I Epiphany Year B " You Are Beloved."

Sunday, January 8, 2006

The Rev. Peter Faass, Rector

St. John the Baptist, Sanbornville

Is. 42: 1-9, Ps. 89; Acts 10:34-38; Mark 1:7-11

"In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

As we witness this moment in Jesus' life, we might reflect on our own experiences of this event in our own lives. Where for us, after taking certain courses of action, was there a sense of the descent of a dove upon us? Where for us was there a deep sense of peace - even if it was just momentary - a sense that our will and the will of God were in harmony? A sense of the presence of God from whom we received affirmation of what and whom we have chosen to do and become?

To realize that there are such moments for us - and not just for Jesus - is to realize that this incident of his baptism is not a distant and isolated event. It is not just a nice story in the scriptures read for our amusement on this first Sunday after the Epiphany, when we mark the Baptism of Jesus. It is rather a spiritual gift that God wishes to share with us, as we try to find and follow him in our own time and in our own experience.

So when have you felt beloved? Because you certainly are.

The word beloved is a term of intimacy, one that expresses the deep bond between the one who speaks it and the one who hears it. Those who have experienced the tender embrace, the gentle words, the familiar touch of another, know what it is to be beloved. Deeper, stronger, and more enduring that any human love, however, is God's love for us.

Just as the heavenly voice in Mark's Gospel names Jesus "the Beloved," so does God name each and everyone of us in this intimate way. Hard to believe isn't it?

And if you are like me, there are times when I feel very undeserving of such a designation. Beloved? I think not. Our sinfulness weighs heavily on our hearts when we recall the ways in which we have hurt those we love and who love us. We have failed to be patient parents, gentle friends, loving children, attentive spouses, pastoral priests. At times we find it difficult to believe that anyone - let alone God, for heaven's sake - could find us lovable. And yet He does.

In the premier of the new televison program The Book of Daniel this past Friday evening , the main protagonist is an Episcopal priest named Fr. Daniel Webster. Daniel is like the rest of us: he struggles with all that life brings. Holy Orders do not innoculate him from being fully human. He has a loving family that struggles with a myriad of challenging matters; he himself has some addiction issues; his bishop is a pain in the neck, and he has members of his church who like to throw their weight around to try and control him and his ministry. Trust me, this show may be fiction, but it is real.

In one scene Daniel vehemently damns his brother - in -law, who has just absconded with over $3,000,000 in funds designated for a new parish school. One of the best devises used by the writer of this edgy program, is to show Daniel having frequent conversations with Jesus, who advises and guides the priest through the everyday trails and tribulations of his life. In one of their encounters, the priest - feeling less than lovable - apologizes to Jesus for the comment damning his kin. His head hung in shame he tells the Lord, "I could never damn anybody." "I know," Jesus gently replies, in a moment of holy absolution. There is no doubt in the viewers mind that Fr. Daniel is beloved, even though he didn't much feel like a lovable person.

It's no different for you and I. Just like Jesus waded into the river Jordan, he wades into the failings of our lives: you, me, Fr. Daniel . . . all of us. The One who stood in the river and later hung from a cross willingly, shared our humanity and he also shares with us his identity as a beloved child of God.

You and I claim this identity as God's child through our baptism. And it is here that we find a daily reminder that our short-comings do not keep us from the One who calls us beloved. Instead, those short-comings - those sinful things we do - are washed away in the flowing waters of the river. And like Jesus coming up out of the Jordan, and the tomb on that Easter morning that could not hold him, we rise up with the daily assurance that the God who called Jesus beloved is the same God who says to us, " I have called you by name. You are mine."

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