Sunday, February 14, 2021
Claiming our Belovedness
The Rev. Mark Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
We have fast forwarded to the mid-point of the Gospel of Mark. As I said before, this is the challenge of the lectionary. We will not get back to the earlier verses, that follow last weeks readings until the season after Pentecost in mid May when the readings from Epiphany that did not get read are picked up in Pentecost. So we don’t miss any, but they are out of sequence.
This is the point in Mark, which is the beginning of the end. Jesus sets his sights on Jerusalem and even though the disciples do not seem to like what he has told them will happen, he will not turn aside. That would be the get behind me Satan line to Peter when he tries to talk him out of going to Jerusalem.
So what is happening here? Why a mountain; why a blinding light that transfigures him; why Moses and Elijah? These are all references to Hebrew Scriptures, symbols, metaphors and prophesies.
Let’s start with Moses. Moses encounters God many times, but the most important may be on Mt. Sinai when he is given the 10 commandments. It is also on this mountain where when he comes down off the mountain his face radiates a bright light. So bright that he has to cover his face with a veil when speaking to the people of Israel. He only takes the veil off when he goes to speak with God. By the way this shining countenance is what is meant when the bible says he was seen in his glory. It’s from this that the idea of the nimbus that appears around the heads of saints originally comes from.
Elijah is the other character, whose ascension into heaven we read about in 2 Kings which is our Hebrew Scripture for the day. Elijah who does not die, is taken straight up to heaven and his return was believed to be the harbinger of the coming of the Messiah. Remember that at Passover every Jewish family leaves an empty chair and the outside door cracked open so that he can enter. His reappearance is believed to be required before the Messiah will return and the Jewish world is still waiting for him.
Mountains are a favorite place in the Bible to encounter God. Elijah and Moses of course both encounter God on a mountain. Jesus often goes off to a mountain to pray. We often refer to mountain top experiences as those things that are really significant and meaningful. Peter says, let’s build a dwelling place. Well that’s not as absurd as it sounds since this was often done in the Old Testament world. Something was built to mark the encounter with God.
All of this makes sense in a nice neat theological box, which I suspect Mark is careful to construct, but I’m with Peter, James and John. I would have been terrified. Not just frightened, not fearful, but this would have been full blown fall on your face and cover your head terror. I sat and meditated on this passage Wednesday afternoon sitting with the Icon of the Transfiguration. I was with Peter covering and averting my eyes because of the blinding light. I could almost feel the fear.
Make no mistake; this is a theophany, an in-breaking of God into time and space. I think it is mistake to treat this as just Mark mushing together a bunch of Old Testament references to make the point that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God. This is one of the few instances where all three synoptic gospels tell the exact same story in almost the exact same words. This rarely happens in the gospels and it is worth noting. This tells me there is a lot of agreement over the years about what happened.
Yet as I meditated on this something unexpected happened. This was the voice I heard and how I read it this morning, “This is my son the beloved. Listen to him.” The tone of the voice was unexpected. This time it was a gentle voice, one that invited me to listen and respond. The voice carried an urgent sense of this is God and I really mean this. However there was also a sense of the angel saying do not be afraid.
Now when you meditate on scripture you can do the type that I did on Wednesday where you put yourself in the passage and I found myself there with the disciples watching. There is also another technique where you let a word of phrase bubble up that is important. This is often what pushes me towards a sermon. The word that came up time and time again was “beloved”. “You are my son, the Beloved.”
I want to just stop there. The first time in Mark that we hear God declare that Jesus is his son his beloved is at his baptism. “This is my son the beloved, with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11) Now I had always heard that in a calm manner as the dove came down out of heaven. Today’s message had the same feeling.
Some of you may know that my favorite icon is of the Beloved Disciple. I have it in my office to remind that no matter how badly I may mess up or how bad the day may be, that I am a beloved disciple. I often reference this icon when I have someone in the office who is in a point of crisis. Reminding them that no matter what they are a beloved disciple.
I was looking at a video series by The Rev. Rachel Held-Evans that I will be using with the adult confirmation class. In speaking about baptism she says that we don’t become a child of God by doing a list of things, checking off boxes, not even being baptized. We are born children of God. Now that by itself is a radical change from what many Christians teach. There is an idea out there that those who have not been baptized are somehow less in the eyes of God and that really bothers me and I hope it bothers you.
Likewise we don’t become beloved by God by doing, but by being. Baptism is a naming of our existing belovedness. A naming of us as God’s beloved. When Jesus was baptized it wasn’t the start of his eternal belovedness; when we are baptized it doesn’t make us God’s beloved it acknowledges that we are beloved. Always have been, always will be.
Beloved is more than just being loved. We use the word love in so many ways. We love things, food, cars, other people you name it. We may even think, what must I do to earn this persons love. Beloved though is special. The dictionary says it means greatly loved, dear to the heart.
As children of God we are all born beloved of God. Think about it, we all have people who we can say are beloved by us even when they make us nuts or behave badly. That’s why dealing with a family member that is constantly in trouble or abusing drugs or whatever is so traumatic. It is this belovedness that makes it different. So too God loves us in this deep way.
I am very conscious of this because it took me a long time to learn it. I remember once a long time ago having a spiritual director ask what I wanted. He had a wonderful icon of the Beloved Disciple hanging in the room where we met during my retreat. I said, I want to be a beloved disciple like John. He looked at me and said, that’s not what you really want. He sent me off with the baptism passage to pray about. It hit me as I prayed that I was already a beloved disciple, I just needed to believe it and claim it. Many of us have struggled in our lives to earn someone’s love only to be disappointed, to be made to feel unworthy or not good enough. God however does not work that way. That is a human failing, a human way of being.
What I wanted was to claim my title as Beloved Disciple. You see we are all Beloved Disciples because we are Children of God made in God’s image and likeness. . As we move into Lent maybe your challenge is to grab ahold of that title and wear it proudly and live knowing it is the truth. All of us are Beloved Disciples.