(repeat after me) “I am God’s Beloved”

1 Epiphany, B     January 7, 2018  


      Well, here we are in a new season! It might be called “arctic” but it’s really Epiphany.

      Christmas is over. Time to take down trees and other decorations and put them away til next year.

      And it’s time to put away our sentimental idea of Jesus as a cute baby who never cried or gave his mother trouble.

      From the very start of his story we know that Jesus will be anything but “tender and mild.” We read that his name means “he will save his people.”

      Only prayerful strength and faithfulness to God will accomplish that.

      Yesterday was the Feast of the Epiphany, when the wise men, or magi, or astrologers, arrive to honor

Jesus. Their gifts reinforce the divine nature of Jesus, and also the life of struggle he will have.

      Gold tells us that Jesus is a king. Frankincense tells us that he is God. Myrrh tells us that he will die.

      Not the cute or practical baby gifts that might have been helpful. Instead, prophetic symbols.

      Today we experience liturgical time travel. We jump ahead thirty years and celebrate Jesus’ baptism.

      Did you notice that this is the beginning of the Gospel according to Mark? No “Christmas story” of angels and shepherds as in Luke.

      No visitors from the east as in Matthew.

      Mark just drops us in the story with John the Baptizer. Then he takes us on a giddy ride through Jesus’ life until the crucifixion.

      The original manuscripts offer no resurrection, just as they offer no birth story.

      Jesus’ baptism shows us that he will not live a life of ease, despite the kingly gifts of the magi.

      Katherine Sonderegger has written, “The crushing suffocation of sin, the rage that sweeps over us like torrents, the weakness that undermines all resolve, the pitiful self-righteousness that cannot ignore how tinny it all sounds, the smallness and meanness, the icy darkness of cruelty: Christ has tasted all this in His baptism for us and for our sake.”

      Jesus stepped into the waters of the Jordan and took all of humanity into his heart.

      Lest it overwhelm him, he also heard, “You are my… Beloved. With you I am well pleased.”
These days, we usually baptize babies. They wear lovely white outfits and we ooh and ahh over them as we welcome them into the family of the church.

      We probably aren’t thinking of the promises we have just made in the Baptismal Covenant.

      We probably aren’t thinking of how we could live to make those promises reality—for us and for the baby just washed in holy water and filled with the Holy Spirit.

      The promises are daunting.

      Like Jesus, we have help living them.

      Like Jesus, we are God’s beloved. Each and every one of us.

      I love preaching at Baptisms, because it gives me the opportunity to say “You are God’s beloved.”

      Kirk Kubicek, a priest friend of mine, wrote a song for a young girl about to be baptized. She was old enough to have questions and worries about being good enough.

      The chorus of the song lives in my heart, and I hope it will live in yours.

      It’s the only thing I’ll sing solo in public. I’m not a good singer, sorry!

      “I am God’s beloved, God is well pleased with me.”

      Let’s say that together— “I am God’s beloved, God is well pleased with me.” And hold that thought.

      What a different world we would have if everyone believed that and lived it.

      I read recently that the world is made of three types of people: the oppressor, the bystander, and the oppressed.

      The oppressor thinks that they are better than everyone else, and lives to get the benefits that they think they deserve.

      The bystander sees this problem, but does nothing to challenge it.

      The oppressed is just trying to keep their head above water and not sink in despair.

      Jesus came to change that reality. Our Baptismal Covenant gives us ways to keep this from being reality.

      Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, writes, “Christians will be found in the neighborhood of Jesus – but Jesus is found in the neighborhood of human confusion and suffering, defenselessly alongside those in need. If being baptized is being led to where Jesus is, then being baptized is being led towards the chaos and the neediness of a humanity that has forgotten its own destiny.”

      Baptism is not just cute babies that don’t know what’s happening to them. Baptism is becoming a follower of Jesus and walking with Jesus.

      Baptism is recognizing oppression in all its forms and stepping up to right the wrongs it brings.

      Baptism is finding the oppressed and helping move them into a world of opportunity and safety.

      Bystanders need not apply.

      One reason people are bystanders (and oppressors and oppressed) is how we think about God.

      We get God mixed up with Santa Claus. We think that God is keeping a list of naughty and nice. We think that God will punish us unless we toe some line that our imagination gives us.

      If we are following Jesus, even if we only hear the Gospels on Sundays, we know that isn’t God’s way.

      God’s way is that we lift up the neglected and help them find resources and community to live with respect and dignity. God’s way is that we share so that everyone has enough—however we can.

      God’s way is that we turn from violence and help  find ways to live in peace, forgiveness and compassion.

      God’s way is love. Not just the love we have for the cute baby at the baptismal font, but active love that lives out the promises we will make in a moment.

      To live this love we have to know that God loves us. Without God’s love we keep trying to prove ourselves in ways that oppress others, and ourselves.

      When we know God’s love in our lives we don’t need to prove anything. There is nothing to prove.

      Say again with me, “I am God’s beloved, God is well pleased with me.”

      And, because I remember songs better than the spoken word sometimes, sing it with me, “I am God’s beloved…..”

      May that be our reality.



The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details