Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite.” How can we all be God’s beloved. But the most incredible mystery about God is that we are all God’s beloved.

I don’t remember the first time I walked, but I imagine it went something like this: I stood at one end of the room with my mother, and my father a few steps away. I imagine I set out, wobbling at first, but somehow making it on my own from one set of arms to the other. And then I imagine that my father lifted me high in the air with exclaiming how amazing I was as if no one in human history had ever walked before. I probably felt like the most loved, most marvelous child in all the world. After a time I could walk with more assurance, but for some reason, I didn’t receive as much praise. In fact, I can’t remember the last time that anyone praised me for walking across a room. So I had to strive in other ways. Simply walking just wasn’t good enough anymore.

What’s easy to lose sight of, is that my parents did not necessarily praise me because of my accomplishments. I imagine they praised my accomplishments because they loved me, and would have loved me if I hadn’t walked until the next decade.

Jesus had not yet entered into public ministry when he came to the waters of the Jordan to be baptized by John. But when Jesus emerged from the baptismal waters, a voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, my Beloved; my favor rests on you.” How different it would be if this declaration of God’s favor had occurred later in Jesus’ life – after Jesus had healed the sick, embraced the outcast, and preached good news to the poor. We might conclude that God’s favor was upon him because of all he had done, that in some way Jesus had earned the blessing. Instead, Jesus was immersed in God’s favor before doing anything.

You are God’s beloved. There is nothing you can do or have to do to be beloved of God. It is a gift. Even before you had a chance to do anything that could be called special, God whispers in your ear, “This is my child, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”

I can’t say that there is a catch or a caveat to this gift of belovedness. What I can say, is that God claims us and calls us to the kingdom of God. Through God’s affirmation, Jesus is empowered and chooses to take on the enormous mission in front of him. We can only live into our mission to the degree that we hear and believe that we, too, are beloved children of God. And then we can bless the world.

God has given every individual the capacity to bless others and to bless life. Blessing the world & one another – does not enhance the sacredness, or God’s presence within the individual, but it acknowledges it.