Beloved, Be Loved

This sermon was originally preached at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on January 12, 2020. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts.

Matthew 3:13-17

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

As we have been following the lectionary, we’ve experienced a lot in the past month or so. From Advent, from Mary and Joseph learning of their baby, to the long journey to get to that place, to Jesus being born, and last week, Epiphany, when we ended our Christmas season, honoring the three magi who went to visit Jesus, bringing gifts to honor him, an act of resistance against tyrant rulers.

Today, we move pretty quickly past the baby Jesus narrative, which feels a little weird to me, a little abrupt. We are told that last week, we’d be honoring the little baby in the manger, and fast forward only seven days, we now are seeing Jesus as an adult, being baptized. He was 30, and scripture tells us he was baptized when he began his earthly ministry, only about 3 years before he would end up dying. In other words, Jesus was a pretty big deal, fairly established at the time of our scripture we read today.

There’s this interesting role that Jesus plays in the gospel text. Jesus, actual son of God, has a lot of power, maybe not societal power, but spiritual power for sure. Jesus was without sin, we believe. Jesus was literally God. Jesus really didn’t NEED to be baptized, we might think?

There was no question in anyone’s mind that he was in the family of God. And still, Jesus chose to be baptized anyways.

Jesus believed in the ritual of baptism, and he submitted himself to the ritual. He went to his friend and cousin, John the Baptist, son of Elizabeth, who comforted Mary when both of them were pregnant at the same time. Jesus goes to John, and asks him to baptize him. John, maybe like us, was a little baffled. You want ME to baptize YOU?! And Jesus assures him that yes, he wanted John to baptize him.

Jesus asked John to baptize him, and John agreed, helping Jesus making a public covenant with God. In doing this, Jesus stood with us, all of us. Jesus, through his baptism, proclaimed the truth that there is no limit to God’s abundant love. It’s as if he says to us, I believe in your belovedness so much, so much that I need you to see me as part of this ritual. Because at the end of the day, sacraments are communal.

In the United Methodist Church, we have two sacraments we recognize. First, we have communion, which literally has the same root as community, a nod toward togetherness and our oneness. This is why it’s important for us to honor communion in worship, surrounded by one another.

And the second sacrament, baptism, which again, is something we do in community. We don’t have baptisms in worship because we want to make a big show of it. Jesus wasn’t trying to convey that either, in him being baptized. Baptism is about community, about togetherness above all else. Baptism is for those who are being baptized, of course. But even bigger than that, baptism is for all of us. This is why, when we baptize someone here in the UMC, we not only ask them questions to respond to, but also each other. Because each time someone affirms their belovedness, through the sacrament of baptism, we too have the opportunity to be reminded of our own belovedness.

Through Jesus’ baptism, God tells the world publicly that Christ is God’s beloved. And God tells us the same thing.

We are baptized as a reminder of our belovedness, not because we earned it, or because we’ve proven ourselves, or because we’ve never made a mistake. We are undeniably loved, affirmed, accepted. Baptism reminds us of unity, of unconditional love, and of grace, given to us over and over again, never withheld from us to experience.

The good news, is that we don’t need to wait for a baptism to be reminded of our belovedness. But today, as we remember the story of Jesus’ baptism, we can really focus in on that. Whether you’ve been baptized or not, you have been called, created, and held in the power of God’s love. Nothing you do or don’t do can take that away.

What would it be like for we as Christians to believe that truth about ourselves, and also about everybody else?

In just a minute, we are going to practice that, practice believing a truth that can be hard to remember.

It’s hard to remember, so we’re going to practice it together right now. I want you to repeat after me: I am beloved. One more time: I am beloved. Now turn to the person next to you and say: you are beloved. Now look at someone across the room and shout to them: you are beloved. Friends, you are beloved children of God. Full stop.

In just a moment, I’m going to invite you to remember your baptism, a symbol of belovedness and a symbol of our connection to God and to one another. If you feel comfortable, I invite you to come up to the baptismal fount, feeling the cool water, soaking in the richness and the simplicity of the water. As you do this, remember your connection to God, the one who loves you more than we can ever imagine. You might want to make the sign of a cross on your forehead or hand, or whatever else feels right in this time of remembrance.

As we enter this time of remembrance, this time of sacred love, may you remember your worth and your value in this Jesus story. May you honor the truth that Christ chose to be one with us, entering the waters just as we do, in solidarity with us in this gift of grace. And may you believe the truth about yourself, and about others, that nothing can separate you from the love of God.

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