Christ’s Own for Ever, Epiphany 1 (B) – January 7, 2018

Epiphany 3 sermon

[RCL] Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

Today, we commemorate the baptism of Jesus by his cousin John in the River Jordan. Now, John’s that guy we’ve been hearing a lot about lately (since the beginning of Advent), and after today, he will drop into the background.

You see, we no longer need that voice crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” For the Lord is here, born on earth to save us. And we no longer have any confusion about who is the Messiah, for the one more powerful than John has come.

Now that babe is born. Incarnate and among us.

John’s role as prophet, foretelling the great story of salvation as known in the person of Jesus Christ: well, that role is fulfilled with Jesus’ baptism today.

John is sometimes seen as the last of the old order: the last prophet in the line of Isaiah and Jeremiah, the last to baptize with water only and not also the Holy Spirit, and the last to demand repentance before the immanent coming of the kingdom of God.

For Jesus proclaims over and over again that the kingdom of God has drawn near us; it is here, and now. No longer coming, or far off, or even just the other side of a thin divide—but here, very near us.

Among the very first documented acts of his earthly ministry, the twelve-year-old Jesus picks up a scroll and reads from an earlier prophecy of Isaiah: that the spirit of the Lord has anointed him, and that he has been sent to announce good news to the poor—and that this prophecy has been fulfilled. “Today, in your very hearing this text has come true,” he says.

So, too, of this baptism of Jesus: it seems to have effected a radical transformation in him. Luke’s gospel tells us of his birth, and then nary a word until now—thirty years later. And from this moment—the moment of a simple ritual of living water—Jesus is changed. No longer just the carpenter’s son, no longer a refugee in Egypt, no longer just another human being to walk the face of the earth.

He moves on from here to teach in synagogues and have all people sing his praises. He will heal the sick, and make the dead live again. He will preach, and manifest miracles. He will astound people with his teaching, and confound us even today by submitting to a shameful death on a cross.

And he will appear again over forty days until he ascends into heaven, prophesying of his return in glory to judge the earth—a second coming we still anticipate, two millennia later.

One day people know him as that clever boy, Joseph’s son. And the next he’s revealed as the Christ, the Messiah, the chosen one—God’s son, the beloved, with whom God is well pleased.

In his baptism, Jesus seems to have become an entirely different person.

It’s as if the waters of his baptism have washed away what was hiding the true Jesus. The running water of a river has somehow changed him, made him manifest as who he truly is, and given him the power and inspiration to begin a mission and ministry that will forever change the world.

So, too, with our baptism:

  • Oh, none of us is the Christ, but each and every one of us is the beloved, with whom God is well pleased.
  • And each and every one of us was forever changed and transformed in our baptism.
  • And each and every one of us continues to be changed and transformed—in ways big and small—throughout our earthly ministry.

Now filled with the Holy Spirit, we—like Jesus—are commissioned and sent forth to proclaim the good news of God’s favor, to proclaim release for prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the broken victims go free, to proclaim that the time of God’s favor is here.

That’s our job: to live baptismally.

And, living baptismally: what is that all about?

  • It’s about knowing that we have been forever changed by the acknowledgment of God’s working in our life;
  • that our true and holy self has been revealed by the washing away of all stain of sin;
  • that we are grafted into the body of Christ’s Church;
  • that we have been given an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and love God, and the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works.

We are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.

Baptism is an amazing gift. By the waters of baptism, we are lead from death to life, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life. In it, we are buried with Christ in his death. By it, we share in his resurrection. Through it, we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.[1]

And baptism is also an awesome responsibility. We are also no longer simply to live as ordinary people in the world:

  • We are to boldly confess Jesus as Lord and Savior;
  • to strive for justice and peace among all people;
  • and to seek and serve the Christ in everyone we meet.

Those of us who profess and call ourselves Christians are called to live a different kind of life, a life set apart from the world around us and yet somehow also very much in its midst.

A life of grateful thanksgiving in the face of victory—and defeat.

A life of difficult forgiveness—in the face of bitter betrayal.

A life of ongoing repentance—in the face of our chronic mistakes.

A life forever changed—and forever changing—proceeding from strength to strength, from goodness to perfection, from death to life.

This wet, earthly act, involving people in relation to one another, bodies acting and touching one another, hands, clothing, oil, and light: This emotion-filled rite we call “baptism” is the means by which we declare:

  • our separation from an old identity,
  • our transition from being no longer one of the old order to not yet being fully one of the new, and
  • our incorporation into the full life of the community we know and proclaim as Christ’s holy church.[2]

It is now for us—the baptized, those grafted into the life of Christ, those sealed and set apart—to share in an eternal priesthood, to rejoice at our adoption as children of God, and to give thanks for the ineffable mystery of our salvation.

Through baptism, we are forgiven, loved, and free to become more fully who God has created us to be: living members of Christ’s body, incarnate examples of divine love, manifestations of God’s glory here on earth.

By baptism, the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled—in Jesus, and in each one of us. God looks at us—the beloved, with whom God is well pleased—and says, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of God has risen upon you.” Amen.

[1] From the Thanksgiving over the Water in The Book of Common Prayer [1979].

[2] Daniel V. Stevick, Baptismal Moments; Baptismal Meanings (New York: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1987), 116.’ 

The Rev. Barrie Bates has served Anglican and Lutheran congregations in California, New York, and New Jersey over the past 20+ years. He holds a Ph.D. in liturgical studies, and memberships in the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation, the Sons of the American Revolution, and the Screen Actors’ Guild. Other than ordained ministry, his interests include opera, fine dining, and boating.

Download the sermon for Epiphany 1 (B).

Reaching those who long to be loved, 1 Epiphany (B) – 2015

January 11, 2015

Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

In today’s gospel reading, we hear God saying to Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Mark’s account of the baptism of Jesus is short, sweet and to the point. It marks the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, but first our Lord must go through baptism and face 40 days of temptation in the wilderness. Jesus starts off his ministry and ultimate journey to Calvary with the reassuring words of his Heavenly Father ringing in his ears.

What encouraging words these are: “With you I am well pleased.” When spoken to a child by his or her parents, these words can evoke a deep sense of assuredness in one’s self worth. Sadly, many children and teens never receive words of encouragement from their parents or caregivers. They only know what it feels like to be reminded of their failures or ridiculed for their shortcomings. Unfortunately, neglected and abused children often repeat the same behavior when they become parents.

“You are my son, the Beloved.” These six simple words from the gospel message speak volumes. To be called someone’s beloved child creates a deep, unshakable sense of belonging and acceptance. But to those who have never experienced the enduring love of a parent, these words can bring up a sense of deep longing and emptiness. Such folks can only barely imagine what it must be like to be loved by a father or mother, let alone comprehend what it means to have a parent say, “With you I am well pleased.”

Oh, to live with the knowledge that someone is well pleased with you just because of who you are! That’s the basis of God’s grace to us, His unmerited favor. We don’t earn it; we can only accept it. God’s grace is given to us at birth and sealed by the Holy Spirit at baptism. Without His grace, we have no hope; but once His grace is realized in our lives, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

It is one thing to grow up without a loving mother or father in one’s life. Sadly, many children today struggle through life without ever knowing the love of a parent, often with tragic results. According to research, fatherless boys face an extra challenge in life. Young men who grow up in homes without fathers are twice as likely to end up in jail as those who come from traditional two-parent families. Boys whose fathers were absent from the household had double the odds of being incarcerated. Children from fatherless homes represent well over half of youth suicides, youth with behavioral disorders, high-school dropouts and juvenile detainees. This is cause for concern when one considers the inordinate percentage of poor homes where children are growing up without a father figure. Who is there to call them “beloved,” and tell them that someone is pleased with them?

Just because a child grows up in a fatherless home doesn’t mean he or she is doomed to a life of despair or failure. Far from it; it is safe to say that most children raised in loving single-parent homes headed by a mother or mother figure grow up to lead successful and productive lives. Never underestimate the importance of a mother’s love. And many uncles, brothers, family friends, teachers and mentors act as father figures in children’s lives in the absence of their biological fathers.

The church’s calling is to help support single-parent families – and all families for that matter – and ensure they don’t have to raise these young people alone. Parental love isn’t dependent upon biology, but comes from the love that God has freely bestowed upon us. But where are the father figures? Where are the big brothers, uncles, teachers and neighbors, the men who can take a stand in a child’s life and be a dad who can help raise the child? Who is around to say, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased”?

In our Baptismal Covenant, we promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. One way we do this is by reaching out to the unloved, the hard to love, and the rejected in our midst and loving them, emulating our Heavenly Father’s love for us who are called by His name. It doesn’t matter if we’re related or not, the only requirement is that we love them as God loves us as His own.

You see, all of us were once fatherless in a manner of speaking, before we entered into covenant with God through the waters of baptism. If we were destined to be adopted as God’s own children through Christ, then are we not also called to be fathers and mothers to those who have none? Are we not loved by our Heavenly Father so that we can in turn love one another? For what is love if it is not freely received and shared with those around us?

We live in a world of fatherless children, sons and daughters who have been rejected by their parents because of sexual orientation, teen pregnancy, disability, substance abuse or just because of the parents’ own selfish narcissistic interests. These young people often lead very solitary lives and are easy prey for society’s predators. When faced with life’s temptations, they often make wrong choices because there is no one there to guide them. If we truly take our Baptismal Covenant seriously, we must do all we can to protect those least able to protect themselves and help them find their inheritance awaiting them in God’s family, our family.

Every time we who are baptized into the Body of Christ approach the Eucharistic table, we are reminded of God’s love for us. It is around the holy table gathered with our brothers and sisters in Christ that our Heavenly Father graciously accepts us as living members of his own Son our Savior Jesus Christ, and feeds us with spiritual food in the Blessed Sacrament.

In the Sacrament of Baptism, we welcome new believers into the family we call the Body of Christ. As they pass through the waters of baptism, we are asked to do all in our power to support them in their life in Christ. All of us have an important role to play in their spiritual development. It is no small thing what we do around the baptismal font, since all of us take solemn vows for which God will hold us accountable.

God is saying to us today, “You are my beloved sons and daughters; with you I am well pleased.” Embrace each other in the love God has freely given us, and reach out to those who long to be loved. Go and spread the good news that the Kingdom of God has come near.

 

— The Rev. Timothy G. Warren is a vocational deacon at Trinity Episcopal Church, Redlands, Calif. He is a 26-year retired Air Force veteran with more than 15 years’ experience as an educator in the private and public sector. Deacon Warren is the founder of Trinity Victorville Outreach, an emergent ministry that reaches out to at-risk young adults and families in the High Desert Region, Calif.

We are now in the realm of mystery, 1 Epiphany (B) – 2012

January 8, 2012

Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.”

It is the narrative simplicity of this verse from the first chapter of Mark that stuns at first reading. John the Baptizer had been working hard on the banks of the river, calling people to repentance and proclaiming that someone else was coming to complete his own ministry. According to the evangelist Mark, John had made it clear that The One who was coming after him was more powerful that he; John had shown his own humility by using an example of a servant’s act: bending down and untying an honored person’s sandals. “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandal,” he said of the one who was to come.

Now, please keep in mind that John was a famous man at this time; he was a celebrity as a fiery preacher of repentance. Had he lived in our own idolatrous age, he would have been given his own television show. All evidence points to the fact that John was powerful and had a huge following in the “whole Judean countryside,” and in Jerusalem. His call to repentance, though harsh, had attracted crowds of people who recognized their sins and, by submitting to John’s baptism, asked for both God’s judgment and God’s forgiveness. Imagine the temptation for such a man as John – power and fame were his for the taking. He could have built upon his movement for his own personal gain.

John rejects it all. There is no hint that any of this ever tempted him. One wonders how much his parents had told him of the wondrous lead-up to his birth. Most certainly they must have told him stories as he grew up. This is what people did at that time when there were no books to read to their children, no television and computer games with which to entertain them. They told stories. John knew from early on that he was closely connected to one who would surpass him in serving God. And all evidence also points us to the startling conclusion that this powerful man, in his own right, accepted this as fact and as God’s will and plan.

So he prepares his followers for the one who is to come. Why? What else will the Coming One have to offer that John was not offering? John says clearly, “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” What exactly this must have meant to his followers we can only guess. If they had read, or heard the prophets read to them, they would remember the marvelous words of Joel:

I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams
and your young men shall see visions.

They were probably people who longed to feel God’s breath upon them, but it was John they had come to see, and John who was baptizing them, lifting from them the burden of their sins. The rest was in the future; it was not of the moment.

It is at this point that Mark announces in his utter simplicity that Jesus traveled from Nazareth to be baptized by John. No trumpets are blowing, no portents have appeared, no procession arrives at the river’s bank, and Mark relates no discussion between the two cousins before the baptism. Jesus comes like all the other people who come to John, and is baptized. God arrives to us without fanfare, in the ordinariness of our lives, and we don’t recognize him. He comes enfleshed, from distant, unimportant Nazareth – not from the significant city of Jerusalem, but from Nazareth! Jesus enters the waters as a human being and emerges from the waters with the unshakable assurance that he is God’s Son, the Beloved.

Now the attention shifts from John to Jesus. In Mark’s laconic telling of this story, it is only Jesus who sees the Spirit in physical form – that of a dove – and it is Jesus alone who hears the words, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

And this is when everything changes. The Spirit of God is no longer a future promise, a prophetic dream of what is to come, but a present, living reality. A man from Nazareth is filled with the Holy Spirit and is here in order to baptize all who come to him with God’s Spirit. As John baptized with water, so Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit. This is what John promised to his followers, and this is what is so often ignored in the retelling of this story.

Jesus is baptized by John, and henceforth the great gift of God – God’s Spirit upon us – becomes ours for the asking. Both John and Jesus have very short ministries in terms of human time. John prepares the people for God’s coming among them, and Jesus strides out of the waters of the Jordan ready to do God’s will and to reveal it to the rest of us in a few short years. Jesus knows the mind of God and acts upon this knowledge with a boldness that attracts some people and makes others so frightened that they put him to death. The Christ of God, who is revealed to all the new believers in the Acts of the Apostles and is proclaimed in the epistles, comes to us now through the power of the Holy Spirit. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” becomes now the gift that Christ’s disciples offer to those who confess the name of Jesus. And thus the world is transformed.

Jesus of Nazareth is no longer walking the Judean hills, but his Spirit remains and is present everywhere. Even to those who may not have heard, or who may not know how to use the right words, the Spirit is given as a gift of God; this we learn in the story that Luke tells in today’s portion of Acts. Paul arrives in Ephesus to find believers who have been baptized. He asks them: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit?” and they really don’t recognize the words, though they are believers. Then Paul asks a significant question: “Into what then were you baptized?”

And here is where our old friend’s name reappears; John is not forgotten. “Into John’s baptism,” they answer. Paul does not discount John. He explains how John’s baptism was completed by the coming of Jesus. Repentance, the change of mind, the transformation of one’s thinking about God, is completed by the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Paul lays his hands on them and the power is given to them also. And on and on the story continues.

We are now in the realm of mystery. Jesus saw the Spirit of God in the form of a visible dove, Mark tells us. His followers have testified to the gift of the Spirit in multiple ways: they have prophesied, they have spoken in tongues, they have praised God, they have performed miracles; they have become missionaries under horrendously difficult conditions and have opened hospitals where none existed; and in the process they have given the great gift of education to those who had none. Some accept these as gifts of the Spirit; others doubt them. The reality of the Spirit’s presence remains.

The Incarnate God was baptized by John in the river Jordan as an ordinary man from Nazareth. His life, death, and resurrection make it possible for all human beings to learn of God’s love and to receive the gift of God’s Spirit. How the Spirit manifests itself differs in each one of us. On this day when we commemorate the baptism of our Lord, we bow our heads and pray that we too may be called children of God, God’s beloved.

 

— Katerina Whitley is the author of Light to the Darkness (Morehouse Publishing, 2008) among other books. She lives and writes in Boone, North Carolina.

The creation story is not over, 1 Epiphany (B) – 2009

January 11, 2009

Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

Today we celebrate a rite of passage: the baptism of Jesus in the Jordon River, the river that held so much significance for generations of ancestors before him. Jesus was baptized by his cousin, John. It was a baptism of repentance, an act of humility and the receiving of a name – the death to the old and the creation of a new identity. The readings today help us connect and focus on baptisms, including our own baptisms.

The foundation for the gospel is laid in the creation story from Genesis, in which God creates the earth from a void where water, wind, and fire come together. Each of these elements have the power to both create and destroy, as we know; but God uses them for good through his Holy Spirit, and it is this Spirit that brings to completion the rite of baptism that bind us to God.

The Episcopal Church’s Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music has put together a publication called “Changes: Prayers and Services Honoring Rites of Passage.” It provides us with a thorough description of the elements of rites by people from many cultures and religious traditions that recognize and effect change. Although the structure of the rites may differ, there are key elements or themes common to them, such as: naming the transition and its affect on the person and whole community; declaring what went before to include loss and grief, growth and letting go, gratitude, and the need for healing, courage and imagination; and proclamations of hope and willingness to discern a new call to create a rite.

And that is what happens to us when we are baptized. The Spirit or “wind” moves through the symbols of water, fire, and the community or “earth,” calling us by name to fulfill the Kingdom of God. We are called into the vocation of Christian life, but we must be willing to accept the name signifying our vocation and new life. When an infant is baptized, the child’s parents and sponsors offer the name and accept the vocation until the time when the baptized child is able to accept the call.

We are never really fully ready for the significant transitions of life, but thanks be to God, the power of the Holy Spirit comes in God’s time, not ours. Today’s gospel reading describes for us the experience witnessed by the community when Jesus was baptized.

Jesus had been named, and in his family’s tradition, he was presented and circumcised at an early age. The time for Jesus to accept his role as Messiah, to become fully human and begin to model the glorious impossibilities, came when the heavens were torn apart – tearing the social fabric that separated the rich and poor, the rigidness of law that separated rather than bringing together, and brought into focus the true Kingdom of God through God’s beloved. God revealed his true incarnation in Jesus on that day of the baptism.

From that point on, it was up to Jesus to live into his transformed identity. This is also true for each of us as baptized Christians.

A Native American Coyote story describes a poor man who had a dream or vision that there was a place where everything is perfect. You might say that this was heaven. He had been told that this place was visible to all who had accepted a life of humility and complete service to their community. The poor man felt very humble, especially since he had no real possessions, but he felt that he must set out on a journey away from his present life and community in search of this perfect place.

He set out the next day at dawn. He walked and walked the entire day, and when evening arrived, before he had found the perfect place, he set up camp, took out his meager meal of bread and a flask of water to satisfy his hunger and thirst. He gave thanks, ate the bread, drank the water, and then he removed his sandals and placed them facing in the direction he was headed so he could continue his journey the next day. Then went to sleep.

While the poor man slept that night, Coyote came and turned his shoes around so that they faced the direction from where the man had come that day. When the poor man awoke, he put on his shoes, and began to walk again. While he walked all day, he thought about this perfect place, this heavenly city. When it was nearly dark, he came to a place that looked strangely familiar. He walked down a street, turned a corner, and saw a somewhat familiar dwelling. He waited outside the dwelling until its inhabitants came out to greet him and invite him in. When they did, he entered and was given warm clothes and a warm meal that was so delicious he could not remember the last time he had eaten so well. He was received with such hospitality that he felt as though he was a member of a family he had known his whole life.

After much talk, singing, and praying, the whole household offered the poor man their best bedding. He thanked them and laid down to sleep thanking Creator God for the abundant blessings shared with him. He could not help but think that this was, indeed, a perfect place, a heavenly place. How could there be another more perfect?

This is what our journey into baptized life is like. Baptism is our glimpse into the Kingdom of God right here and right now. We frequently reaffirm our covenant relationship with God and one another, but at times we get lost and think that somehow we must go away from who we are in order to fulfill our call to be people of God. Once in a while we lose sight of what is right before us and we begin to focus our energy elsewhere, hoping that we will find that perfect place. We struggle with the challenge that the “perfect place” can only exist when we are living our promises and inviting everyone around us to share in that life as well.

We enter into this covenant. It is a contract in which each party has a responsibility to the other. We are baptized with the Holy Spirit and receive a new awareness, a new appreciation and comprehension of creation. We realize that we have a power that has always been there since the beginning of our existence as human beings. And that is the power to change tomorrow – to change reality from what it is to what it should be.

The creation story is not over. It is not finished. God is still creating and has declared us as co-creators, co-authors, of the next chapter. Tomorrow is up to you. What are you going to make of it? Will there be a voice from heaven saying, “You are my child, the beloved. With you I am well pleased”?

Here is a prayer by Jean McCallum from the book Read Mark and Pray:

Jesus, you are the one who rises from the water and the tomb to offer new life to all.
We offer our life as a sign of our worship.
Jesus, you are the one who agrees to be baptized to be at one with us.
We offer our baptism as a sign of being with you.
Jesus, you are the one for whom the heavens open to allow the Spirit to descend.
We offer our ready heart as a sign of our open life.
Jesus, you are the one who is the Son so well loved that God’s delight is in you.
We offer you our delight and joy as a sign of our everlasting love.

 

— The Rev. Debbie Royals is a regional missioner for Native Ministry Development, based in the Diocese of Los Angeles. She is the Province VIII Indigenous People’s Network chair and a CREDO health faculty member.

The voice of the Lord is upon the waters, 1 Epiphany (B) – 2006

January 8, 2006

Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

“The voice of the Lord is upon the waters … the Lord is upon the mighty waters” (Psalm 29).

There is a temptation to say too much about this Feast of our Lord’s Baptism and the lessons before us. The texts speak mightily for themselves: The spirit-wind of God and God’s voice is upon the mighty waters. The spirit-wind of God and God’s voice is upon the mighty waters of our baptism, just as this spirit-wind and voice was upon the waters of the River Jordan at our Lord’s baptism.

How many of us find ourselves like the disciples depicted in Acts, Chapter 19? When asked if we have received the Holy Spirit, might we too respond, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit”?

Yet, it was there, sweeping across the face of the waters in the very beginning. There is a problem of translation here. Translating the Hebrew “ruah” (rue-ah) as “a wind” just does not do justice to the Biblical text, let alone the Judeo-Christian tradition.

The word can mean breath, wind, and spirit. We can almost feel it in the fourth gospel’s depiction of Jesus breathing upon the disciples, a particularly intimate experience of God.

As it hovers or sweeps across the untamed and chaotic waters of creation, it is a mighty wind releasing into the world a specific force that is linked to the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus, but which is invisible, inexplicable, and irresistible.

This word of Spirit is an attempt to speak about Israel’s conviction that the world is God’s arena of governance beyond human explanation or control.

And this word Spirit is often seen to be a gift of imaginative freedom through which all members of the community of faith are capable of futuring beyond the present circumstances life presents. Spirit is God’s active involvement to move us through hope to a new future.

As Walter Brueggemann has slyly observed in his book Reverberations of Faith, “The Spirit resists being put into a flow chart or any schematic design on our part.”

It is this Spirit, this ruah, that Jesus later says comes from we know not where and means to carry us we know not where.

Perhaps this is the beginning of our ignorance of God’s Spirit: having to give up human control as Jesus asserts is not one of our primary attributes or desires. Anything that demands our giving up control is something we generally feel we can do without.

Yet, there it is on page 298 in our Book of Common Prayer in the definition of our Baptism. “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church. The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluable.”

Reflect upon Jesus’ baptism for just a moment. In Mark’s gospel we see John hard at work managing a growing revival meeting down on the banks of the River Jordan. People everywhere as far as one can see confessing their sins and accepting God’s forgiveness.

Over the horizon, beyond anyone’s sight or vision, strides in the adult Jesus having walked all the way from Nazareth. Into the water he goes. As he comes up out of the water, the heavens do not just open, they are torn apart – a word we will not hear again until Jesus is on the cross, breathes his last ruah, and the curtain of the temple is torn in two, from top to bottom. Out of these torn apart heavens the Spirit-Wind, the Ruah of God, descends like a dove upon him. And a voice from heaven declares, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Try to see this all in your mind. Hear what it sounds like for the heavens to be torn apart. Hear what it sounds like, see what it looks like to see God’s Spirit-Wind descending on someone. Listen carefully to the voice: You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Now try to let the imaginative gift of the Spirit, which is yours in Holy Baptism, hear those words spoken to you, to us.

For you see, we are Christ’s Body. As we come up from the waters of our baptism, these words are meant for us: You are my Beloved; I am well pleased with you.

What would it be like to accept our belovedness? How does that feel? How does it feel to know, to really know deep inside in the most secret places of your being that God is well pleased with you? Can anyone among us remember having heard these words at his or her baptism?

It is altogether likely that in growing up and as we say “maturing” that we forget. We forget ever hearing these words. We forget who we are and whose we are. Sadder still, we come to believe that this could not possibly be God’s word to me, here, now, today.

Yet, to believe this is to separate our selves, our very self, from the love of God. And to separate our self from the love of God is what our Baptismal service calls sin. This is perhaps our most fundamental sin: to forget that we are God’s Beloved; that God is well pleased with us. Such forgetting is the beginning of so much that troubles us. Such forgetting makes it nearly impossible to follow and obey Christ as our Lord and Savior.

It takes a conscious effort to remember who we are and whose we are. It takes daily reminders to accept our Belovedness. It takes daily remembering, re-membering, to internalize this Good News of our Baptism into a living force of God’s Spirit alive within us and beyond us.

Two places to begin this remembering are the following. First, read Psalm 139 once a day for at least 30 days. Your acceptance of this News will deepen with each reading.

The second place is found in this short passage from Henri Nouwen’s little book, Life of the Beloved. Listen to these words with great inner attentiveness. At your center is a voice that says:

“I have called you by name, from the very beginning. You are mine and I am yours. You are my beloved, on you my favor rests. I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb. I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace. I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child. I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step. Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever you rest, I keep watch. I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will satisfy all your thirst. I will not hide my face from you. You know me as your own as I know you as my own. You belong to me. I am your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your lover, your spouse. Yes, even your child. Wherever you are I will be. Nothing will ever separate us. We are one.”

God’s Spirit-Wind hovers above us night and day, calling us, forming us, making us God’s own. Listen for the voice of the Lord. Our Lord’s baptism is our Baptism.

“The voice of the Lord is upon the waters … the Lord is upon the mighty waters.”

 

— The Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek is rector of St. Peter’s Church in Ellicott City, Maryland, a parish in the Anglo-Catholic tradition. He also travels throughout the church leading stewardship events for parishes, dioceses, clergy conferences, and diocesan conventions. He has long been involved in the work of The Episcopal Network for Stewardship (TENS), and the Ministry of Money. He frequently uses music and storytelling in his proclamation of the Word.