Before we are anything else, we are loved…
(House Church 1.13.2019 // Epiphany - Year C - Track 2:
The Liturgy: Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
First Reading - Isaiah 43:1-7
Thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and through the rivers,
they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire
you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, "Give them up,"
and to the south, "Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth--
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”
The Response - Psalm 29
1 Ascribe to the Lord, you gods,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his Name;
worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
3 The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
the God of glory thunders;
the Lord is upon the mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice;
the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor.
5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord splits the flames of fire;
the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
8 The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe
and strips the forests bare.
9 And in the temple of the Lord
all are crying, "Glory!"
10 The Lord sits enthroned above the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as King for evermore.
11 The Lord shall give strength to his people;
the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.
The Epistle - Acts 8:14-17
When the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
The Gospel - Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
NOTES + THOUGHTS:
*Liturgy means “the work of the people.” We enter into this work when we enact the scriptures together by reading and discussing them and allowing our lives to be formed by Christ and each other. Like a potluck, we each bring something to the discussion, and there is always enough.
Which passage jumped out at you the most? Why?
What thoughts / questions do you have?
What connections do you see between the readings + life?
What action or change do they invite?
Why was it included in the Bible?
Is there any disconnect between the narrators perspective and our perspective as modern readers?
"You are my child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Before we are anything else, we are loved.
That little phrase sums up almost everything I 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?
The Old Testament:
‘… Do not fear, for I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you…’ - Isaiah 43
Throughout the entire ark of the Bible’s narrative, we continually see God trying to be with his people - breaking down any barrier that stands in his way. Paradoxically, much of Christian thought and religion emphasizes the distance between a Heavenly God and us earthly people. Certainly Jesus birth and life should have made God’s desire to be Emmanuel - God with us, clear. God wants to be with us - whatever we are doing. I think this related to a question I am often asked, “How can I find God’s will for my life?”
My response is 4 fold:
1. Before we are anything else, we are loved.
2. Our calling in life is to be ourself, in every situation - becoming our full-self, mature + fully human like Jesus
3. Our mission is to love the person in front of us, who is our neighbor, with remarkable generosity.
4. When I participate in the restoration of the world, primarily through sharing the gifts of my human life, I am joining Jesus in his work.
God doesn’t seem to be trying to make us more heavenly, but more earthy + more human. We need not fear - fear works against LOVE and stunts our development - for God is always WITH us, fully present and inviting us to join him in delighting in this earthly experience and the humans who share it with us.
Discuss: What stood out to you about the 4 points about God’s will? Anything you would add or challenge?
This is the table of Christ. Here we remember God’s love and acceptance for humans. Here we remember our connection with all humankind.
All are invited to come and eat - You who have much faith + you who have little. You who have been here often + you who are new. You who have tried to follow + you who have failed. Come, because Christ invites us to meet him here together.
Benediction: Prayer of St. Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.