Sermon Archives

I Belong to God ~ Luke 3:15-17, 21-22; Isaiah 43; Psalm 29

I couldn’t have just one of these texts read without the other. Isaiah 43 powerfully tells us that God redeemed the Israelites from exile. God “bought them back”  from their captors. “I have called you by name; you are mine. ”

God created and named and redeemed Israel. They belonged to God.

Psalm 29 is one of my favorite Psalms. In fact, in seminary I preached my senior sermon on this Psalm. The imagery is of a powerful storm, a hurricane, and the psalmist proclaims in no uncertain terms that God is almighty. From the beginning of time, the Compassionate Lover of the Created Order sat over the chaos waters, fire and wind. God’s enthronement over the cosmological chaos also means that God sits over the personal chaos of our lives. God sits enthroned over your life today. God’s promise is that whatever hurricane you are in the midst of today, the eye of the storm is where God resides. Trust it.

And then here is Luke’s baptism of Jesus by his cousin John. After being baptized, Jesus enters into prayer–opening his heart to God, listening to God, discerning God’s will for the next steps of his life. And while praying, God’s voice from heaven speaks right into Jesus’ ear: “YOU are my beloved son. With YOU I am well pleased.” In Matthew’s account, in comparison, the voice from heaven speaks not directly to Jesus but about him: “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” Here, it’s MORE INTIMATE. It is an “I-Thou” conversation. YOU ARE MY BELOVED. WITH YOU, I AM WELL PLEASED.

For 30 years, I imagine, Jesus heard from his loving mother, Mary, each and every day that he was beloved, and that he delighted her and Joseph. Remember, Mary’s heart was filled with all that had been proclaimed about her son-even before she had conceived him. She heard that Jesus would be the Messiah, God’s anointed. He was the salvation of his people, the Son of the Most High; that he would bring about the redemption of Israel, and the rising and falling of his people. Mary knew that Jesus was set apart by God and for God, and the text says that Mary treasured and pondered all those words in her heart. Being God’s chosen meant that her son’s life would not be easy. For Mary, it must have been a daily vigil paying attention to for when the time had come for her son to respond to God’s call.

Jesus went into the waters of baptism, and came up named by God: “You are my beloved-you are mine.”

So, too in the waters of baptism, we are marked, named and claimed, adopted, and sealed as God’s own forever. The church has professed this to be true for nearly 2,000 years–and every single time we bring this font forward, and sprinkle water on a precious bald head (whether it’s a bald baby or a bald adult), we do so in the name of the Holy Trinity, we join in that long chorus of voices throughout the generations that have sung about God’s redemption. I have named you; You are mine. You belong to God.

Over the holidays, the Beals watched WALT DISNEY’S, THE LION KING—we hadn’t watched that one since the kids were little. There’s that great scene where Rafiki, the baboon-shaman, tracked down Simba, the lion cub who had abandoned his identity as the King’s son. With a good swift whack over the head, Rafiki helped Simba re-claim who he was. Rafiki said, “The question is, Simba, Who are you?” And, from the sky, the voice of the spirit of Simba’s father said, “Simba, remember who you are. Remember and behave as the son of a king.”

Maybe it takes a baboon-shaman type to help us remember we are God’s beloved children.This week, Jeannine Gury shared this quote from Thomas Merton:

To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name.

God names us with God’s own name which is Love, and calls us precious.

Baptism is the starting line in our journey of faith, not the finish line.

After baptism, we attempt to live a “baptism-shaped life.” To live into our name, into our true selves. The waters begin the journey, the baptism of the Spirit brings about our growth and the refinement. We ask what God’s will is for our lives? Simply put, God’s will is that each of us is formed into the image of Jesus Christ.

Mercifully, God understands that some days we do well reflecting Jesus; other days not so well. One writer put it, “With each new year, God extends to us a fresh opportunity to become the people God intends us to be, to try again to be guided by love and mercy, to crave justice, be present with others, and to live fully awake to God’s presence. As one year gives away to another, we are invited to give way-to seek forgiveness, or to offer it, and to turn toward the mountain of God where weapons of war are reshaped as tools of human flourishing and violent ways are unlearned.” (Stephanie Powell, Christian Century, 12/09)

I am always moved at how parents, when their child may be going through difficulties, continue to hope for their child’s growth and maturation. Parents don’t give up on their kids. How much more does God hope in us?

The reformer, Martin Luther, would say in times of temptation or despair, “I am baptized!” When the waters feel like they are rising up around our necks; when we are in the midst of a hurricane like Psalm 29 describes, we reclaim the truth that we belong to God. The chaos will not consume us.

In seminary, I was part of a small group of women who gathered for reading and prayer. Our task was to choose a word or phrase that spoke to our hearts and we were to dwell on that phrase. One woman chose the phrase: I belong to God. So, for that week she repeated over and over again this truth. She wanted it to seep into the cracks of her heart, to shape her understanding of herself. One evening she was jogging and out of nowhere an attacker came from behind and knocked her to the ground. She retold the story saying that what involuntarily came out of her mouth during the attack were the words, “I belong to God. I belong to God!” She said that she was shouting them at him. She wasn’t certain, but she suspected that her words unnerved him because he suddenly ran away.

About five years ago, I was at a women’s leadership seminar downtown with mostly business women and other city leaders. I tell you, I felt out of place being the only clergywoman. Toward the end of the day, the facilitator asked each of us this question:

“If you could say one thing to the people in the city of Cleveland, what would it be?”

As you can imagine, there were many terrific responses about what the city had to do to better itself, how we should celebrate our resources, how we needed to have hope, innovation and creative ingenuity to solve our particular challenges, and so on.

Looking down from the top of Key Tower-I could see in Public Square, business men and women, construction workers, hot dog vendors, and homeless men and women. Religious and non-religious. When it was my turn, she asked, “Clover, what would you tell Cleveland’s people?” I answered, “I would say each one of us is a beloved child of God.” There was a long silence. It figures the clergy would say that, right? But I couldn’t get past that what we need is a message of love. Each of us needs to hear that he or she is beloved, created in love and for love.

I noticed one woman across the table welled up with tears and said, “That’s exactly what we all need to hear.”

IF we really knew that truth in the very core of our being, I believe we would treat ourselves and one another more reverently; and that would send reverberations around the city of Cleveland that would be transformative. Having a deep sense of our beloved-ness grounds us and makes us whole. Not holier than thou; but whole, healthy, integrated. Our internal values would become more aligned with our external actions.

I cherish that in Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism the Father’s voice says to the Son, “With You I am Well Pleased.” Why would Jesus need to hear that? He’s Jesus!

But, honestly, we all long to hear those words, don’t we? Our new book group read Rabbi Harold Kushner’s Living a Life that Matters. Kushner tells us that of course we shouldn’t do good things for others, or live a moral life in order to get recognition. Nevertheless, let’s be honest…it’s very human to desire someone to notice we are doing our best; that we are trying to be faithful most days; that we are attempting with our hearts to do well. Kushner wrote, “People need to hear the message that they are good. And people who are not entirely sure of their goodness may need that validation even more. We don’t want to know that we are being just being tolerated out of mercy.” p.12

We certainly know that children need to be praised and praised. Studies show that a child’s moral conscience is shaped by being positively acknowledged for doing the good thing.

Some persons wait their whole lives to hear a mother or father say, “You please me so much. You’ve done well.” Tragically, some never hear it.

But God said it to Jesus, his beloved son. And God says it to you and to me. With you I am well pleased.

Do you remember your own baptism? Most of you probably do not. Some of you do because you were baptized right here as adults. But even if you don’t remember, chances are someone else does. That’s why baptism is always done in the sight of witnesses. Your parents remember, or the community remembers.

If you’ve never been baptized, and would like to embark on that journey, make today a step toward it.

The water in the font symbolizes holy water that nourishes us for the journey of our faith. Again and again we commit to following the way of Jesus Christ. As the wise motto of Alcoholics Anonymous: one day at a time. To follow Jesus, we trust in God one day at a time.

And along the way there are markers. Today can be a marker for you.

This isn’t meant to be a baptism, but a re-commitment to your baptismal vows.

Come forward if you desire. Remember… God calls you beloved son or daughter, and with you, God is well pleased.

The choir will sing and if you feel led, please come. Put your hand in the water, touch your forehead, and say to yourself, “I am God’s beloved.”

Amen.

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