Sunday 12 January 2020: The Baptism of Christ
Know yourself beloved
Isaiah 42:1-9; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17
Context: Parish Communion at an extremely diverse inner urban congregation in Greenwich of around 75-85 adults
Aim: know yourself to be the beloved child of God
A friend took in a rescue cat a few years ago. The cat was very shy to start with. She used to spend all day hidden away under the bed only venturing out occasionally for food or water but then retreating again straight away to her place of safety. But gradually, very gradually, as my friend and her family showed this cat much love and care, she started to come out for a little longer and a little longer until eventually she allowed herself to be stroked and finally to sit on their knees and purr. This took a long time but, even more importantly, love. That cat needed to learn that she was loved and that it was going to stay like that.
How many of us feel a bit like that cat? Feel the need to retreat and hide away, hide from the world, or at least hide bits of ourselves from the world, because we are scared that we are not acceptable or lovable? The most important journey of our lives is discovering that we are truly loved – loved by our family and friends, yes, but most importantly and fundamentally – loved by God.
It appears simple and straightforward to believe and accept that you are called, valued and loved by God. But, in practice, it’s hard. Our fragile human nature means that our most direct experience of love, our love for one another, is flawed, however well we have been loved and nurtured by others. So, we must grow into knowing ourselves to be utterly and unconditionally loved by God. As the prophet Isaiah writes, ‘I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you’ (Isaiah 42:6).
It’s also easy to feel that in order for God to love us, we need to improve. But God loves us first and it is when we know God loves us that we can be transformed. Experiencing and accepting God’s love empowers change – not the other way around. We will never be holy enough or pure enough or good enough in our own strength, but God’s mercy and generosity are unbounded, and he draws us into his love just as we are – then as we stand in his love, we are transformed to become the people God intends us to be. Just like my friend’s cat.
A Baptism of Repentance
Our gospel reading tells of the baptism of Jesus by John at the River Jordan. Our baptism is about repentance and being redeemed. Our baptism is about accepting God’s love and saying ‘yes’ to God knowing that God first says ‘yes’ to us. Jesus didn’t need to be baptised in the same way we do because he was without sin. Yet he came to baptism as an act of solidarity with humanity and as a public sign that he was indeed the son of God, the anointed one.
After Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove, then a voice came from heaven, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3: 17). Jesus stood affirmed in the love of his heavenly father. In the same way, our baptism is the beginning of a lifelong journey into knowing ourselves to be loved, called and accepted by God. Again, and again saying yes to the God who first says yes to us and standing in the love of the God who first loves us. Our lifetime journey with God is to find our identity in being beloved by God.
Emerging from our hiding place
For it is when we know ourselves to be beloved that we too can love, that we are released to be our true selves, truly to worship and serve God and to be in the loving relationship with God we were created and formed for. Truly to be ‘a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness’ (Isaiah 42: 6-7). Just like my friend’s cat, to emerge from our hiding place.
So, how in the fragility of our humanity do we find our identity in being beloved by God? Being baptised is an important step in this journey. Being open to being nourished by God for our journey as we break open the word of God and hear the story of His love and as we break bread together and are fed at Holy Communion. And we can choose to spend time in God’s presence, waiting on God and being seeped in his love.
So, close to the beginning of this New Year, I encourage you to try to find time every day, even if it is only a few minutes, wherever you are, to be quiet and to allow yourself to rest in God’s love – to know yourself to be his precious beloved child. For when each of us gets to the end of our lives, what greater end to our life’s journey than to know that our identity is as God’s beloved. The American short story writer and poet, Raymond Carver has this, one of his own poems, inscribed on his gravestone.
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
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