Like Jesus at his baptism, God offers us His unconditional love and blessing with the words “You are my beloved child; with you I am well pleased”. It is in solitude and prayer that we best hear these words from God. As we receive God’s blessing, we are empowered to become the person whom God created us to be, and can also “see the belovedness of other people and call that forth” (Henri Nouwen).
Speaker: Pastor Stephen “Tig” Intagliata
Main Bible Passage: Luke 3:15-17; 21-22
I get some interesting calls coming into the church phone in my office.
For example, the other day I got a call from a man I’ll call Mike. Mike told me that he was looking for a church where he can be baptized. He said that he believed that we were living in the end times, and that he wanted to make sure that he was baptized before the second coming of Jesus.
The conversation could have gone a lot of different directions from there. I wanted to keep it focused on baptism, but I did make a comment that we don’t really know when Jesus will come again, but that it is good to be prepared for it.
And then I asked him “So how did you decide to call our church to ask about being baptized?” Mike said “Well I live in Maryland, and have a church I attend there, but sometimes I spend time in the Fairfax area, so I found you online and thought I’d give you a call.”
I said, “OK cool, thanks for checking us out.” And then I told him a little bit about our church and our Mennonite/Anabaptist understanding of baptism.
I told him that we practice adult baptism, because we believe that it’s important for people to know what they’re getting into when they give their life to Christ.
And I told him that while baptism is very much an individual commitment to Jesus, it also has a communal dimension which involves a submission to a body of believers in a local church.
I told him that it’s important to be part of a church, where we support each other, encourage each other and hold each other accountable as we seek to follow in the way of Jesus and be a witness to the world around us.
Then I said, “So Mike, because of my understanding of baptism, it’s most meaningful if it takes place in the church that you are actively involved in.
You are more than welcome to come and worship with us, and then we can talk about baptism. But if you are already part of a local church somewhere, then I would encourage you to speak with your pastor about getting baptized there.”
“OK, thanks”, Mike said. I’ll pray about it and seek God’s direction on where I should get baptized. I might check your church out sometime.” Then we said a few more closing words and then ended our call.
Now on to the baptisms by John the Baptist in our scripture today. As John makes it clear, baptism involves a willingness to repent or turn away from sin, which is washed away and cleansed symbolically by water at a person’s baptism.
But Jesus’ baptism raises a question. If Jesus led a perfect, sinless life, why would he need to repent like everyone else?
Michael Card, the singer and author, addressed this question in his commentary of Luke. He says,
Jesus’ baptism is “unexplainable” because one who has never and who will never sin submits to a baptism that is a sign of repentance. (But) He is not repenting; he is identifying. It is the first step toward an eventual death on a cross…On Golgotha, he will die for sins he never committed so that he can forgive each and every sin.
Card is saying that Jesus’ baptism has to do with identifying his calling, his mission as the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world who will give his life to save us from the sin that plagues our world and our lives, every one of us.
We sang about this in many of the Christmas hymns this past month; in fact, let’s play a little game; I’ll say a phrase from a Christmas hymn, and you type the name of the hymn in the chat- let’s see who can be the first to come up with it:
“cast out our sin and enter in be born in us today” (O Little Town…)
“No more let sins and sorrows grow, no thorns infest the ground” (Joy to the World…)
“yet with the woes of sin and strife, the world has suffered long; (It Came Upon….)
So Jesus’ baptism is the moment when his identity is revealed as the Savior of a world in the grips of sin. As John says, Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, and this baptism has the power to cleanse us not only on the outside like water does, but it also can purify us from the inside out.
And there’s another thing about Jesus’ identity that we see here that we cannot overlook.
And that’s this communion of the Trinity—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit– that takes place right there in the waters of the Jordan River—Jesus starts to pray, and the Holy Spirit descends upon him in the form of a dove, and then he hears God’s voice from heaven say, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Here’s what Michael Card says about this scene:
… Jesus hears those words that he most needs to hear at the beginning of his difficult ministry. These words will help prepare Jesus for the wilderness he is about to endure. For the next three years of struggle, rejection and opposition, they will echo in his ears when he is most tempted to give up.
Jesus is receiving God his Father’s blessing here, for his life and for his ministry. He gets his Father’s blessing, God’s unconditional love for him, before he had done anything to earn it; it was a gift given freely to him.
And then Card gets a little more personal, and says,
These are the words that every son longs to hear from his father, but only a few ever do: “I am delighted in you; you are the one that I love”.
I’ve lived long enough to have come in contact with more than one son who felt restless and unworthy for not having received that blessing from his father.
I believe that this blessing is the most important gift that we parents can give to every child, both our sons and our daughters, to tell them that we love them unconditionally, no matter what, just for who they are.
To those of you who are parents, please pass your blessing on to your children. Let them know in your own way how much you love them; let them know that your love for them isn’t dependent upon anything they do, that it’s without conditions.
You see, like Jesus, knowing we have our parents’ blessing helps prepare us to face whatever life may throw at us; it gives us strength and the stamina to endure the hills and the valleys that we will encounter on our journey through life.
In a perfect world, all fathers and mothers would pass on their blessing, their unconditional love to their children. But the reality is that we live in a world in which we humans are flawed and broken,
A world where our parents may not have received the blessing of their parents, and so they don’t have it within them to give to their children. And as a result, there are a lot of people walking around the world, hungering for this blessing.
But the good news is that we all, every one of us has a heavenly parent who is longing to pass on the gift of his blessing to us. I believe that God says to each one of us,
“You are my beloved, and with you I am well pleased. I have loved you with an everlasting love.”
One of my favorite authors and spiritual mentors is Henri Nouwen. In several of Nouwen’s books, he reflects on what it means to be God’s beloved and receive God’s blessing upon his life.
The latest book by Nouwen I’ve been reading is called “Community”, and already in the first few pages he starts using these words beloved and blessed.
But first he begins by talking about solitude, taking time to be alone with God. He asks, Is there any space in your life for solitude? Nouwen says that we need to make time for prayer in solitude because
“it’s the place in which you can listen to the voice of the One who calls you beloved.
To pray is to listen to the One who calls you “my beloved daughter”, “my beloved son”, “my beloved child”. To pray is to let that voice speak to the center of your being, to your guts, and let that voice resound in your whole being…
When you are not claiming that voice, you cannot walk freely in this world.
Jesus listened to that voice all the time, and he was able to walk right through life, Nouwen says.
Nouwen then reflects on Jesus being tempted by the voice of Satan in the wilderness right after his baptism. And then he applies it to our own lives where we hear different voices contrary to voice of God. He says:
There are many other voices speaking—loudly: “Prove that you are the beloved. Prove that you are worth something. Prove that you have any contribution to make. Do something relevant. Be sure to make a name for yourself. At least have some power—then people will love you; then people will say you’re wonderful, you’re great.
But like Jesus, we can say: “No, I don’t need to prove anything. I am already the beloved.”…
If you keep this in mind, you can deal with an enormous amount of success as well as enormous amount of failure without losing your identity, because your identity is that you are the beloved.”
When you discover your belovedness by God, you see the belovedness of other people and call that forth. It’s an incredible mystery of God’s love that the more you know how deeply you are loved, the more you will see how deeply your sisters and your brothers in the human family are loved.
But you have to pray. You have to listen to the voice who calls you the beloved, because otherwise you will run around begging for affirmation, for praise, for success. And then you’re not free.
As I mentioned at our last worship service, every family unit at Daniels Run Peace Church will be receiving a copy of this book, “What if Jesus Was Serious About Prayer?”.
We’re reading this book this because I believe that prayer is our lifeblood, it is our primary way of staying connected to the source of life and love.
As Henri Nouwen says, making space to pray in order to listen to the voice of God who calls us beloved, this is what sets us free to become the person who God has created us to be.
So this week, I’d like to invite you to do a simple prayer practice. Find a quiet place or time every day this week, sit or stand with your arms lifted up toward heaven, as Jesus may have been doing at his baptism.
Then just repeat the phrase that Jesus heard from his Father at his baptism: “You are my son (or daughter, or child); with you I am well-pleased”. Repeat the phrase several times if you’d like, pausing for silence in between.
Use this time to receive God’s blessing upon your life; remember His blessing as you go through your day.
I want to close with a blessing that was inspired by God’s words to Jesus at his baptism; it’s called “Beginning with Beloved”, written by Jan Richardson. As you listen, I invite you to close your eyes, hold your palms up in a posture of openness to receive that blessing from God.