Sunday, January 08, 2006

Beloved

We are born children of a fallen humanity; in the waters of Baptism we are reborn children of God and inheritors of eternal life...child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. -- LBW, liturgy for Holy Baptism


Today at church we had three baptisms -- three little kiddos decked out in white satin and lace, three extended families filling our little sanctuary to overflowing, two new sisters and one new brother in Christ. Digital cameras were in abundance, and after the service various combinations of beaming parents, godparents and baptized children posed for picture after picture up at the font.

These were beloved children. You could tell in the way their parents and other adults held them, kissed them, tousled their hair, whispered soothing murmurs when they fussed. (One little girl being not at all that enthused about her wet entry into the household of God.) A dad gently played with one baby's white-stockinged foot, looking at her with an expression of joy and at least a little awe.

Beloved.

Today many of us heard about the baptism of Jesus. (It's interesting that there's a lot more in the Gospels about Jesus' baptism than about his birth.) Jesus shows up at the Jordan River, where his cousin John the wild-eyed desert prophet is preaching repentance to all comers. Just as John's rough-and-ready lifestyle and demeanor is far removed from that of the urbane, well-appointed priests in Jerusalem, his mode and message are far different as well. John is a holy performance artist, and his "installations" involve preaching repentance and a call to a new life, followed by baptizing his listeners -- a ritual that, at that time, would normally be reserved for Gentile converts to Judaism. It was a pointed way of saying, You have all wandered so far from your faith that you may as well be heathen. So you'll have to begin at the beginning, like they do. It's a sharp, humiliating rebuke that would seem a great insult to persons like the Pharisees who consider themselves faithful keepers of the Law; but people respond in great numbers.

This day Jesus submits himself for baptism. Mark's "short, sharp, shocked" Gospel keeps the story brief, but in other Gospel accounts John is taken aback by his cousin's appearance, and is reluctant to baptize him: "I'm the one who needs to be baptized by you." No, says Jesus; this is the way we need to do it. The sinless Son of God isn't going to pull rank; he comes to this scene as a nobody from the nowhere town of Nazareth, surrounded by other nobodies, and he's going to submit himself to the waters of repentance, just like "the least of these" around him.

As Jesus comes up from the river, Mark notes that the heavens are "torn apart" -- a motif that will come up later, when Jesus dies on the cross and Mark reports that the curtains of the Temple (which -- surprise -- were designed to represent the heavens) are similarly torn apart. Mark goes on to say that the baptized Jesus hears a voice from the heavens: "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

One of the mysteries of the Christian faith is that, wherever Jesus goes, he takes all of us with him. He takes us with him under the waters of the Jordan and brings us up again. And when Jesus hears God's loving affirmation...we hear it too. Because, as my evangelical friends put it, when God sees us, God sees us through Jesus-colored glasses. We are God's beloved too -- children and heirs, members of the divine household -- because Jesus brings us with him. The heavens -- the great metaphorical divide between the Other and our messy earthly reality -- are torn apart not just for Jesus but for us as well.

Do we feel beloved of God? Do we feel that God delights in us, as Scripture puts it, the way a loving parent plays with a baby's feet or swings her overhead or treasures every developmental milestone, every idiosyncracy, every daily pleasure in caring for a little human being? Sometimes I think that one of the major problems of Christianity is that we don't really take the love of God seriously. I recently found myself in an online discussion where some of my fellow Christians were made incredibly uncomfortable by the idea that God is in loving relationship with them. Frankly, sometimes I'm uncomfortable with this idea too. Why? I want to ask. Why me? But the irony is that we live in a society of increasingly isolated and self-isolating, lonely people -- people who on one hand are desperate for love and connection, but on the other hand feel compelled to keep others, sometimes including God, at arm's length. It's easy to say "God is love"; perhaps not so easy to say, or think about, the proposition, "God is in love with us and with me."

In this season of revelation, Christ is shown to us as God's Beloved. But what the Beloved shows us, as the story progresses, is that the Beloved loves us; stands by us; will do anything for us; gathers us in as his beloved. If we take this to heart -- really to heart -- what might this mean in how we relate to God, and in how we relate to one another?




Artwork by Corinne Vanaesch, Le baptême du Christ

9 comments:

Lutheran Zephyr said...

Thank you. My pastor today preached a home run of a sermon on baptism, grace, love, and you, too, have hit a home run here. Thank you for making this a day full of reminders of God's love and grace.

Peace to you.

Bag Lady said...

And some of us, being Scandinavian (and raised Lutheran in Minnesota) know that thinking (hoping) we could be beloved of God is just plain presumptuous! Not worthy! Etc.

I'm just now wondering if that may be one facet of what pushes people's buttons at the idea of depicting Jesus in conversation with a mere mortal (as in, say, "The Book of Daniel"--assuming one can objectively critique or imagine correctly what a Jesus in the here and now would look like, sound, and say).

The discomfort you identify (and I know I've felt) would make it easier to simply dismiss any such portrayal. Or not--I can't know what is in anyone else's heart simply by how that person may respond.

rev. jen said...

Nice blog.
I ended up spending some time on the comparison between Mark's version "Jesus just like the others to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. . ." and the attempts in MTT and in doctrine to comment on why Jesus "submitted" to baptism--I don't think I'd use the word submitted though . . .

"What was he thinking?" I asked. What a blast. (The answer is, we don't know and it doesn't matter. . ."

Rachel's Big Dunk said...

What a beautiful post, Lutheranchik. The heavens crack open and God pours down his love on us like a river. We are awash in it. We are reborn in it.

PerkyEars said...

That was just beautiful. :)

It's true, trying to wrap our heads around the fact that God loves us is the hardest thing in Christianity sometimes.

Rainbow Pastor said...

LC, what a great post. It is so hard for us--any of us--to beleive that we really are beloved by God. I started to say, "sometimes," but it's all the time!

Jim said...

What an absolutely fantastic piece!

You've certainly been paying attention in your studies. Thanks!

LutheranChik said...

It's one of the hardest things for me to wrap my head around...God's love. "Who -- me? You talkin' to ME?"

LutheranChik said...

Hi, new people! Welcome!