You are a beloved child of God
Year B, Epiphany 2
When I was still in my first year of ordained ministry I told my boss that one of the things I missed most from seminary was the feedback that I received. Not all of the feedback was glowing, nor was all of it particularly helpful, but most was. Soon after I told him this I asked him to look over a newsletter article that I wrote. When he returned it to me, there was an “A” with “Good Job!” right next to it…all in red ink. Even though I knew it was a bit of a joke, I also felt a certain amount of affirmation. I could see it right there on the paper. I still had it. All that said, one of the things I do not miss is the idea that the grades I was getting were somehow defining me. If I did not get an A, then clearly I wasn’t very smart and possibly not meant to be ordained. That is a horrible feeling to have and I imagine one that most students have experienced at some point or another. In those moments when I was experiencing that angst, I was reminded of a quote from one of my seminary professors, “Your work is not your worth.”
Of course that begs the question: what is your worth? A lot of people think it is in what you own, what you wear, who you know, who knows you, how many followers/friends/fans you have, etc etc. None of those things are what define your worth. It’s not even about what defines your worth, but whodefines your worth. And the only person worthy of that power to define worth is really not a person at all, but God.
Until Jesus’ baptism, he was perceived as just the son of a carpenter living in Nazareth. Mark seemed to think that Jesus’ early years were so inconsequential that he did not have to bother including them in his Gospel. He didn’t even tell the story of how Jesus was born and we love that story. I imagine there were some pretty interesting things that happened in Jesus’ early years. Yet even if Jesus had turned water into wine at age 10, I am not sure that would have been critical to the story, not as far as Mark was concerned. For Mark, Jesus’ life began when he was washed in the waters of baptism. It was at that moment when he went from being just a nice guy with an interesting family history to the son of God. That was when his public ministry began.
This does not mean that he was not special before that. Clearly he was always the Son of God….fully God and full human, sinless…the whole shebang. But something changed at the moment of his baptism. It was something pretty dramatic. The Baptism itself wasn’t very dramatic. There are very few details describing the baptism. It was what happened after the baptism that was remarkable. The text reads, “And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heaven torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Now let’s just back up for a second. We hear things like this in the Bible so often, we stop visualizing things, imagining what it would be like to have the heavens torn apart. That would be quite a scene. It reminds me of one of those end-of-the world movies where everyone is waiting for the aliens to take over. The sky turns some supernatural color and then a gaping hole materializes. Big scary ships with scary people descend to earth ready to obliterate us all. We can be pretty sure there were no space ships or aliens in this story, but having the heavens torn apart must still have been quite a sight. Instead of enemy aircraft coming through the break in the heavens, a voice came. A voice is not nearly as impressive as aliens, but in an age before microphones and any kind of amplification system, hearing a voice from the sky must have sounded pretty crazy to the people below. With all of these special effects, God made it clear that this was a big moment and his words carried weight. What were those words? “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
You might be thinking, well of course God was well pleased. This was Jesus. He is literally the model child. Yet in the Gospel of Mark, this was the first thing that Jesus did. He hadn’t done any miracles. He had not healed anyone, preached amazing and inspiring words. This was it. That is what makes God’s words so incredibly loving. He wasn’t telling Jesus he was beloved because he was perfect. He wasn’t saying that he pleased him because he had followed all the commandments. There were no qualifications for this statement. It was just because he was his child. He tore the heavens in two so he could tell Jesus that he loved him.
What is interesting is that there is no indication that the heavens were sewn back together. God didn’t make that one statement and then remove himself again. Something critical had changed. Jesus had claimed his place in the world as the Son of God, the one chosen to share God’s love with all he encountered. That meant that God was no longer far off as he had once been. He was now among the people, declaring his love for them.
We continue this practice in our baptismal rite as Episcopalians. Baptism is the one time where we recognize people not because they got married, ordained, confirmed or did a lot of volunteer work. We baptize people because they have asked to be part of the Christian community. They have either asked on their own behalf, or on behalf of their children. And our response to that is always, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.” You are marked as Christ’s own.
You are a beloved child of God. That is your worth. Your worth is not in your bank account. It’s not even your family. Your worth is that you are loved by God. So I can tell each one of you unequivocally that you are worth so much more than you can possibly imagine. You are worth so much that God tore the heavens apart to tell you. Now it is up to you to live into that love, to return that love to God and to others. Go with confidence knowing that you are loved. But also know that you won’t be able to fully appreciate that love, or even really experience it until you have shared it with others.
If you don’t experience the love of God, it’s not because it’s not there. You need to work at a relationship with God to really experience the depth of his love. You have to love God back. We are going to end with a little participation. I want you all to say the following: “I am a beloved child of God and God is well pleased with me.” Then turn to someone next to you and say, “You are a beloved child of God and God is well pleased with you.” Make sure that everyone hears it from one other person. Even if you have to go across the whole church to find that person, you do that. God tore apart the heavens. We can cross the aisle. ”You are a beloved child of God and God is well pleased with you.” Find that person and share the good news.
This idea of having people tell one another that they are beloved child of God comes from David Lose in this blog post: http://www.davidlose.net/2015/01/baptism-of-our-lord-b/