My final sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho
July 11, 2020
For those of you who are liturgically minded, you are maybe wondering why we’re hearing the Baptism of Jesus story in the middle of July. It is a day we celebrate in January, where the blue fabric swoops down from the ceiling to the baptismal font, rather than from the trees.
We don’t know the day Jesus was baptized, of course. But in our church calendar, Christmas starts the story of his life and ministry, and we follow that story through to Easter, which puts his baptism in early January for our calendar.
Baptism begins the story of Jesus’ ministry, and it seems a fitting way to end our ministry together. I picked it last month, because it is one of my favorite stories in scripture. And I wanted one more chance to preach to you about how you are God’s beloved child, and in you God is well pleased.
Listen again to the passage from Isaiah:
Thus says God, the LORD,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
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.
This is the work we have been called to do as the church. The people who were there for Jesus’ baptism, when God’s voice came from the heavens and the Spirit of God descended on him as a dove, those people recognized Jesus in these words of Isaiah.
And they connected his baptism and the beginning of his ministry with a story from Isaiah in which a suffering servant is called to serve God’s people.
After the Spirit of God descends upon Jesus, his voice is heard saying,
“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
I’ve preached a lot of words in 12 years. 450 sermons.
And if you only remember one thing from all those words, remember this:
When God speaks from the heavens and proclaims Jesus is a beloved son, in whom God is well pleased, so does God say that for each of us. In our baptisms, we are joined in Jesus’ baptism. And what is true about God’s love of Jesus is also true for us.
Right now. As you are. Who you are is beloved by God and brings God joy.
I hope I’ve said other good words, but I want to end with these.
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’.
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.
In baptism, we believe that we are joined with Christ in his baptism. When we are baptized, and when we have our children baptized, it is our way of acknowledging before God and before each other, that we are a part of God’s family.
It is how we claim, both visibly and symbolically, that we belong to God.
Just as Jesus was baptized at the start of his ministry, our baptisms also make a claim that we, too, have begun our ministry, and are joined in God’s work in this world for justice, and for peace. More than that, perhaps, we claim that God’s work in this world is OUR work in this world.
And this is a call I hope we take seriously. Because the news reminds us that not everyone regards the lives of our neighbors as sacred. There is a lot of division and enmity in our world right now. Which means that you and I have a lot of love to share. The voice of Southminster matters to this community. Keep calling out God’s message.
Think about baptisms here in this church. We baptized Sam last week, and Claire last month. D’Artanyon at Christmas and Luke last year.
We didn’t baptize them because we agree with their politics. We didn’t baptize them because of their views on the authority of scripture or their understanding of the doctrines of the church. We didn’t ask them if they are gay or straight or red or blue or mean or nice or healthy or if they prefer rock and roll or hip hop or country music.
We baptized them because they are beloved children of God, and they are beloved to us.
That’s it. That is all of our, best qualification for being here. Because God created us and loves us.
And we take vows when we celebrate baptisms.
In case you can’t remember exactly what you promise, here it is:
Do you, as members of the body of Jesus Christ, promise to guide and nurture _________, by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging them to know and follow Christ, and to be a faithful member of Christ’s church?
And I have seen you, these past twelve years, living into baptismal vows. While things feel on hold right now because of the pandemic, remember the ways you have lived out that vow by teaching Sunday school or Vacation Bible School. You keep this building in good repair so God’s children will have a safe place in which to learn about God’s love. You feed the children at coffee fellowship, potlucks, and chili cookoffs. You provide backpacks, school supplies, and scholarships for kids. You fill food pantries at the elementary school and high school. My children were baptized by other congregations, in other states. You lived out those vows for my kids too. Thank you.
When I picked this text, I thought it was only so I could tell you, one more time, how beloved you are. As I worked on this sermon, I realized, more than that, I picked this text because you need to know that you have been God’s voice in my life, helping me learn in new and important ways, how I am beloved by God.
You have given me grace when I’ve been wrong, and encouraged me when I found my voice. You have supported me through my birth family discoveries and have taught me that love makes family, which was a sacred and important discovery when my birth mother rejected me again.
You have been God’s voice in my life, teaching me of my own belovedness. And even though I knew I would cry through this sermon if I talked about it, it was worth the risk for me because this is such an important thing for you to know.
We can’t love the world entire until we learn to love each other, in our particularities. And we don’t always get to know the impact we’ve had on the lives of others, which I think leads us to think we can’t change the world.
So know this. You have made a transformative impact in my life because of the way you’ve spoken God’s words of love by your words, your actions, your love.
And now that you know that, be empowered to keep at it, to keep doing what you do so well, and extend that message of love out into the community in ever new ways.
Because there are lots of people out there who have lost the sound of God’s voice in their lives, telling them of their belovedness.
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.
Our task 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.
As you have done it for me, and for others in the church and community, I charge you now to keep at it, and to amplify the message even more.
And I know it is daunting to consider that God has work for you to do, but as one of my favorite authors, Madeleine L’Engle said, “We have to be braver than we think we can be, because God is constantly calling us to be more than we are.“
That is why it is right for us to remember our baptisms, because in our baptisms, God is calling us to be more than we are.
In our baptisms, we have been called to be God’s people. And to offer the world a different and much better narrative than hatred, animosity, and violence.
So, my friends. Go and show the light of God to the world, shredding apart the barriers that divide us so people can hear your lives and your voices saying,
You are God’s beloved child.
You are God’s beloved child.
You are God’s beloved child.