Begin as Beloved!

Mark 1:4-11

Begin as Beloved!

January 7, 2018  Baptism of the Lord Sunday 

Maple Grove UMC

 

          Do you need a fresh start?  Benjamin did.  He went to his rabbi and said, "Rabbi, my life is in ruins. My wife left me and took all my money, so my business is in ruins and there’s no way I can pay off my debts. Help me!"  The rabbi replies, "Here’s what to do: open up your Bible, point to any page and do whatever it says."  Six months later, Benjamin visits again. "Rabbi," he says, "since I talked to you, I'm a new man. I've remarried, got rid of all my debts and become successful in a new business. Your advice changed my life. "So what did it say when you pointed to the Bible?" the rabbi asks. "Chapter 11!"

          Do you need a fresh start?  I’ve got a better suggestion than bankruptcy, better than randomly pointing in your Bible.  If you need a fresh start, how about the gospel of Jesus Christ?  How about the excitement of meeting Jesus for the first time? How about some good news and being all-in for Jesus? How about being healed of what hinders abundant life?  If you need a fresh start, how about baptism in the name of Jesus Christ?

          The gospel reading today is, in a way, Mark’s Christmas story.  Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark says nothing about Mary and Joseph, no trip to Bethlehem, no virgin birth.  For Mark Jesus is declared God’s Son at his baptism, his manger is the Jordan River.  And instead of angels singing, in Mark there comes the voice of God:  “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  No shepherd or angel could bring news more joyful than this:  “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

 

          It’s so important that the Father spoke these words to Jesus at the very start of his ministry.  These are the first verses of the first chapter of Mark, and already God is saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  Jesus hasn’t yet resisted any temptations, he hasn’t called any disciples. He hasn’t yet told any parables, healed any sick people or taken up the cross.  Even before he has a chance to prove himself, already he is baptized.  Before he’s done anything to deserve it, God calls him “beloved.”  Before he’s had a chance to measure up or not, God says, “with you I am well pleased.”  Jesus begins as beloved.

          The four gospels establish Jesus’ identity in different ways.  Through the story of the virgin birth, Matthew and Luke say that Jesus is God’s Son in a literal, physical way.  John tells about the preexistent Word that in Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us.  But for Mark, it is Jesus’ baptism that establishes his identity.  Lamar Williamson says, “Jesus is who God says he is,”1  And God says he is beloved, pleasing.  He begins as beloved.

           

               One way of looking at what made Jesus unique, at what it means to be the Son of God, is that, unlike the rest of us, Jesus never forgot who God said he was.  He began as beloved, and continued to live out of his belovedness all the time.  When Satan tempted him, Jesus didn’t budge; he just held on to his belovedness.  When even the disciples misunderstood and denied him, Jesus could keep going—he knew he was beloved.  Even from the cross there was no anger, no striking back—these aren’t necessary when you know you’re beloved. 

          I am convinced that what causes much of our sin and suffering is that we forget we are beloved and pleasing to God.  And when we forget that, we feel anxious and insecure.  So some of us drink or take drugs to calm that anxiety.  So hungry are some people to be told that they’re loved, they’ll do almost anything to hear it.  People are greedy for money or they put others down or arrogantly boast—all to somehow prove themselves worthy.  None of that works, of course.  It can’t, because we are already pleasing to God.  We begin as beloved.

 

          The solution God has provided for all this is called baptism.  You don’t have to become beloved and you don’t have to make yourself pleasing to God.  You begin as beloved.  All you have to do is remember that; all you have to do is live out of the belovedness that’s already yours.  Baptism never washes off.  Your belovedness never expires.  You can do things that don’t please God, but you can never be unpleasing to God.  Because you are who God says you are.  And in baptism, God says you are beloved, pleasing.  You begin that way.

          I can’t tell you exactly how many times I’ve preached some version of this sermon.  I suppose for most Baptism of the Lord Sundays in my 27 years of ministry.  And I can’t tell you exactly how many more times I’ll preach some version of this sermon.  I suppose every Baptism of the Lord Sunday for however long God allows me to preach.  Or until everyone within the sound of my voice knows deep in your heart that you are already beloved and pleasing to God. 

          The trick is to remember that belovedness, not to forget how pleasing you are to God.  Chris Anderson is an English professor at Oregon State. One summer he spent an extended time in solitude in a hut by the ocean.  One evening during this time he got lonely and felt the urge to talk to somebody, but no one picked up the phone.  So he called his own number at the university.  When he heard his voice saying to leave a message, he did. 

          The summer passed.  When he walked into his office for fall semester, he was already tired and depressed, worried about the start of new classes.  “I sat down in my chair,” he writes, “picked up the phone and began to check my messages.  And there, from the past . . . was my other self. I’d forgotten about it.  I hadn’t thought about that message [for weeks].  But . . . there was my own voice, sending a message to myself, and it sounded so gentle and wise it was like the voice of someone else.  It said:  Remember: You are loved.2

               That’s what baptism is: a voice message from God.  And it says:  Remember: you are loved, you are loved, you are loved.  You begin as beloved.

 

          The baptism liturgy in our hymnal ends with a call to “Remember your baptism and be thankful.”  But those of us baptized as babies can’t remember our baptism, exactly.  Martin Luther had a better phrase.  When he faced temptation, when he doubted himself, when he endured depression and felt like giving up, he would say to himself over and over, in Latin:  Baptizatus sum.  It means, I am baptized.  Come what may, I am beloved and pleasing to God. 

          And now that is your voice message from God.  When you face temptation, when you doubt yourself, when you endure depression and feel like giving up, say it:  Baptizatus sum.  I am baptized.  I am beloved and pleasing to God.  Repeat it after me, so you can take it with you, forever and all the time:

Baptizatus sum.

I am baptized.

I am beloved and pleasing to God.

 

 

1 Lamar Williamson, Jr., Mark, Interpretation (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1983), 35.

2 Chris Anderson, Light When It Comes: Trusting Joy, Facing Darkness & Seeing God in Everything (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016). 18-19.

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