"You are my child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” - Luke 3.
Before we are anything else, we are loved.
That little phrase sums up almost everything I (Brandon) have learned about God in the last 20 years. I said it out loud for the first time a few years ago while preaching a sermon on Jesus baptism - in response to the words, "You are my child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Before Jesus did anything we know him for, he was born into love - God was already pleased.
This statement was true of Jesus, and in Jesus, it is also true of all of humanity. The message of the Jesus (affirmed by Paul in 1 Cor 13) is that God is LOVE. His love is what holds the universe together. We are his beloved children before we accomplish anything, before we obey, before we choose, before we respond. God’s love is available to all, but for many of us, we are in “airplane mode” and are not receiving the transmission. Until we hear this and believe it, we will forever try to find love and stability and security in other, less capable sources.
This was a novel concept for someone who grew up learning how sinful and broken I was. What a surprise that I was LOVED before I did anything noteworthy, before I figured out who I was, or made good choices - before all that, I was already loved. In fact, love was the foundation that God intended for all the rest of those potential “achievements” to flow from. We are not primarily our shortcomings - we are primarily loved, and not for what we do, but because God delights in our existence.
So if Jesus was already loved, and we are already loved - what is baptism? Jesus baptism cannot be a “cleansing” - we are told repeatedly, he was not dirty. Instead, Jesus baptism is a sign of solidarity with humanity generally and his tribe particularly. Jesus took maximum responsibility for his tribe’s struggles, not because he was at fault, but because he was determined not to pass this mess on to the next generation. Rather than playing the game of pass the hot potato of blame and shame, he swallowed it all and accepted the pain and struggle that was necessary to free his people from their fear and violence, and to remind them they are children of love. Jesus’ Jewish birth made him spiritually + politically a Jew, and cosmically human. We are spiritually a Christian - but we are also Americans and humans. In Baptism, we too join Jesus in taking responsibility for God’s good word, putting our hands into the dirt and working the soil to bring about fruit, goodness, and love in the garden world we live in. Our baptism is the commitment to get to work on the unfulfilled promised and possibilities of our country and our world.
- Even though we are Children of love, it takes a lot of thoughtful work and intention to become mature in love. We still struggle with many sins, sometimes from moral clumsiness, sometimes from unrestrained appetites. Francis Spufford in his book “Unapologetic” lays out the best explanation of this I have heard: “For us, [sin] refers to something much more like the human tendency, the human propensity, to F… up. Or let’s add one more word: the human propensity to F… things up (THPtFtU), because what we’re talking about here is not just our tendency to lurch and stumble and screw up by accident, our passive role as agents of entropy. It’s our active inclination to break stuff…”
- When I realized that I could recenter my entire theology around Love rather than sin and depravity, I found new energy to live. A theology that centers on how bad (wretched, pos, evil, etc.) we are, positions God as the one who, for his own aggrandizement and glory, puts up with us anyway. When we center on love, we find our loving father delighting in us, as a parent delights in their children. Few good parents primarily view their kids as problems to be solved, sinners to tolerate, POS to endure for the good name of the family - and yet, that is the sort of parenting many of our systems of theology ascribe to God. And it’s just not true. God is love. God Loves the world. We are his children of love, and before we are anything else - we are loved.
Discuss: Imagine how life on our planet could change if everyone were able to feel fully loved all the time?
How do you understand the significance of Jesus baptism?