11 Jan Sermon for the Baptism of Christ/Epiphany 1, Year A
Sunday 8th January, 2023
Preaching this morning, as we celebrate the baptism of Jesus, gives me the opportunity to introduce you to someone who had quite the influence on me as a child, a man by the name of Fred.
Fred was an ordained Presbyterian minister. He never had a church and didn’t much take to preaching…
but what he was really good at and cared so much about was communicating with children and supporting them in their early stages of development; helping them to learn how to cope with a difficult and challenging world and how to manage difficult feelings…
And he did this by harnessing what was the new technology of the day – the television. He created a children’s television programme that ran for 3 decades called Mr Roger’s Neighbourhood. And so, I grew up with Mr Rogers on my television screen.
And the fundamental message that I and thousands of children would hear every time we tuned in was something along the line of ‘I like you just the way you are’ – ‘you are special to me’ – ‘won’t you be my neighbour.’
Fred never mentioned God or talked about faith, and most people probably didn’t know he was a minister, but he shared with millions of children the same simple message that God wants each one of us – his children — to hear, and to know, and to believe, and to live out of…
‘You are special to me – I love you just the way you are, and I want to help you navigate life – and all its challenges so you can grow into the fullness of who I have created you to be.
At Jesus’ baptism, after John agrees to baptise Jesus, the heaven’s open, the spirit of God descends and a voice from heaven speaks, ’This is my Son – my beloved – with whom i am well pleased.’
This belovedness is fundamental to Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, everything begins here, with this understanding, with this awareness.
And if, for us, Jesus is the supreme example of what it means to be fully human, living in relationship with the divine — than this belovedness is also fundamental to our identity as children of God.
Everything begins here, with this understanding, with this awareness — with this epiphany
If the baptism of Jesus – as we celebrate in Epiphanytide – is about the manifestation of God in Christ – revealing Christ’s nature and identity, it is also by extension about the manifestation of God in our lives – revealing the truth of our nature and our identity in Christ
The clouds may not have visibly parted at your baptism. I am guessing you probably did not see the Spirit descending as a dove, or hear an audible voice, but the spiritual reality that changes our lives is the same and those words echo from heaven’s throne over each one of us as God says ‘You are my child, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased’
Or in the words of Mr Rogers, ‘It’s you I like, you are special to me’.
Sometimes it can be hard to believe and trust in our belovedness. We think we’ve got things so wrong – God couldn’t love us. We think life has become so difficult – it must be a sign – God doesn’t love us.
We live in a world where people are measured by what they do, what they earn, what they know how they act, how they look, how sound… It can be hard to believe that we could be worthy of love just for being who we are.
Some of us will have been fortunate enough to have people in our lives who have understood something about unconditional love – and have been able to share that with us…
As Mr Rogers would say – these are the people who loved us into existence, just as God loves us into existence. Mr Rogers wanted children to know that this kind of love exists for them even if they didn’t experience it at home or at school or later, as adults, at work.
It takes us more than a lifetime to discover the depths of our belovedness before and in God and what that all means. So if and when you find yourself in a time of life where it is just hard to believe – don’t worry, don’t despair – this love exists for us even when, particularly when, we can’t feel it.
Henri Nouwen said
the real “work” of prayer is to become silent
and listen to the voice that says good things about me.
Yes, there is that voice, the voice that speaks from above
and from within and that whispers softly or declares loudly:
“You are my Beloved, on you my favour rests.”
Of course, this is just the starting point from where we begin to understand the world that this belovedness of God is creating around us and in us and through us.
If in his baptism — Jesus identified himself with the fragile flesh of all humanity — and indeed, with the entire time-bound created order; and if through Christ, and our baptism, we are brought into renewed relationship with God, the divine, the eternal, it is not simply as isolated individuals — but as part of a great cosmic community which is being renewed and recreated in and through Christ.
I don’t have much experience of the Episcopal church in America but I do know that presiding Bishop Michael Curry talks about the mission, the purpose, of the church as ‘becoming the beloved community’.
The beloved community being that which we pray for – when we pray ‘thy kingdom come’ a community that as it responds to God’s love, demonstrates on earth the profound nature of that love and its power to heal, to restore to reconcile and to liberate.
Effectively God is creating this beloved community through our very response to the love that we receive.
I know that this is nothing new for you – this belovedness of God – and yet it is one of those things that we need to return to continually, daily.
Our belovedness and the response to that love that is called out of us by that love – so that it can seep more deeply into our hearts our minds our souls and become more and more part of the very nature of our being and so today is just another opportunity for us to meditate on, the rest in, to be transformed by and to offer ourselves in loving response to the love of God for us – that has been revealed to us – in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Image: Le Breton, Jacques ; Gaudin, Jean. Baptism of Christ, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=51568 [retrieved January 11, 2023]. Original source: Image donated by Jim Womack and Anne Richardson.