Monday, January 10, 2011
"You are my beloved" -- A sermon for the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord
And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
You are God’s beloved.
You are God's beloved.
What is it like to hear that? Is it wonderful? Is it terrifying? Is it both and neither and all sorts of other things. What’s it like to hear it?
Ed, you are God’s beloved.
Rick, you are God's beloved.
Huldah, you are God's beloved
You are God’s beloved.
That word “beloved" means every inch of what it sounds like. In Greek it is, “agapetos” which means “loved with agape” – loved with a love that is deep, active, self-sacrificing and absolutely unconditional. This is a love that doesn’t have to be earned. This is a deep love that just is.
Maybe love was like this for us once, but for most of us, it’s not what our experience of love is. Most of us have learned to believe we have to earn love – from God, from each other and from the world. But that’s not what being God’s beloved means – it’s about being loved unconditionally and without having to earn it.
This kind of love is especially hard to believe in the church because the church has for centuries taught the opposite. Be good .... and you’ll get to go to heaven. We’ve turned our relationship with God into an economic transaction to go along with all the other economic transactions in our lives. But that’s not what the Gospel says. The Gospel tells us that God’s relationship with us is the most unbalanced, unfair economic transaction of all time.
Because here are the terms. God gives us life and unconditional love. We are told to give God – nothing.
That’s right, nothing is demanded of us before or after in return. There is nothing we can do that will cause God to stop loving us. Nothing will cause that love to be taken away. Instead we get an invitation, one that we are free to embrace or ignore. God invites us just to trust in the gift, to trust in the active, unconditional love God has for each one of us. Just to trust in it. That’s all.
Now that sounds great, but of course it’s not that easy. And the problem isn’t God, it’s us. If you’re like me, hearing God say “you are my beloved” … well, it’s the ultimate approach/avoidance situation. There is nothing I crave more than being loved that deeply and unconditionally. But there is also nothing that is harder for me to trust than that I am that lovable, that that kind of love is out there for me just because I am and not because of anything I do.
In fact trusting that love is so hard, we can’t do it alone. God’s unconditional love for us is so hard for us to trust that we need each other to remind us of it and to help us trust it. And that’s what the church is supposed to be. That’s who we are supposed to be.
We call ourselves The Body of Christ. And what that means is we are the Beloved Community. That just as God looked at Jesus and said, “This is my beloved,” God looks at each and all of us and says the same thing.
So if we’re the Beloved Community, what does that mean? Well, let’s start off with what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that God loves Christians best. This isn’t some cosmic Smothers Brothers routine. God’s agape, God’s unconditional love starts for everyone in creation, not just for Christians with baptism.
But our baptism, just like Jesus' baptism, does mean something. What being baptized into the Beloved Community means is that we are part of a community who does what Jesus did that day at the Jordan – who hears the voice that says “You are my beloved.” Who hears that voice and who trusts that God is talking about each of us, all of us, and the whole world.
So let’s take just that first one. Being part of the Beloved Community is hearing that voice speaking to us. Let’s try that one out. Find someone near you. Pair up and turn to each other. Has everybody got someone? If you’ve got to get up and find someone, get up. If youve got to do a threesome make it work out.
Now look in each other’s eyes and say “You are God’s beloved.”
Do it again. “You are God’s beloved.” One more time. “You are God’s beloved.”
"You are God's beloved"
Now again, if you’re like me, part of you is ready to weep for joy and part of you is saying “Yeah, right.” But let’s just try to trust in that voice for a minute. Try to trust just for a minute that you are God’s beloved.
If you trust that you are God’s beloved. If you trust that the most powerful being in the universe loves you without bounds, without merit and that love will never go away, then there is nothing that can be taken away from you that matters. That means there is no reason for you to fear anything. There is nothing that need hold you back. Life itself can be taken from you and it won’t matter if you trust that you are now and always God’s beloved.
So that’s the first thing we are about as this Beloved Community… about helping each other trust that we are God’s beloved. Now here’s the second thing. The second thing we are about is remembering that not only am I God’s beloved but that everyone else in this beloved community is, too.
Being a Beloved Community means looking around this room and looking one another in the eyes and not just hearing those words for ourselves but saying
…are you black or are you white? You are God’s beloved.
…are you homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual? You are God’s beloved.
…are you Republican or Democrat? You are God’s beloved.
…are you rich or poor? You are God’s beloved.
…are you young or old? Employed or unemployed. Married, partnered, single, divorced, widowed? You are God’s beloved.
Being a Christ-centered community, being this beloved community means we not only see ourselves as Christ sees us – as beloved by God – but that we see each other as beloved by God as well. It means that the first thing we think of when we see each other, when we hear each other, when we talk to each other, when we email each other is: "Wow, I am seeing, I am hearing, I am speaking to, I am emailing, I am texting … a beloved child of God."
It’s envisioning that each one of us has a tattoo on our forehead “Jerry … beloved of God.” "Rick … beloved of God.” “Fred … beloved of God” And remembering to treat each other with that same love, not because we are earning points to heaven by being nice, but because when we look at each other and see before anything else someone beloved by God just like we are, it is our greatest joy to remind them they are so loved and to be a part of God loving them, too.
So the first thing we’re about is remembering that we are beloved by God. The second thing is to remember that everyone else in this community is beloved by God. The third thing we’re about is to remember the whole world is beloved by God.
What we don’t hear in this reading is what happens next to Jesus. We’ll get that reading in Lent, but let’s take a sneak peek. Does anybody know? Yes. The same spirit that called Jesus beloved, sent him out into the wilderness. Now let me tell you a little about the wilderness. The wilderness is not Jellystone Park. The wilderness is a dangerous place. Things can eat you in the wilderness. But that’s where Christ gets sent. And that’s where the Christ-centered church, that’s where the beloved community gets sent. And we get sent because even though the wilderness is scary, if we believe we are God’s beloved, we can live without fear. We get sent there because the wilderness is where God’s beloved are, too.
As we gather right now, a half a world away, people are voting on a referendum on independence in Southern Sudan. It’s a vote that may lead to a dangerous place getting even more dangerous. And in the months to come, we must continue to support them not only with our prayers but with our presence. Why? Because we are the beloved community. And meeting God’s beloved in the wilderness is what we do.
Last year, nearly 150 people met violent deaths in St. Louis City, the vast majority of them were black males and most were under age 35. We have to be out in the streets bringing an end to the violence. Why? Because we are the beloved community. And meeting God’s beloved in the wilderness is what we do.
Number 1: We are beloved by God.
Number 2: Everyone else in this community is beloved by God.
Number 3: We are sent into a world that is beloved by God.
People ask me what my vision for this Cathedral congregation is. Well this is it. It’s not flashy. It’s really pretty simple. It’s being Christ-centered and Christ-sent. It’s being the Beloved community.
It’s us being a people who through prayer and study listen to God’s voice saying “You are my beloved” and who every day grow a little less fearful and a little more trusting that it is true.
It’s being a people who look at each other and see before anything else someone whom God adores. Who every day try a little bit harder to be a part of God adoring every one of us.
It’s being a people who embrace being sent as God’s beloved into the wilderness. Who every day step out a little more into the world without fear not because it happens to agree with our political agenda, but because as God’s beloved we are sent to stand with and pray with and love God’s beloved in the wildernesses of our city and our world.
It’s being who I believe God dreams for us to be. A people who hear and trust and are sent by a voice from heaven. A voice that says You are My Beloved, in whom I am well pleased. A voice that is hard for us to hear and even harder for us to trust. A voice that will be our life and set us free. AMEN