“You Are My Child, the Beloved”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

January 11, 2015 – Baptism of Jesus Sunday

Mark 1:4-11

 

There are so many ways to say it. It’s just one little sentence made up of three little words, three little syllables, eight little letters. Some people say it in a whisper in the dark of night; some people shout it from the rooftops in broad daylight. Some people say it with flowers, or with a diamond ring. Some people say it with chicken soup, or birthday cake, or a freshly-brewed cup of coffee every morning. Some people say it with a Hallmark card. Some people say it with graffiti on an overpass. Some people never bring themselves to say it at all.

Jim Croce had to say it in a song. Frank Sinatra went and spoiled it all by saying something stupid like it. Stevie Wonder just called to say it, and he meant it from the bottom of his heart.

When you’re in a new relationship, you agonize over when is the right moment to say it, and who will say it first. Too soon, and you might scare her off. Too late, and you might leave him hanging, unsure of how you feel. To say it without meaning it is the basest of deceptions; to leave it unsaid when you do mean it is the greatest of regrets.

We humans mumble and stumble and fumble our way through that one little sentence, those three little words, three little syllables, eight little letters: “I love you.” God, on the other hand, has no such trouble.

The story of our faith, the story of our scriptures, the story of our God, is a story of saying, “I love you,” over and over and over again. And if the stories of our scriptures are any indication, one of God’s favorite ways to say, “I love you,” is with water.

Think of the very first story in the Bible. Page one—the book of Genesis, the first chapter. “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters…” God said, “I love you, O world, and I want you to be full of beautiful, varied, thriving life!” God spoke into that long-ago darkness and set a spark of light twinkling into existence. God’s Spirit moved through that watery chaos and brought forth order. God sang a serenade to that primordial soup, and atoms and molecules and cells joined in the chorus… and to this day, evolution is adding new verses to that love song.

Think of the second book of the Bible, the book of Exodus, the story of Moses and the Israelites fleeing slavery in Egypt, trying to escape into freedom in the Promised Land. They took off running, with Pharaoh and his army of chariots in hot pursuit. When they reached the shore of the Red Sea, things didn’t look good; they were pinned there on the beach, with water before and armies behind. But God said, “I love you, and I want you to be free to serve me alone,” and the waters parted, and the Israelites escaped from their pursuers and crossed safely to the other side.

Think of the story we told in our pageant, three weeks ago, and again on Christmas Eve. God looked at the world, looked at all the ways in which people had wandered far from God. God saw all the ways in which people were using power for their own advantage instead of for the good of all. God saw all the ways in which people were hurting each other out of ignorance and fear. God saw all the ways in which people had forgotten who God really is. And God said, “I love you, and I will stop at nothing to be with you,” and then God slipped into the world through the warm waters of Mary’s womb.

Think of the story we tell on Maundy Thursday, the story of the final night of Jesus’ earthly life. Jesus knew there was one among his friends who would betray him, who would hand him over to the authorities, who would condemn him to certain death. And still he ate with them, and drank at them. And he said, “I love you, and I want you to know it beyond a shadow of a doubt,” and he knelt before them and washed their feet.

Think of the very last story in the Bible. The last chapter of the last book, the book of Revelation. “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” Even at the end of time, even at the end of the world, when all that we have and all that we are has found its fulfillment, God will still be saying, “I love you, and I will feed and nourish and heal and care for you forever.”

And then, of course, there’s today’s story, in which Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River. And as he comes up out of the water, the heavens are torn open, and the Spirit descends, and God cries, “You are my Child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

And then, of course, there was the day when you were baptized, when the pastor poured or sprinkled or dunked you in the water, and God said it again. “You are my Child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could hear that voice every day? Especially on the days when we feel unloved or unlovely or unlovable. Especially on the days when God feels absent or distant. Especially on the days when the sky looks dark and the world feels cold. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could hear that voice, feel that splash, know that God is saying again: “You are my Child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

For most of us, it is not practical to carry a little vial of water around in our pockets as a reminder of God’s “I love you,” made known to us in water. But there are other ways to be reminded.

IMAG1200In a moment, I’ll invite you to come forward as we sing the hymn. Bring your bulletin with you; the hymn is printed there. As we do for communion, please come forward down the side aisles and make your way back to your pew via the center aisle. Come here to the font, and reach your hand into the water, and take out one of these little stones. Take that stone, and put it in your pocket, or in your purse, or on your desk, or on your bedside table. And when you notice it, remember the feeling of the water, the sound of God’s voice singing of God’s love for you.

And then, when the moment is right—you’ll know when it is—take that stone and give it away. Give it to someone who needs a reminder that God loves her, that God cherishes him. Tell that person what the stone represents: that he is God’s child, that God is well pleased in her.

Because here’s the thing about being God’s beloved. Here’s the thing about being baptized into the faith and family of Jesus Christ. God’s “I love you” is not just for you. It’s not just about giving you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. It’s not just about giving you reassurance, or confidence, or consolation, or hope, or joy, or peace, or salvation itself. It’s about giving you all those things so that you can give them to the world—so that you can share God’s “I love you” with those who need it most.

The story of our faith, the story of our scriptures, the story of our God, is a story of saying, “I love you,” over and over and over again. Let’s hear that story again, and then let’s tell it to the world.