A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho
January 11, 2020
Where do you begin your story?
Matthew’s gospel begins Jesus’ story with a genealogy and Luke begins with a birth. John begins much further back,….in the very beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God…..
Mark begins with the beginning of the Good News and Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan.
I’m working on my adoption memoir right now, and one of the things I’m learning in my writing class is that where you begin matters. It sets a stage for the reader. It frames your story.
I likely won’t begin my book with the morning of November 12, 1968 at the hospital in Spokane. Even though my birth certificate would say that was the beginning of the Good News of my life. The current draft begins as I walk up the steps to knock on the door of my birth mother’s condo three years ago.
Where would you begin to tell the story of your life?
In Mark’s gospel, our story begins with baptism. It doesn’t matter when or where you were born. It doesn’t matter if angels and shepherds and wisemen appeared. It doesn’t matter if you were born to a wealthy family or a humble one. It doesn’t matter which side of any border you were born on or what your politics are. It doesn’t matter your gender, race, or ethnicity.
In the book of Galatians, Paul describes it this way:
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
Our story begins in baptism. Our unity begins in baptism.
Jesus shows up to be baptized by John in the river 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.”
We don’t know who all heard the voice.
Was it just Jesus?
Did John hear it so that he’d know he’d finally baptized the one whose way he had been preparing?
Did the crowds hear the voice?
We all need hear that voice, ripping the heavens apart to tell us we are loved. We need the crowds to hear it too. Because too many people do not know they are beloved by God.
Don’t tell the other preachers I’ve told you this, but they say preachers have only three sermons in them. Good preachers may have five. And each week we give you different versions of our three sermons, using different texts and stories to tell you our message.
One of my three sermons is rooted in this text.
In baptism, just as God’s voice cries out from the heavens about Jesus, so does God’s voice cry out that we are God’s beloved children in whom God is well pleased.
You are God’s beloved child, in whom God is well pleased.
I hope you’ve been hearing this message from me, in my preaching, in my living, and in my ministry.
You are deeply beloved by the God who created you. As are the people sitting next to you. And the people you wouldn’t sit next to.
You are deeply beloved by the God who created you.
Which doesn’t mean you’re perfect, but it means you were created in love, and love allows us to see the imperfections of each other as ‘endearing traits’ rather than ‘character flaws’.
I once used a pinch pot Elliott made in early elementary school to illustrate to someone who came into my office after I preached this text, and he asked how how we can be loved by God even though we are far from perfect, even though we make mistakes, even though we hurt the ones we love, even though we don’t always resemble our best intentions. How could God love us when we’re a hot mess, is basically what he asked me.
I held up this pot and asked if he’d ever made a piece of art. He said he had. I asked him if his art was perfect. He said it was not, but he made it and so he still loved it.
There you go, I said. That’s how God loves you too.
We are God’s beloved, if imperfect, children. God delights in us, not because of our successes and accomplishments, but because we are God’s own creation.
After that conversation, he said he wanted to be baptized because he wanted to join in that, to be able to hear God’s voice calling him beloved. That was twelve years ago. Now he’s an elder who is learning what are his three sermons God has given him to preach.
Can you believe that is true in your life?
Can you believe it is true in the lives of other people?
Of course, as soon as Jesus hears that voice announcing that he’s beloved, he’s driven into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan for forty days, so we shouldn’t equate being beloved with having an easy life, devoid of temptations or challenges.
As soon as we discover we are beloved, we get sent out into the world, holding that message close to our hearts to carry us through the trials and tribulations. Through it all, our status as God’s beloved children never changes.
And as soon as he’s back from the wilderness, and after John is arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
John’s message of repentance gets picked up by Jesus, which is perhaps a reminder to us that we don’t have to be the first person to have the message, we just need to pick it up and pass it on.
And then Jesus immediately starts calling disciples.
In Bible Study this week, we were trying to figure out why the guys casting and mending their nets decided to just get up and follow this Jesus when he walked by.
Had he already been teaching and healing people?
Had stories about him began to circulate?
Had they been there at the Jordan with the rest of the crowds and seen the heavens ripped apart and heard a voice from heaven?
Did they really really hate fishing?
Or, and this is what I wonder…were they drawn to him because there is an abundance in people who know God loves them and people want to be a part of abundance?
There are people who claim God loves them while behaving as if God can’t stand anyone else. There’s a song by the Austin Lounge Lizards I enjoy, called “Jesus loves me but he can’t stand you” and it goes like this:
I’m going straight to heaven, boys, when I die,
’cause I’ve crossed every T and I’ve dotted every I
Why, my preacher tells me I’m god’s kind of guy,
That’s why Jesus loves me, but you’re gonna fry.
That’s not what drew the disciples to Jesus. That’s not abundance. God’s voice did not come from heaven, just to confer love on one person and judgment on the rest of the world.
When you know that God loves you truly and deeply, then it doesn’t become a competition, a “Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite” kind of scenario.
When we can truly inhabit God’s love for us, then we can see God’s love for other people too. Because if God can see me as a beloved child, and be well pleased in me, despite my foibles and mistakes, then there’s room for God to love the people around me, and the jerk cutting me off in traffic, and the people who don’t vote like I do, and who don’t look like I do, and the people from other countries, and, and, and…..
God’s voice from heaven, whether the whole crowd heard it or not, fell on the whole crowd, like rain from the sky falling on a parched earth after a drought.
I think our job as followers of Christ is to help people be able to hear that voice that tears the heavens apart to tell us we are loved.
So the future disciples are sitting there, some casting their nets to the sea, some mending their nets, and Jesus invites them to leave what they’ve known to follow him.
It appears they were called to discipleship because the time was fulfilled and the kingdom of God had come near. Which is good news for us. It means that the kingdom of God is not dependent upon our success. The kingdom of God is already here and is what calls us into discipleship.
How would we see the work of the church if, rather than being worried about succeeding and growing so the Kingdom of God can arrive, we instead saw the work of the church as living in response to the Kingdom arriving? In other words, we aren’t called to fish for people to make some quota for God, but just to be who we are called to be.
The disciples are called, we are called, not because we have the best disciple skills, but because we are also God’s beloved children and Jesus happens to walk past us when we’re in the midst of doing other things.
The disciples become the disciples because they said yes when God walked by and they too, got in the business of helping other people hear God’s voice saying they’re beloved children of God.
If we become like the first disciples, as we adopt our new identity as God’s beloved children, what are those proverbial nets we need to cast and to mend?
What might it look like to throw out nets of love onto the waters of the world?
Making sure people have access to health, to safety, to a livable wage, to education, to a roof over their heads is a good place to start. It might be hard to spend time considering how much God loves you if you have to spend all of your time getting basic needs met.
Acts of kindness and compassion put love out into the world.
Inviting people to ‘come and see’, to join what we are doing here.
We cast nets of love out into the world.
We also mend our own nets, the nets the hold our own belovedness. Over time, those nets become frayed and torn as we listen to voices other than God’s and we put our capacity to be loved into the hands of people who may also not know how much they are loved.
If we can live into the abundance of God’s love for us, people will be able to hear God’s voice calling into their own lives.
As we remember our own baptisms tonight, I invite you to consider how your nets may need mending, and how we are called to cast nets of love out into the world.
You are God’s beloved.
You are God’s beloved.
You are God’s beloved.
And here’s the song I was listening to as I wrote the sermon.