Sunday, January 9, 2011

Living as the Beloved...

Message presented at Hickman First Methodist January 9, 2011
Matthew 3:13-17

Theme: Looking at the baptism of Jesus and life as one of the Beloved.

In elementary school I was quite the Romeo. More than once I remember saying to a girl, “I really like you.” There was this one girl, oh my goodness…fifth grade…I thought I was going to marry that one, and I’m not sure that I didn’t ask her to marry me in elementary school. I doubt that love ever came into the equation, since I didn’t even know what love was yet, but I was going to marry her. As I got a little older, and moved on to high school I went from saying to a girl, “I like you…” to saying, “I love you,” even though I still had no clue what love was.

Oh, I thought I did. I thought I had it all figured out. Are there any other guys in here that did the same kind of thing? But when it came to the “I love you…” it was always scary to say it that first time, though, wasn’t it? What if she didn’t say it back? That would be more than a little embarrassing. What if what you thought was love was really just a one sided infatuation? It’s a pretty big risk, isn’t it? Especially between a boy and a girl. That’s one kind of love, but there’s another…

William P. Young talks about this other kind, and writing of how God feels about us said it this way… “I’m especially fond of that one.” (Young) I like that. Now, that book raises a lot of red flags for a lot of folks, but to hear God say about any one of us, “I’m especially fond of that one,” just gives me chills. Now, I don’t know that God actually says it that way. I mean, there’s nothing in scriptures to back that up, but there is this… Matthew has God saying it this way… “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Isn’t that beautiful?

Listen in on the story with me.

(Read Matthew 3:13-17)

“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” I don’t know about you, but that still sends chills down my spine. I almost feel guilty for listening in on such a tender moment between Father and Son, but Matthew did record it, so evidently someone was supposed to read it. Why not us? I mean, aren’t there folks, maybe even folks sitting right beside you that need to hear that they are beloved?

There is power in those words, isn’t there? On the surface this story is about the Baptism of the Lord, which, in fact, was a much bigger celebration than Christmas at one point in history, and the theme for the day today. It was one of the Big Three, the “Three Feasts of Light”; Epiphany, The Baptism of Christ, and The Wedding Feast of Cana (Norris). Why? Because it was in these feasts that we see some aspect of God’s nature lit up and illuminated for us. (Norris)

Now, we could get into all of the theology for today, you know…

“If John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance why did Christ have to be baptized?”…or…

“If Christ was baptized to fulfill all righteousness, what does that mean?” …or…

“Was Jesus actually one of John’s disciples for a while since John had baptized him?”…but honestly, this isn’t the place for that. We’ll do that over dinner and a study sometime.

What this story said to me this time was about one word…Beloved.

I wanted a concrete definition for “beloved” to begin building today’s message on and what I found was that Webster’s says it means “dear to the heart,” or “dearly loved.”

While I was wooing the fairer sex in elementary and high school, I might have said that I liked a girl a lot, or that I even loved her, but I never remember saying to one, “You are my beloved.” Well, not in high school, anyhow. There is this one girl that I can say that about now. So, there has to be some difference.

In 1992, Henry Nouwen, probably one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, was asked by a friend of his to write a book explaining the spiritual life in terms that he and his friends could understand. You see, his friend didn’t want any of that heavy theological or technical language, so Nouwen said this: “All I want to say to you is, ‘You are the Beloved.’” (Nouwen)

That was an easy answer. No heavy theology. No earth shattering revelations. Just a simple statement about how God feels about us. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it just couldn’t be that simple. There had to be something else going on.

If you get a chance, read the book; Nouwen’s book, “Life of the Beloved.” The subtitle is “Spiritual living in a secular world,” and it really is a pretty good read. In it he talks about becoming the Beloved, and how in that process we are taken, blessed, broken, and given. Sound familiar? Then he goes on to talk about living as the Beloved. This, for me, was where the whole idea of life as the beloved and the image of Christ at his baptism collided head on.

What happened when Christ came out of the water? What did it mean to be the Beloved? If we are his disciples, and disciple makers for him, what does it mean for us?

As I was reading Kathleen Norris this week, here is what she said about it: “Baptism, then is about celebrating the incomparable gift we receive as creatures beloved of God. But baptism is also about more fully engaging the responsibility that this identity entails.” (Norris) Living as “the beloved” has some responsibilities.

She went on to say that “The baptism of Jesus initiated his public ministry, which led him to the cross. For individual Christians, baptism is our call to the community of the church.” (Norris)

There it is again. Every time I try to get away from it, and try to find some way to have an individual religious experience, or make it all about me, and how I feel, something tells me that there is nothing individual about it. It’s about community, and here’s why:

Brad Braxton wrote about a friend he has who is a very devoted Christian, and who has as his message on his answering machine, “Ready for the Revolution!” Now that may sound odd, and you may be wondering what that has to do with anything, but here it is: it boils down to what Christ was called to be after his baptism, and about our call to become followers.

You see, Jesus didn’t need to be baptized for repentance, like everyone else then, he was baptized to “fulfill all righteousness.” He said so himself. And that is where it becomes real for us. Righteousness is not just about personal piety, or personal holiness, or what a good person we are. Righteousness on a larger scale is about God’s saving action in the world…is about “God’s passionate commitment to set right the things that are wrong” (Braxton).

Christ began that work when he stepped out of the water. In that moment he went from carpenter’s son to revolutionary. He would spend the rest of his life, literally, turning everything that was upside down, right side up. As the water dripped from his hair, he looked through time at you and at me and said, “Follow me.”

Oh my gosh! Do you know what that means?! It means that because we are loved, no because we are the beloved, we get to help other folks realize that they are also loved, I mean, beloved. It really is revolutionary.

In a society that is so focused on “me’ and what I can get, or what kind of job I have, or how much money I have in the bank, or what society owes me, isn’t it nice to know that our very purpose, after the water dries, is to tell other folks that they are beloved of God?

Are you ready? I mean, are you really ready? In a few minutes we are going to have the chance to remember our baptisms, even the ones we can’t remember, because we do baptize infants. We are not re-baptizing anyone, because God got it right the first time. We are just remembering our baptisms. But, as you come down, I’m going to say something, and I would ask that you think about it for a second.

I’m going to say, “Remember your baptism and be thankful. You are the beloved.” Christ will be whispering in your ear, “Are you ready for this revolution?”

Before you say “Yes,” here’s what I want you to think about as you feel the water on your forehead. Jesus didn’t die of old age. John, the one who baptized Jesus, didn’t die of old age. Remember your baptism and be thankful. Embrace your life as the beloved, and know that a life lived as the beloved can really be revolutionary.

Works Cited:

Braxton, Brad Ronnell. “Ready for Revolution.” Christian
Century. January 2-9, 2002. P. 18

Norris, Kathleen. “Marked for a Purpose.” Christian Century.
December 25, 2007. P. 17

Nouwen, Henri J. M. Life of the Beloved. Crossroad
Publishing Company. New York. 1992.

Young, William P. The Shack. Windblown Media. 2008

Webster’s Online Dictionary – “beloved”

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