Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister

 

 

 

Being the Beloved

Sunday, January 8, 2006

 

 

Genesis 1: 1-5
Mark 1: 1-14

 

Rev. Dean Snyder

 

At least several times a week I walk past the statue of Martin Luther in front of our sister congregation, Luther’s Place on Thomas Circle.  Last year somebody had painted graffiti on the statue: the words “God’s little oddball.” This is what some people have called Martin Luther, “God’s little oddball.” Yet, I would challenge you to name more than five or six other people who have impacted the history of the western world and who have lived in the past 500 years more than Martin Luther.  The Protestant Reformation led to the Enlightenment, which led to what we call today modernity, which birthed many of the democratic principles that we value so highly and many of our ways of thinking and doing.

 

Martin Luther was a courageous person, a person of conscience and deep convictions and great courage.  He changed human history. But like many courageous people, Martin Luther went through periods of great self-doubt and fearfulness.  Martin Luther challenged the authority of the Church at a time when there was only one institution that called itself “Church,” when most people assumed that that institution had the power to determine whether you would spend eternity in heaven or hell. 

 

Martin Luther challenged it because his conscience called him to oppose practices and teachings he felt to be wrong and abusive. But sometimes the old way of thinking that he had lived most of his life by would worry him.  He would become fearful about the welfare of his own soul and his own salvation.  At times like this, Luther would say to himself almost as a mantra, “I am baptized, I am baptized” as a way of claiming the certainty of God’s love for him and his salvation, and his conviction that no institution on the face of the earth could take it away. 

 

So it would not be incorrect to say that the Enlightenment, that modernity, and that democracy were given birth, in some part, by Martin Luther’s decision to believe his baptism.  I pause sometimes when I’m passing the statue on Thomas Circle to salute him, Martin Luther, who changed human history by deciding to believe his baptism.

 

As I told the children, in the cycle of the Christian year, this past Friday was Epiphany.  The Orthodox churches in Washington were packed to the gills Friday morning with people celebrating Epiphany, the day the Magi arrived from the east and the day we celebrate the spreading of the light of God throughout the world. 

 

Today, the first Sunday after Epiphany, is historically called the Baptism of our Lord Sunday on the Church’s calendar.  It is the day the Church has been called to focus on the sacrament of baptism.  Because baptism is a sacrament, it is a symbolic act.  It is not something that can be unpacked and explained completely, or easily, or rationally. 

 

Sacraments are rituals.  They are rituals containing symbols.  These things are not planned or designed.  There wasn’t a committee that sat down in the history of the life of the Church and decided that we would do something called baptism.  It grew out of our history and experience and evolved and developed over time.  I actually think it came from somewhere deep within our human collective unconscious this ritual, this collection of symbols, this sacrament.

 

In some ways, baptism has its roots in the Judaic practice in the Old Testament of converting Gentiles to Jews.  When Gentiles became Jews, it was done by participating in a ritual bath to cleanse them and to prepare them to be part of the covenant community.  In Old Testament times when people became unclean because they became exposed to blood or death or other things, the way they became clean again was to ritually bathe themselves. 

 

John the Baptist taught that all Israel had become so unfaithful that every member of Israel had become like the nations of Goyim and needed to repent and convert and become Jews again.  He used baptism as a ritual of repentance and recommitment to the faith.

 

But when Jesus was baptized by John, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved in whom I am well pleased.”  Ever since, baptism has been an expression of our belief that God views each one of us as cleansed, and beloved, and valuable, and cherished so that every time a baby, or a child, or a youth, or an adult is baptized, we believe it is a way of saying that God personally and intimately loves each one of us.  Each baptism is an expression of God’s intimate love for each of us.

 

Baptism, like all symbols I think, is also rooted in nature and in collective human experience.  It is a reminder that all life comes from water and comes through water.  It is a reminder that creation worked for countless millions of years to bring us forth, to bring forth life, and then to bring forth humanity.  It is a reminder that we are connected to all other life by water.  It is a reminder that we come into this world from the waters of our mothers’ wombs.  It is an affirmation that we are loved, that we are beloved not only by God but by the creative forces of this world that God put in place to birth us. 

 

Whether or not we have been baptized in a church or even before we were baptized in the font of a church, we are baptized by the waters of creation, which say, “This is my beloved for whom I have longed and worked and for whom I am well pleased.”

 

Much of the hurt and pain in our lives and in our world comes from the difficulty we have believing in our baptisms.  We find it so hard to believe that God would look at us and say, “This is my beloved in whom I am well pleased.” 

 

The Christ Care group that Jane leads in our living room has been reading Henri Nouwen’s little precious book “Life of the Beloved.”  Nouwen writes, “We are intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children, and friends loved or wounded us.”  There is a love for us for which we are deeply loved before any other human being touches our life to either reaffirm that love or to hurt it.  We are loved before the Big Bang.  We are loved from beyond the consummation of history and time that is yet to be. 

 

Our biggest difficulty, Nouwen says, is to inflesh the truth, to incarnate it, to become what we already are but have a hard time believing we are.  “Becoming the beloved,” Nouwen writes, “means letting the truth of our belovedness become infleshed in everything we think, say, or do.”

 

Well, okay, then what do we do with our wrongs?  What do we do with our sin?  What do we do with the ways we hurt each other and our own selves and God?  What do we do with the systems that we are part of that oppress other people?  What do we do with the racism and classism and all the other isms that we participate in?  Well, we affirm that none of these things stop God from loving us.  None of these things stop God from loving us or one another. 

 

Our greatest possibility of escaping the destructive patterns of which we are part, both individually and societally, our greatest way of escaping them is to believe our baptism, to believe we don’t need to become superior because of our race, our class, our gender, our orientation. To believe that we don’t need those kind of privileges to be lovable – that we are lovable by the grace of God, by the decision of God to love us. 

 

What God invites us to do is to surrender to our baptisms, to believe we are loved by not how smart we are, or how accomplished, or how smooth we are, or how sociable we are, or how popular we are, or how successful we are, but to believe that God has seen us the way we came into this world and has said to us, “You are my beloved, and I am pleased with the way that you have turned out.” 

 

To remember our baptisms and to be thankful can be the beginning of the possibility of not only wholeness for our personal lives but also for justice and for healing in our world and for the possibility in this world of a community of peace and love.  So may we remember our baptisms and be thankful.

 

 

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