Tuesday, January 15, 2013

You Are My Beloved!

The question of faith is do we believe it.
Do we believe what God has said to us?
Do we believe what God has to say about who we are?
Do we believe in the promises of God?
This morning Jesus after his baptism hears a voice from heaven descending like a dove.
That voice says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Jesus baptism prepares him for his life of service.
It reveals Jesus true mission and identity in the world.
Our baptisms do the same for us they reveal to us who we really are.
We are beloved children of God.
The question is do we believe that or not?

There are some who might say that what is preached too often in our churches these days is some kind of therapeutic message.
That what we get instead of the gospel is a watered down message that is meant to make people feel good.
Some would say that our churches have become places of therapy instead of places where we are challenged by the demands of a life of service.

For me it is never an either or proposition.
Look at Jesus baptism for guidance.
It is both a call for service and a revelation of a promise that God makes to all of us.

You see when I meet people whose lives are in ruins.
When I meet people who are down and out, people who have been in prison, who are now homeless, and battling various problems in their lives.
Their stories are different, but what I find are people who don’t know about this promise or people who don’t believe it.
I hear people who don’t know their worth.
I hear people who don’t believe that anyone even God could love them.
I have yet to meet someone who is down and out who has said to me, “You know the problem in my life is that I was simply loved too much.”
The Gospel is about a love that is ours always.
All the other relationships in our lives demand something from us.
They demand that we give something to them.
But our baptism in Christ is pure gift.
And it never goes away.
God is always there for us.
Now we might reject the gift, we might forget about the relationship for times in our lives, but God’s love is never dependent on what we do.
For me this is the radical nature of the Gospel.

I was reading about how many people believe that they have to do something for God.
But baptism is always God’s work and not ours.
This is why we, Lutherans, baptize babies.
It is one way for us to show that it is not our work but God’s.
Babies cannot do anything for God, and seeing them baptized is one symbol of how we come to God.

The hard part is carrying that into all of our lives.
When everything else has left us, when we have been beaten up and left unloved by everybody else do we still believe that God calls us his beloved children?
It is hard to do, because the people in our lives are those people that teach us about our worthiness.
It is from our parents that we first learn love and trust.
When that is broken where do we turn?

I believe that Holy Spirit can help us to see it again.
At Jesus baptism the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descends like a dove.
Have you ever had this experience in your life?
I believe that with God it is possible.

I worked for a while in a home for abused and neglected children in Portsmouth, NH.
There was this young woman who lived in that house.
I will call her Mellissa.
We had a connection because we liked the same music.
One day we took a walk to a store near the house with some other residents.
She was going through a particularly bad time.
On the way she was sharing with me some of the things that had happened to her in her life.
The things that this poor young girl had to live through are really unspeakable.
She was abused by the people who should have showed her love.
I was searching for something to say to her that was of some comfort.
On the way back to the house it started to rain.
We got back to the house and were soaked from the rain.
As I looked at her covered in water, I thought about baptism.
I saw that water as a sign of God’s reminding her of his love and care.
It was as if the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit was cleansing her and saying, you are my beloved child.
Of course, I could not say that in that particular setting.
It was one of the things that made me really want to go become a pastor.
Because I believed that beyond all the therapy that one could offer was something more profound that I wanted to be able to tell people.
I realized that I wanted to be able to tell people like Mellissa of God’s never failing love.
I wanted to tell her that even though other people had made her feel unloved and unworthy that God loved her and believed her to be worthy.

All of us here are part of that call.
The reason why we are given this promise is to share it with others.
We are given the promise of God’s love in our baptism so we can carry that love into the world.
We can help others remember this love that redeems and saves us.
So the love we receive leads us to serve and give to others.

You see we cannot remove one from the other.
If the message of the Gospel is just God loves you that is incomplete.
We need to hear the second part which is that we are then equipped for our work in the world.
Jesus is not just told of his beloved status but then sent to serve in that love.
It cannot just be that we are to serve others.
How can we accomplish such thing?
How can we give love others if we feel we are unworthy of love?
Service without love is simply not enough.
We serve out of love because that is what God gives to us.

For me this is not just some theological insight I gleamed from a dusty book in seminary.
This is how I have always experienced God at work in my life, and those around me.
I have heard hundreds of stories just like Mellissa’s.
I have also seen what God can do when people believe that they are loved and have worth.
God has placed us all here for extraordinary reasons.
And as a pastor I get to see people give extravagantly to others.
I have seen the love of God in action in people’s lives.
It has always been God’s love that has kept me going.
I believe in my core that I am beloved child of God, and nothing can take that away from me.
This morning I am asking you to believe it too.
Not because I said it but because the heavens open and God speaks it to you.
I am asking you to believe it because it is matter of life and death.
When we believe that we are loved and valued by God.
When we believe that we are worthy then I believe we can and will do extraordinary things in this world.
We will love and give beyond what others think or know possible.
I have seen the devastating effects of what happens to people who don’t know their own worth.
It is as if life is taken away from them.

Today the heavens have opened the Holy Spirit is descending on us, and God is telling us that we are beloved children.
Do you believe it?
I hope so because it is true.


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