(listen along for a more enhanced sermon experience!)
4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
You are my beloved — in whom I am well pleased.
Who has said that to you — looking directly into your eyes — and beyond them into your soul and spirit?
You are my beloved — in whom I am well-pleased.
SUCH a powerful declaration.
Did your mom or dad, or grandparent communicate this to you? Early childhood experts now tell us when a baby looks into their parent’s eyes, and receives this message — this gaze of love — it is food for them. Essential for developing in a healthy, whole child and then adult. Babies deprived of both a bottle and this nurture, babies will always choose their parents first.
Perhaps you’re thinking of your wedding day, when you stood face to face with the one you loved, and looking into one another’s eyes, declared before the world: You are my beloved — in whom I am well-pleased.
I’m reminded of the wedding of Betty Joanna and Ronni Gilboa, right here. They had been partners for decades, lived together, worked for justice together, but now Betty had breast cancer that wasn’t responding to chemo, and it was time to marry. This wasn’t a wedding early in life, full of possibility and dreams. This was a deep declaration of the bond of love these 2 women had shared for years. And the word they chose to call one another was besherit — Hebrew for beloved, soulmate. You are my beloved, in whom I am well-pleased.
Today, in Lucas Arredondos-Franz’s baptism (at 11AM), God makes the very same declaration. With the same depth of love — and then some.
It’s not that God did not love Lucas before today, but it’s that it’s important to have moments, times to HEAR the truth of that, to feel it in our bones, to take it in. To affirm what is being declared to us:
As God has declared to you and to me, and to Jesus: I, who am your Creator, I who am your Redeemer, I who am your spirit of life —
I name you, I claim you — as my beloved, in whom I am well-pleased.
No matter how great or foolish you are;
no matter what mix of weakness and strength you have,
Trust it, trust me, lean into me, REALLY ‘dive’ into me — baptism = immerse.
Take just a minute? Now: Close your eyes, hear it through me, but from God’s presence here:
Sink into it and let it sink into you: You are my beloved – in whom I am well-pleased.
It’s tempting to stop here. And we probably SHOULD pause here much more often than we do!
But there’s more — we are beloved, AND you and I are empowered.
That’s a word that gets thrown around a lot, right? Empowerment. Jargon.
But look at what John the Baptist says today: MY baptism (immersion) is for forgiveness of sins. No small thing! Cleansing. A fresh start. A new beginning.
But it’s chicken feed compared to the baptism of the one who will follow me — His baptism will be immersion into the very spirit of God.
What kind of Spirit IS the Spirit of God? Well, we say a lot about it in the baptism: wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, reverence and joy in God, righteousness, comfort, justice, self-giving love, hope, life and light.
These are ALL characteristics of God — and therefore, of God’s Spirit.
WOW! The Holy Spirit descending on Jesus is the same Spirit God empowers you with!
So, another WOW! Me? Empowered? You? Empowered?
We hear it in sports — right? Yes, you CAN.
Maybe at work — You’ve got this!
Your physical therapist? Counselor? Friend? I believe in you. Here’s what I’ve seen in you that maybe you’ve missed in yourself.
And what a difference when you’ve got someone who is confident in you. Perhaps more than you are in yourself. Nudging, pushing, coaxing, encouraging, advocating, patiently helping through the disappointments or losses or failures.
God: Here. I share my wisdom with you, my power. YOU can make God things happen. You don’t have to do this God work just under your own power?
Do you know that? Do you know you ARE empowered? Not: you CAN be. Not: you MIGHT be, IF you… Not: you WILL be when… You ARE empowered. I AM empowered, by the power of God’s Spirit — in Christ, together.
We can hear that as a huge obligation and responsibility, a near-impossible undertaking. After all, the news is relentless. If we focus on all that is wrong, we will surely despair in our ability to do anything that makes a difference — and maybe be tempted to lose hope altogether.
But don’t focus solely on what is wrong.
Learn to believe and trust God that you are empowered, just the way we lean into believing we’re beloved. Trust God: You can reflect God’s light into darkness wherever you encounter it, pointing people to God’s presence.
When you do, darkness does not have the last word. In any of its forms: death. Evil. Sin. The biggies — but all the smaller versions: weariness. isolation. confusion. anger. fear. the need for control.
And even when the ONLY light we can see is God’s light, it is enough.
This is who we are –God’s light reflectors.
A story by Robert Fulghum:
Near the village of Gonia on a rocky bay of the island of Crete, sits a Greek Oothodox monastery. Alongside it, on land donated by the monastery, is an institute dedicated to human understanding and peace…
The site overlooks the small airstrip at Malene where Nazi paratroopers invaded Crete and were attacked by peasants wielding kitchen knives and hay scythes. The retribution was terrible. The populations of whole villages were lined up and shot for assaulting Hitler’s finest troops. High above the institute is a cemetery with a single cross marking the mass grave of Cretan partisans. And across the bay on another hill is the burial ground of the Nazi paratroopers. The memorials are so placed all might see and never forget. Hate was the only weapon the Cretans had at the end, and it was a weapon many vowed never to give up. Never ever.
Against this heavy curtain of history, in this place where the stone of hatred is hard and thick (like it is in so many places in the world, including our own country), the institute is devoted to healing the wounds of war. How has it come to be here? The answer is a man. Alexander Papaderos…
A son of this soil. At war’s end, he came to believe Germans and Cretans had much to give one another–much to learn from one another. They had an example to set. If they could forgive each other, then any people could
Papderos succeeded. The institute became a reality–a conference ground on the site of horror. Books have been written on the dreams that were realized by what people gave to people in this place.
At the last session on the last morning of a 2-week seminar, Papaderos rose, turned and asked: Are there any questions?
Quiet quilted the room. So, I asked.
Dr. Papaderos, what is the meaning of life?
The usual laughter followed, and people stirred to go. Papaderos held up his hand and stilled the room. I will answer your question.
Taking his wallet out of his hip pocket, he fished into a leather billfold and brought out a very small round mirror, about the size of a quarter. And what he said went like this:
When I was small, during the war, we were very poor. One day on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place.
I kept the largest piece. This one. And by scratching it on a stone, I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine–in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find.
I kept the little mirror, and as I went about my growing up, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child’s game but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of the light. But light…is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it.
I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world–into the black places in the hearts of men–and change some things in some people…This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.
And then he took his small mirror and, holding it carefully, caught the bright rays of daylight streaming through the window and reflected them onto my face and onto my hands folded on the desk.
I hope each of you have a mirror, or a small star. I invite you to use it the way Dr. Papaderos did: put it in your wallet, or perhaps ON a photo of yourself you carry with you. And whenever you see it, hear God claim you and proclaim, as God did in your baptism: you are my beloved child, empowered by my own Spirit. to reflect light into dark places in the world.
Yes, you can! You’ve got this! Thanks be to God!