Sunday, January 9, 2022
You are beloved
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy, TX 77493
Baptism of Jesus
“You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.” “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.” These are the words that God speaks after Jesus is baptized in three different translations of today’s gospel. NRSV, New English and the Message. Can you imagine hearing these words about you coming from God’s mouth? I hope and pray by the end of this sermon you will be able to do that. For that is what baptism is about.
These may be some of the most important words of the gospels and appear in some form in all four gospels, which in itself is unusual. Also in all four gospels we hear John the Baptist with his words of warning and his statement of the need for baptism. So one great question is why did Jesus need, in fact request, to be baptized? I mean if he is perfect and the Son of God, why in the world does he need baptism? I hope to answer that as well so stay with me this morning.
I have a series of videos about the various sacraments that I use whenever I’m doing Confirmation preparation. I use a series of videos by Rachel Held-Evans who was leading writer on millennials and church and was a millennial herself before she died a couple years ago of an unusual infection. Among her findings is that sacraments are important to her generation and I know from Wendy’s experience at Old Dominion University in Norfolk that this is true. The sacramental nature of our church appeals to her young students, many who have never set foot in the Episcopal Church before coming to Canterbury. In a world of great uncertainty there is something fundamental about these concrete symbols of God’s grace and love for us. Baptism is important to all Christians no matter what denomination. At least that much we can agree upon.
Why did Jesus insist that John baptize him people often ask. Jesus’ baptism changed everything. If you look at baptism as totally focused on sin and some assurance of entrance into heaven, then Jesus’ baptism does not make any sense. I often tell people if you are looking at baptism as fire insurance, then I am not in the insurance business. Jesus did not need fire insurance and surprise, neither do you!
In the video that I am use Rachel says that baptism is about naming. Naming us as God’s beloved. Jesus’ baptism is God saying to the world, this is my son, my beloved child. Baptism doesn’t make him beloved. Baptism claims that belovedness and not just for Jesus. Because, and I want to be absolutely clear about this; baptism does not make us beloved; it acknowledges the fact that we are God’s beloved. In case you are not aware, this is a radically different way of looking at baptism. In her video, Rachel barely mentions sin as a part of baptism and for many Christians that is the total and complete focus.
One thing that I have learned in my years as a priest and for that matter as a teacher is that for many people acknowledging their belovedness is a challenge. So much of religion has spent millennia telling people how sinful they are, how unworthy they are that this idea of being beloved is a radical idea. Our world doesn’t help either. There is a lot of shaming of people in our society and it takes a huge toll on us. That is why it is easy to focus on sin at baptism.
But what about the sinfulness of humanity many will ask. What about original sin, don’t we have to be baptized to remove Adams sin? I will remind you that for the first 400 years or so the church knew nothing of original sin. That does not mean to imply that we all are without sin. That certainly isn’t true, just look at our world, but to approach life as a miserable offender and there is no health in us as the old prayer book said is not really what God intends us to believe about ourselves. God created the world and it was good. That gets said six times in the creation story. We can and should start with a view that creation, all of creation is good.
By the way the Jewish world uses the same Genesis story as we do and they do not believe in original sin in fact one rabbi said to me, “No we don’t believe that’s what the Garden of Eden is about. You want original sin, you can have it, it really isn’t in the story.” Now if you want to know what they believe ask me and I’ll be happy to tell you.
So what do we do about sin? Well in the baptism service we do ask three questions about sin and are asked to renounce Satan.In the baptism service the candidates are asked:
Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
Do you renounce the evil powers of this world, which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
This is not saying we are created in a state of sin, but does accept that yes we do in fact sin and that we need to renounce all the evil that separates us from God and causes us to sin by breaking relationship with God, creation and each other. Then we claim our places as beloved children. Baptism does not make us beloved, it is our claiming our naming of our belovedness.
In the video Rachel Held-Evans says that being beloved is enough. We renounce anything that tells us this is not true and the world spends a lot of time telling us that we are not beloved. I believe it is why so many people have such a hard time believing it. The world conspires against us, to drag us down by saying we are fat, worthless, you name the negative comment all of this just drags us down. Or we face the demons that tell us that we are praised for being rich, powerful, famous, good looking which is we believe that these are important and that we are better than others can also pull us away from God.
However if Baptism claims us as beloved children of God that means that everyone is a beloved child of God. Baptism is our claiming that status and making it our own, but what does this do to your world-view if you start with the premise that everyone is a beloved child of God? Then we have to set aside our ideas that we are inherently better than those people, whomever those people happen to be. I believe that the greatest problem facing us today is the tribalism where no matter the subject or the debate we descend into an us vs. them, when there really is only us. This is what the great mystics understood. This was what the famous Thomas Merton realized while standing in New York City waiting for a bus. That we are all connected, that there really is no them.
I was watching a NOVA program the other night on quantum physics. Now I will not pretend to understand most of what was said, but what I came away with is that there is evidence even in physics that we are all connected. Everything in the world is connected.
Jesus knows this and tries to show us this throughout his life. When Jesus looks at the sinner he doesn’t see a sinner, he sees a beloved child of God. When he meets the prostitute or the tax collector he is seeing them as beloved and may very well be the first person to ever treat them as a beloved child of God. This is life changing for them and can be life changing for us.
On my time walking the Camino I worked very hard to see the divine in each person; to recognize and acknowledge the belovedness in each person. To realize that there is an incredible connection between all of us. This is not easy and it certainly is not what the world teaches us. But this disconnection from each other is exactly the evil that we are called to renounce in our baptismal promises this morning. So listen carefully as we stand and affirm our Baptismal Vows (or at 10:30 as we prepare to welcome the newest member of the church in baptism) and remember that this is an act that begs you to claim your belovedness