Receiving Belovedness

water

Image Description: Water with circular ripples. Public domain.

This sermon was preached at Northside Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan and was focused upon the story told in Matthew 3:1-13. An audio recording is above and a written manuscript is below.

I’d also like to dedicate this sermon to Blake and Ethan Grunden, toddler twins in my Family of Choice who were baptized today. Noozle loves you!

Author Frederick Buechner has written a quote that I so appreciate and enjoy. It comes from his book Whistling in the Dark, and I have read this quote a number of times at very special occasions in the lives of people that I love. And it’s this:

“In the entire history of the universe, let alone in your own history, there has never been another day just like today, and there will never be another just like it again. Today is the point to which all your yesterdays have been leading since the hour of your birth. It is the point from which all your tomorrows will proceed until the hour of your death. If you were aware of how precious today is, you could hardly live through it. Unless you are aware of how precious it is, you can hardly be said to be living at all.”

Isn’t that an incredible quote and a beautiful invitation? I first heard that quote read to me at my ordination service, and it’s a quote I bring into almost every wedding I officiate.

I found myself thinking about it again when I considered this passage this week — this story, this pivotal moment of Jesus coming to John in the wilderness to be baptized. It seems as though this moment set the stage for much to come. And yet there were many moments before it, countless moments unknown to us, which led to this baptism. And there were powerful and pivotal moments that moved from it.

This baptism seems to be an occasion where past and future come together in one present moment. John discovers his calling more deeply, and Jesus discovers more of his. He has what we might call an epiphany, a transformative experience. It makes me wonder if he might have returned to it in his mind and heart again and again. This experience seemed to lay a foundation.

And so the story begins with these words: “Jesus came from Galilee to John in the Jordan.” Jesus came from the place where he had grown up, the context of all those preceding moments, to meet John who was doing something revolutionary at the Jordan River, a place so important to the larger history and identity of their people.

Jesus comes with this request to be baptized, and John, who has been doing all this baptizing suddenly seems a be a bit flummoxed. “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” He seems stunned at this.

But Jesus puts himself in the place and position to receive.

And I find this to be beautiful. So often in our own culture, we hold independence to be some high value — some way of existing on our own, maybe even over and against others. And yet, we have this vision of Jesus, who will soon be called Son of God, who reveals what it means to receive. The Word made flesh, God with us… Jesus reveals that God exists continually in relationship, and God calls us into an interdependent vision.

Jesus is baptized, and it’s as if everything opens up. He comes up from the water. He sees this vision: The heavens are opened to him, and he sees the Spirit of God descending like a dove, alighting on him. And suddenly, there is a voice from heaven. Was it audible and collective, or was it internal? — either way so deeply true to the moment… “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

The Spirit is present.
Jesus is named as Son.
God, creator of that water, has a voice that resounds beyond and within.

This is a foundational moment — a pivotal moment for Jesus who will go forward from this place with this Belovedness, proclaiming it upon others, including those who have been pushed out of community and into the margins of society.

And this vision opens up so much for us. God — Creator, Son, Spirit — is in relationship, and this God calls us into relationships. God names us as Beloved too and sends us forward with an interdependent vision for living, called to be people who receive, inviting love from others, and to be people who give, inviting the receiving of others.

Perhaps this story can become a pivotal moment for us too.

We have all stepped into this sanctuary, this time of community and relationship today, carrying a host of previous moments into this room. Some took place long ago and formed who we are, what we care about, and what sort of questions swirl within us. These moments are so integral to who we are. We also bring moments from the last week — concerns about things in our personal lives and relationships, pain and fear about potential war in Iran and Iraq, and the enormous needs in Puerto Rico after earthquakes this week. We also bring concerns about what 2020 will reveal, both personally and collectively.

We also know that this moment we’re living will inform other moments. This experience and invitation to know God in relationship impacts how we live our days — how we will live this week, how we will live this year, and how we will live for years to come.

Maybe this story and this moment can become pivotal for us too.

When I share that wonderful Frederick Buecnher quote with couples during their wedding ceremony, I always follow it by saying that Frederick Buecnher was not talking about the most memorable moments and events of our lives. He was talking about every day, and in fact, sometimes this quote is simply called “Today.”

So I want to speak it again and invite us to hear it, knowing that this present moment and these deep convictions about who God is in relationship can inform what comes next in our lives. So hear this quote one more time about a today as simple and mundane as this one:

“In the entire history of the universe, let alone in your own history, there has never been another day just like today, and there will never be another just like it again. Today is the point to which all your yesterdays have been leading since the hour of your birth. It is the point from which all your tomorrows will proceed until the hour of your death. If you were aware of how precious today is, you could hardly live through it. Unless you are aware of how precious it is, you can hardly be said to be living at all.”

So hear this again, on this particular today:

You are Beloved.

We are Beloved.

By God,
By one another,
By this world in which we live.

We are included in the Belovedness that Jesus experienced in this moment and throughout his life, both beyond him and internal to him.

We are called on this today — this mundane day — to proclaim Belovedness beyond this place. We are called to go forward among those who are fearful, lonely, or marginalized and be people who carry a God of Relationship forward. We are called to enter relationships ourselves, receiving from them and giving within them, building a culture of interdependence where we all belong and where we all give embodiment and community to a word like Beloved.

We are Beloved.

Let’s live that forward today.

Renee Roederer

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