Have you forgotten how beloved you are?
You don’t have to go far these days to hear or read about someone trying to fix you.
New exercise routines.
New gadgets and products all meant to make us a better version of ourselves (and take from our wallets in the process).
It can be overwhelming, can’t it?
In fact, just this week, I got sales emails from one friend trying to add me to her exercise boot camp program.
Another friend tried to sell me how to do better blog promotion.
And another acquaintance sent me an email about a new diet pill. What?!?
Though no one comes out and says it, these products carry particular subliminal messages like “You’re fat. You’re out of shape. You’re broke. You’re not as smart as so and so over there . . .“
And while we’d all love to be a skinner, more fit and less in debt version of ourselves, none of us really want to be reminded of the areas in which we struggle, do we?
For there’s one thing I’m sure of: New Year’s Resolution season floods us with guilt and heaps and heaps of naming as: “Not good enough.”
Yet, our faith story offers us another view beside just what our email inbox might reflect. . .
Last Sunday I preached on the baptism text taken from Mark 1.
As I was studying for Sunday, I remember all over again that Mark’s gospel opens in such a different way from the others. Rather than hearing a genealogy or birth narrative or even beautiful prose like, “In the beginning was the Word” Mark simply gets to the point.
And this was the point: “In those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.”
Just as hundreds of people had followed the call John made . . . to come to the wilderness, to confess their sins and seek forgiveness . . . Here shows up Jesus and asks for the same from John.
I can remember the time in Sunday School in the Tennessee church I grew up in, when one of my classmates raised their hands (trying to outsmart the teacher) and asked, “Why did Jesus have to be baptized? Didn’t you say last week that he was perfect? What did he need to ask forgiveness for?”
After looking puzzled for a moment my teacher looked this little guy in the eyes and said: “For Jesus, baptism wasn’t about forgiveness. It was about showing us the way.”
I’m not sure any of us fully understood in the class what we heard that day, but the older I’ve got the more I’ve realized that Jesus’ baptism was all about his humanity. Jesus, as Emmanuel, God with Us for whom we celebrated the birth of only a few weeks ago on Christmas Eve—embraced his full humanity as baptism.
Jesus was not asking us to do anything that he wasn’t willing to first do himself.
And what came next? Scripture tells us that “Just as [Jesus] was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart.”
Can you pause with me a second and picture what that must have looked like? Torn APART!
What I find so interesting about this narration is the verb choice. Because couldn’t he have just used the word “open?” Did he really need to be so dramatic? Yes, in fact he did. Mark told us the heavens “tore apart” because this was a water shed moment in the life of Jesus. It was a moment of clarity, of knowing, of believing!
Jesus was not just your average guy coming up in tattered sandals and a sweaty brow asking to enter the Jordan.
Jesus would no longer be known Joseph’s son in Nazareth working in the carpentry shop.
Jesus was called out by the heavens.
The verb “torn apart” as Mark uses it here in the first chapter is used only TWICE in the entire book. Once here. And once at the end of the book when the temple curtain is “torn apart” at the moment Jesus breathes his last and provokes a confession of Jesus’ true identity made by the Roman centurion “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
Which makes so much sense when we read what comes next in the post-baptism narration: “and the Spirit descended like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
The heavens had to “tear apart,” you see, because a declaration or a naming was about to occur! A name that would change everything for Jesus and for all of us who would follow him to come.
Yet, in our institutionalization of Christianity through the centuries and our debates over infant baptism verse adult believer’s baptism, has created a lot of rules. One way is right. Another way is completely wrong.
And I believe in all the chatter, debate and practice based on specific guidelines is to a place where we’ve forgotten the GIFT of baptism. The gift Jesus received that day in the waters of Jordan. And the gift that any of us also receive when we embrace baptism. And that is: our new name.
God calls us beloved, too.
You and I are called out as SONS and DAUGHTERS of God.
It’s easy to stray way from the enormity of what this means, or not even to realize it in the first place.
Yet, if we believed it, if we claimed it and if we lived it, I believe this identity would change everything about how we carry ourselves in this world.
No more defeat.
No more low self-esteem.
No more woe is me, nobody loves me.
You are beloved! I am beloved. We are claimed by God. We are God’s child. And with us.
In us, God is very well pleased.
Isn't that some good news?