Rev. DeeAnne Lowman, Associate Pastor
“Being Beloved Can Be Hard”
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Mark 1: 4-11
It is good to be back with you all following the adoption of our son, Max. I am very thankful to all of our staff who supported me and my areas of ministry during our time of bonding with our son. He appears happy and healthy and glad to be at home with his dad. He might be more fun than Mama, but Mama makes sure he isn’t wearing the same onesy for three days straight.
Will you pray with me…
God of both the spectacular and
And God, if not because of my
words and my ways, but in spite of them, may your word and your way be known.
John the Baptizer was out, “proclaiming” the need to repent of sins and to be baptized as a symbol of that turning toward God and away from sin. He saw that most folks were living as though they didn’t know or remember the Law. They were essentially living as gentiles, so he invited people to renew their commitment to living faithfully through baptism. Throughout human history water in many faith traditions has been a way to signify some kind of washing away or conversion to a new/renewed life. While Mark’s description of John is rather mild, John is often portrayed in both secular and religious depictions as a shouter, a screamer, and very impatient. In Luke’s rendition of the events of this passage, John is not out merely “proclaiming” about repentance but says to the crowd who has come out to be baptized, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” (Luke 3:7-8) I found this Christmas card by Will Humes that I think says it all.
I’ve often thought of Mark’s Gospel as sort of the Reader’s Digest Condensed Version of the life of Jesus. There is no birth narrative in Mark – no star in the east, no stable, no inn, no shepherds. The story from Mark’s perspective pretty much begins with John the Baptizer telling people about changing their lives and then introduces everyone to his much better cousin, Jesus, who will help them do just that. But before Jesus actually begins his work and life of ministering to people, he goes to where others are going – down by the river to be baptized by John. Again most art about this event is about the same. It looks like Jesus is having an ok time, even a joyous one. And then there is the dove that descends, and God speaks and Jesus is beloved. A solemn, even calm portrait.
In other gospel accounts of this scene God appears to be heard by others. But in Mark’s gospel, it is unclear if anyone else is really privy to the declaration of God that Jesus is the beloved son. In fact, God says “you are my son” not “this is my son.” So if no one else hears this, what power is given to Jesus – what authority is given to him at this moment? What does Jesus gain from this? What does this mean for him or for anyone else?
Just before we left to adopt Max, we had a conference
call with all the people who would be traveling about the same time as we did
for the same reason – going to meet their long awaited and already loved
children from orphanages and foster homes in
I’m not so sure that Jesus loved being beloved all the time. Being beloved isn’t always easy. In fact, it can be downright awful if it’s not what you want or what you were expecting. After that wonderful scene where Jesus is bathed in light and the Spirit descends and the voice of God speaks, Jesus is driven out into the wilderness BY THE SAME SPIRIT that just descended on him and then he’s tempted in this wilderness by none other than Satan. So this is what it means to be beloved? So this is what I get for pleasing God?
Jesus felt drawn to the water and to John for renewal, for baptism. We have some sense that Jesus may have been living a righteous life, although we don’t know that from Mark’s gospel. John tells folks that he, John, is not fit to untie Jesus’ shoe. “You think I’m holy, wait ‘til you all meet my cousin.” People have witnessed John’s unconventional lifestyle, albeit a devoted one. Some even thought that John was the Messiah sent by God to save. So if this guy is greater than John, he must have made some good choices for living so far.
Another piece that isn’t in this description of the traditional story that I remember from other gospel accounts is that John doesn’t argue with Jesus about baptizing him. John just baptizes Jesus along with others in the line. Jesus is another who receives the cleansing waters of renewal, but Jesus hears this voice. OR did everyone get that – did everyone who was baptized hear the same thing? We don’t know. But the weight of hearing the voice would be alarming – a child of God and God is pleased – what next? It’s hard for me to think that at that moment, everything became clear to Jesus. Instead, I sense it may have been just the opposite. Where do you go from there after God tells you that God’s pleased with you and you are God’s child? What if the next step you choose is wrong or out of line?
When our agency was preparing us for receiving Max into our lives, they gave us some tips about how he might act. He might decide to be very defiant and even self-destructive. He might exhibit anger or frustration with the simplest of things. They told us he might be unreasonably compliant, afraid to do anything that might displease us. We were encouraged to companion him, but not to make all his decisions for him. The way we knew that he was adjusting well was when he started to appropriately make some decisions on his own, like where he would crawl or what he would eat from his plate without consulting us or getting our approval first. We are grateful that Max appears to be doing things that most 16 month old children do.
I tell you this not because I think that Max and Jesus
have a great deal in common. On the
contrary, Max has begun to exhibit behavior considered far from divine as of
late. Nor do I think that either Chris or I are deserving of the title,
“Divine Parent.” But I think that the transition for Max to this new way of
life and the realization for all of us that we are loved by God is the same –
now what? Now what do we do now that
we know that God knows who we are and we begin to know who God is? This transition, this movement is not
easy. There isn’t one way, one right
path, one correct way of being a child of God. There are sometimes things and peoples and
ways of life we have to leave behind in order to claim the adoption we are
offered. There isn’t a button to push
that makes us the perfect disciples and then says, “That was easy.” We all have to find our way of living out
of our own experience of being God’s beloved. The hope is that in the
relationship building, we learn more and more about what it means to be not
only a child of God, but a child of God committed to living into that
That’s why John told folks that the baptism John was doing was important, but that the life lived in the baptism of Jesus – a committed life – was more valuable than anything he could do to them.
Since Max joined our family on October 20th, we’ve been working through the nature of our relationship with him. He knows some baby signs, his favorite lately being “cracker”. We’ve begun to learn his other signs as well, like when he rubs his eyes he wants to lay down but not necessarily go to sleep. He’s learning our signs as well, like when Mama opens the fridge that means that food is happening not far away.
The difference between conversion and commitment may just be that – moving from recognizing God and God’s love to the learning God’s signs and signals. While the adoption of Max brought him to us, time and experience have helped us all to feel as though we are family. Jesus’ baptism, your baptism, my baptism – it was just the beginning. Today we are invited to reaffirm that first time, that first place, that first understanding of us all as included in this amazing, confusing, grace-filled circle of God’s love.
As we reaffirm this act, this sacrament of baptism during our Renewal this morning, you can perhaps ask that you continue to learn the signs and signals of Christ in our lives. Maybe you are looking for what is next in your life with God, or what you might need to follow Jesus more closely. Maybe this renewal will help you know that you are a part of a community of others seeking God and you aren’t alone in the search. Maybe you just need to feel again as though you are a child of God and that’s the only thing you need today. The invitation to this renewal is to all of you, who want to hear again, or perhaps for the first time, “You are my child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”