You Are My Beloved, Chosen By My Love, Delight Of My Life
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Baptism of Our Lord 2020
This is such a familiar story. Jesus’ baptism is depicted in all four gospels and the accounts are fairly similar. However, this particular text especially the last verse was selected for me as the central verse for one of my retreats several years ago. Sister Barbara assigned it my first day and it was a constant theme for the entire 8 days. I want to share a little of the experience and take you on a mini-retreat with this passage. In particular I want to tell you this story using the Message translation because the language at the end is important.
This will be an Ignatian meditation. St. Ignatius in his spiritual exercises teaches several ways to approach meditating on scripture. One is to imagine that you are a witness to the story. The idea is to engage all your senses as you hear the story. Be aware, what do you see, hear, taste, smell, touch?
I will move through this meditation a little faster than I normally would, but I will post this sermon Monday on the website and through Facebook. I would encourage you to download it and take some time to allow these words to speak to you at a leisurely pace.
To begin our meditation, close your eyes and get comfortable. Take a couple of deep breaths and center yourself.
Imagine you are there by the River Jordan. What is it like? What does the water look like? Can you feel the sand and rocks under your sandals? What is the weather like? Is it cool, warm, hot? Is there breeze blowing. Is it morning, midday or afternoon? Be present to your surroundings.
You are standing somewhere on the shoreline and can both hear and see John. What does he look like? You can tell he is upset with some who have gathered. He calls the Sadducees and Pharisees a brood of vipers. These are respected learned men, what do you think as you hear him chastise them?
Then he turns and faces your group of people and says:
Matt. 3:11 “I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. The real action comes next: The main character in this drama—compared to him I’m a mere stagehand—will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. 12 He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.”
What is going through your mind as you hear this?
Then Jesus approaches John and asks John to baptize him. John replies “I’m the one who needs to be baptized, not you!” But Jesus insists. “Do it. God’s work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism.”
You watch as John and Jesus go into the river. What is going through your mind as you watch them enter the water?
Matt. 3:16 The moment Jesus came up out of the baptismal waters, the skies open up and he sees God’s Spirit—it looks like a dove—descending and landing on him. 17 And along with the Spirit, a voice: “This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.”
Did you hear it? Did you see it?
Now John turns to you and invites you into the water. Do you hesitate or are you eager to enter the water? What are you feeling? As you step in feel the water on your feet, your ankles, your knees and finally up to your waist.
John plunges you into the water and you hear much the same words, “This is my beloved child, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.”
What does it feel like to hear the voice of God call you beloved, chosen, marked by God’s love, delight of God’s life?”
You come out of the water and ponder what has happened. Take a moment and just sit with whatever you are feeling right now.
Now come back to the pews in St. Paul’s and open your eyes when you are ready.
So how did that feel to be called beloved, chosen, marked by God’s love, delight of God’s life? Most people never think of their relationship with God that way. However, most of the great mystics speak of this type of deep and abiding love for God and more importantly coming from God. Most of us have never imagined God talking to us this way and for some it may be uncomfortable, but that is all right. I mean to challenge you this morning.
There is a video that I showed to the Adult Sunday School class this fall on baptism by Rachel Held Evans. I want to share a few points that she makes on baptism and how this relates to Jesus’ baptism. Jesus’ baptism changes the baptism of John into something more and this answers the question of why did Jesus practically force John to baptize him. John’s baptism was a cleansing of sin. It was more than just the mikvah of Jewish tradition. The mikvah was not as much about sin as it was about being ritually unclean. This was something that happened on a regular basis to Jews then and now. Walking into a Gentile’s house made you unclean. Women were considered unclean every month and had to use the mikvah. So John’s was a once and for all cleansing of the person of their sin.
When Jesus is baptized this brings in the element of the Holy Spirit and that changes everything about the action. So what does this make baptism?
Rachel says that baptism is a naming of a person as a beloved child of God. It is not the moment the person becomes the beloved, but it is an acknowledgment of the eternal belovedness of each of us. When Jesus is baptized this eternal belovedness is made clear to all who were there.
Baptism is not something we do on a checklist of things required to punch our ticket to heaven or to become loved by God. It is far more important than that. In baptism we are asked to renounce evil and all those things that take us away from God, that put something in the way of our relationship with God. This can come from the world in terms of temptations, shaming, the craving for things or experiences that become harmful to ourselves, both soul and body. Then in the service we are asked to turn to Jesus and claim our belovedness.
In my office I have an icon of the beloved disciple. I have hung it on the wall above a little table with a fountain and under three crosses that each represent a major trip that I have taken. I purchased it after the retreat that I mentioned at the beginning of this sermon. This is up there because I find that I often need to remind people that we are all beloved children of God. Sadly many people have a great deal of trouble believing that. This icon has traveled to every retreat since I found it and many vestry retreats because it is helpful.
On the Sunday where we celebrate the baptism of Jesus if we do not have a baptism we reaffirm our baptismal vows after the sermon. What I want to challenge you with today is to look at the five promises starting on page 292 of your BCP. Look at them almost as if they are marriage vows, promises between the beloved and the beloved. What if you were truly making these promises to someone you loved and who loved you? This is a different feel than making these promises to a being that you feared, do not know or view as a parent. The relationship is not one of law and obedience but of love.
Celebrant Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
Will you come and be fed by one who loves you? Will you join others who like you are having a love affair with the one who loves all of us beyond anything we can understand?
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
God loves us and desires that we return to that loving relationship whenever (and notice it is not if but whenever) we sin and return to our relationship with God. How does this promise change when cast in the light of a loving relationship with God?
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
This question begins our call to share this love that the Beloved has for us with the world.
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
To be able to love we also must allow ourselves to be loved. We also must love ourselves and I see so many who struggle with this. This promise is made easier if we are willing to admit and truly believe to our core that God loves us even when we have sinned as mentioned earlier.
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
Jesus told his disciples to “love each other as I have loved you.” That is where this promise begins. Jesus loved the last and least and we are called to do the same. The operative terms here are all and every. There is no room for exception, no way to dodge this issue.
Please remember that these questions are contained in our Renewal of Baptismal Vows. The authors of the Prayer Book use the word vows here just as in our marriage service and this is not by accident. Vows have a strong relational connotation. So I encourage you to spend some time looking at these vows in the light of a covenant with God. This meditation could be one that lasts an entire day of a retreat.
I also encourage you to try considering the word “beloved” in terms of the relationship between God and you. It is different, very different for many people and may feel strange. Take the time to sit with these vows in the light of a relationship of the Beloved and the beloved. However, I can assure the relationship that develops from this is one that is worth the effort.