Sermon on Baptism, Belovedness, and how God is Like a Duped Teacher

By Daniel Bonnell

Click here to listen along (the meaning of the words is clearer when heard and not read.) —>Untitled – 1_13_14, 9.13 AMnbw extra copy

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And 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. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” – Matthew 13

Some of you may remember that about 4 years ago I went on a 48 hour silent retreat, the first of what was to become twice yearly periods of prayer and reflection for me.  Now, before you get too impressed you should know, I only went that once.  So my designation as a Spiritual giant may have to be delayed once again.

I went to a Catholic retreat house outside town and I was matched up for spiritual direction with a tiny little nun named Sister Eileen. I remember thinking it an absurd idea to take spiritual direction from someone I just met.  Because, you know, I’m complicated…. way too complex for someone to “get me” in an hour long meeting.  Ends up I was right.  It didn’t take an hour for her to get me.  It took like, 5 minutes for her to get me.  See, I was hoping she’d give me work to do.  Spiritual practices…. Stations of the cross, say the our father, lectio divina…instead, she looked me in the eye and said.  Nadia.  I don’t think you should DO anything while you are here.  I Just want you to walk in the knowledge that God loves you totally apart from anything you do or don’t do. I thought, man…that sounds awful.  And I was right…because seriously, as soon as I tried, I just started crying.

For some reason, there was something painful for me about the idea of being loved completely apart from what I do or do not do.  It’s perhaps all we really want in life, and yet the prospect of it, stung.  I’m not even sure why. Maybe because it only highlighted how much being loved apart from what we do or don’t do is so rarely something we ever encounter.

There seems no time of year when that is more real than Christmas.

Personally, Christmas time is hard for me. Not because of family drama or that dull pain so many of you carry because of family and friends and lovers who have died.  Christmas time is hard for me because so many of you go home to situations where no one really sees you – no one gets you.  It’s just painful for me knowing so many of you have to spend the holidays with people who for some unfathomable reason have no idea how amazing you are. And have no idea how to love you well. Every year I unsuccessfully launch a “you really don’t have to go home for Christmas” campaign. I mean, I understand that family dynamics are complicated and that there are good reasons for connecting with even the most difficult of families, but sometimes I feel like I just can’t handle one more story of the gender queer daughter getting a pink scarf for Christmas or the vegetarian getting steak knives from their parents. Or on the other side of things, the adult child who you pay to fly home and then never spends any time with you while they are here.

So it’s in the new year…the time when we are both returning from spending the holidays with our families and are resolving to improve ourselves in the new year, resolving and perhaps already failing to be more awesome, more beautiful, more disciplined…which is of course to say, more worthy of love, – yes, it is this time of year when are recovering from not being loved well, trying to forget all the ways we too have not loved others well, and are busily trying to do things to make ourselves more worthy of love, that we hear this text from Matthew about the day when Jesus was baptized in the Jordon. And in this story is pure Gospel love.

The story itself is amazing. We are told that like, basically everybody was flocking to the Jordon River to get baptized by John. A mass of unwashed sinners all crowding around, waiting their turn.  Sun beating down, mosquitoes buzzing, children screaming. I imagine it was a serious horde. See, John the Baptist had been preaching about preparing the way of the Lord and yelling for repentance and so people were coming in droves to get that fresh start.  They carried in line with them all the things they had done and not done.  All their sins and betrayals and misdemeanors.

John’s arms had to have been tired from baptizing that many people.  Tired from preparing the crowd for the big thing God was about to be doing in their midst.  One person after another. Preparing that one for the Lord and then the next one for the Lord and then holy , the next one IS the Lord! What’s hilarious about the fact that the next guy in line to be baptized was Jesus,  is that, get this… John the Baptist tries to talk Jesus out of what Jesus is trying to get him to do, which take my word for it…never works. I’ve tried.

So John gives in and baptizes Jesus. And then things get crazy – the heavens open, the spirit descends and God speaks. It’s like the heavens could not contain the Gospel love of God and it just kind of had to spill out all over everything.

You know the one thing I love most about the Baptism of our Lord text is not just that God the Father says “This is my son, the beloved with whom I am well pleased”, but that God says this – before Jesus had really done anything. Think about that.  God did not say “this is my son in whom I am well pleased because he has proved to me that he deserves it, he has quiet time with me each morning and always reads his Torah and because boy can he heal a leper.”  Nope. As far as we know Jesus hadn’t even done anything yet and he was called beloved. The one in whom the Father was well pleased.

That’s God for you. And I mean that literally.  That is God FOR YOU.

Because in your own baptisms, God proclaims that in you his beloved children, God is also well pleased. In the waters of your baptism, God claimed and named you as God’s own. Whether it was as an infant or a youth or an adult. Whether your baptism happened in a church you can’t even remember, or in a river at Summer Camp or in a church you love or one that no longer allows you to take communion, your baptism, not matter the circumstance, was most certainly an act of God upon you. Not an act of faith that you or someone else was giving to God. Baptism, is God’s act of Gospel Love. And as is my tradition whenever peaching about baptism, here’s my standard offer: if you have never been baptized, we have water…right here, plenty of it. Come find me during open space and we’ll do it right now because you already belong to God. You are already God’s beloved.

I heard a story a few months back on the radio, about how studies have been done where elementary school teachers were told at the beginning of the term that certain children in their classroom were gifted, regardless of the actual capacity of these children – and the study showed that by the end of the year those kids were scoring off the charts from their peers. They became what they were believed to be.

God is like that.  God is like a teacher who has been duped into thinking you are “gifted” and then treats you like you are special and then that’s what you end up being.

I was in a 12 step meeting the other day when one of the old guys, a guy who has been sober for like, 35 years said something so simple and so casual but something that made me shake my head and wonder what it would be like if we all really believed it.  As we were all discussing what our “higher power” is like, what the “God of our understanding” is like, he said “I don’t know about you, but my God is crazy about me”.

I couldn’t stop thinking about that. For most of my life I’ve heard the saying “God loves you”.  But it always feels more like an empty slogan like, don’t worry, be happy, or something. For someone to say, Nadia, God loves you, feels almost compulsory. Like God loves me kinda because he has to since I’m one of his kids.  But to say my God is crazy about me. I don’t know.  That’s different.

That feels like the kind of love that heaven can’t contain.  The kind of love you can walk around a Catholic retreat house being aware of. A love that is yours quite apart from what you do or don’t do. The kind of love that breaks your heart and then makes it bigger, A love that create belovedness in the one is rests upon.

Beloved. Be loved. Just sit and be loved. Even if it hurts.  Just sit and be loved and be the beloved of God. For this is what pleases him. amen

 

About Nadia Bolz Weber

I am the founding Pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. We are an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Learn more at www.houseforall.org

  • crowflies

    Amen.

  • Jeffrey A. Pierpont

    “And a voice from heaven said, ‘Whoa, oh, oh, sweet child o’ mine, Whoa, oh, oh, oh, sweet love of mine!’”

    This is a great sermon. I am looking forward to hearing you in person one day. They should put you on the Pepperdine Lectureship!

  • Bonnie Guy

    That was the best use of five minutes all day long. :-)

  • John E McCullough

    Man did I need that this afteernoon. Thanks for your wisdom.

  • Umar Marsh 2

    Muslims believe in Jesus the Christ, Peace be upon him, his birth by his blessed and beloved mother Mariam, Peace be upon her, without male intervention. We believe he is the Word of Allah as describes in the Quran and a Spirit sent forth from Allah, also in Quran. We believe that he spoke as a babe from the cradle when the Jews planned to stone His mother Saying:
    Bismillah Al-Rahman Al-Raheem
    {27} Then she [Maryam] brought him to her people carrying him. They said, “O Mary, you have done a thing unprecedented.
    {28} O sister of Aaron, your father was not a man of evil, nor was your mother unchaste “.
    {29} So she pointed to him. They said, “How can we speak to one who is in the cradle—a child?”
    {30} He [Jesus] said, “Indeed, I am the servant of Allah. He has given me the Scripture and made me Prophet.
    {3} And has made ne blessed wherever I am and has enjoined me prayer and Zakat [charity tax] as long as I renain alive.
    {32} And made me dutiful to my mother, and He has not made me a wretched tyrant.
    {33} And peace be upon me the day I was born, and the day I will die, and the day I am raised alive”.
    {34} It is not befitting for Allah to take a son; exalted is He! When decrees an affair He only says to it, “Be” and it is}

    Something we must consider carefully; Jews don’t recognize the Bible or the Prophet Jesus, Peace be upon him, inasmuch as many Christians refuse to recognize the Quran or the Prophet Muhammad, Peace be upon him, as Allah’s final Messenger.Yet, for the soul sake of argument, the only religion with overwhelming physical evidence that its prophet ever existed is Islam. Anyone can argue that the other prophets never existed soley based on lack of concrete, physical evidence. So far, the only things the Christians and Jews have is a shroud of dubios origin and diggings of Arabian and Chaldean potteries.
    Add to this fact that the whole of the Middle East and major historical parts of the Roman Empire have been inherited by the Muslim nation. All of the lands where Biblical history took place are inherently Muslim.The state of Israel is a political anomaly, a Western outpost just as were the occupations of the Crusaders, and just as transient . So it shouldn’t be counted. So, that being the case, is it logical that these great events not the least if which is the Muslim’s inheriting of the Biblical lands was never predicted in the Gospels or the Old Testament?—just a slight oversight of a book which is supposed to predict all major future events? At least that’s what I was taught as a Christian. The preacher would always reach for the Bible to explain current and historical events. Will someone please show me where the Bible clearly explains why the Middle East is all Muslim now? Arabia, where many major Biblical events took place and Jews have lived for centeries all the way down to Southern Arabia and Yemen, where they still exist to date, seems to have just disappeared from the map of the Near East in the Bible.

    About the state of Israel, it must come to past according to the Quran in which Allah says, “……And when our promise of the Heareafter comes to past, when last promise comes to past, He will bring you forth [O Children of Israel] in one gathering “.
    The actual word used here in the Quran for all together is “lafeefan”, in otherwords “from a motley group of peoples”. It is also mentioned that the Jews will attain high eminence and influence in the world. And, as such, many religious Jewish scholars are vehemently against the establishment of the state of Israel, because, according to their belief, it should not be established until the coming of their Messiah. The only oroblem with that is that their Messiah has already come and gone, who was Jesus the Christos [Messiah]. Allah will give them an alternate Messiah who will be the Messih Al-dajjaal, or the false or quack Messiah who will tempt the peoples of earth earth with overwhelming miracles will lead the a great army of Jews from Isfahan (a provence in today’s Iran which happens to have the next biggest concentration of Jewish population in one area after Israel)
    Most of the signs indicate that we have already entered the last days scenario only the major signs have yet to come to past.
    By the way, according to Muslim belief, Allah will return Jesus to earth from his dwelling somewhere in the third heaven (sky) where he was raised from the humiliation and death on the cross by his enemies. (It is Muslim belief that he will lead Muslims in a battle against the Anti-Christ who will claim he is Allah on earth whom the Jews will believe is their Messiah). The Quran says Jesus was saved [from the clutches of the Jews and the Romans] and that a likeness was put un his place to mislead his deniers until the Day of Judgement.

  • Umar Marsh 2

    According to Muslim belief, Jesus (Peace be upon Him) has not tasted death yet, and he appears at the death bed of every Christian and Jew to renounce their rejection of him in the case of the Jews, and in the case of the Christians, he will belie there false attribution of him to God Almighty and raising him being elevated to the level of ‘God Junior’.

    Quran: Surah, The Women; verses 154 to 160
    *In the Name of Allah the Gracious the Merciful*

    ¶{154} And We raised over them the mount for [refusal of] their covenant; and We said to them, “Enter the gate bowing humbly”, and We said to them, “Do not transgress on the sabbath”, and We took from them a solemn covenant
    {155} And [We cursed them] for their breaking of the covenant and their disbelief in the signs of Allah and their killing of the prophets without right and their saying, “Our hearts are wrapped”. Rather, Allah has sealed them because of their disbelief, so they believe not, except for a few.
    {156} And [We cursed them] for their disbelief and their saying against Mary a great slander,
    {157} And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah .” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain.
    {158} Rather, Allah raised him to Himself. And ever is Allah Exalted in Might and Wise.
    {159} And there is none from the People of the Scripture but that he will surely believe in Jesus before his death. And on the Day of Resurrection he will be against them a witness.¶

    Quran: Surah, Al-Imran (3); verse 55

    In the Name of Allah the Gracious the Merciful
    ¶ {55}Mention] when Allah said, “O Jesus, indeed I will take you and raise you to Myself and purify you from those who disbelieve and make those who follow you [in submission to Allah alone] superior to those who disbelieve until the Day of Resurrection. Then to Me is your return, and I will judge between you concerning that in which you used to differ.¶

    Thus, Muslims believe that Jesus will be sent back to earth among the Muslims to lead the final earthly requital against the Anti-Christ and his Jewish followers and their ‘familiars’, starting in Jerusalem. At that time, Jews will have a powerful state in Isfahan—a province in Iran. (See; Jews of Isfahan today).

  • Umar Marsh 2

    That picture is supposed to be God Almighty!!?
    That looks like a naked, drugged up, hungover hippie who’s just taken a heroin shot in undescribable corners on his body. When will you people learn to quit lording it up. God has NO likeness on earth or in the heavens.

    • indybeckih

      I saw the image as that of Christ’s image.
      Be respectful of others’ beliefs. This IS a Christian community, non-exclusive of others, but there is no reason to be disrespectful of Christianity in your posts supporting Islamic scripture.

  • Paul Timmis

    Just beautiful. Thank you, Nadia – I needed to listen to this today.
    Delighted that you’re returning to Greenbelt this year.

  • http://www.bibletalking.com/ Oneil Salmon

    Thorough Preparation for Baptism… There is need of a more thorough preparation on the part of candidates for baptism. They are in need of more faithful instruction than has usually been given them… http://www.bibletalking.com/2014/01/thorough-preparation-for-baptism.html

  • Jim Bell

    Amen, Sister!! You say it well. I hope those who feel unloved listen to your words and feel the love!

  • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

    Divine “fake it until you make it?” :) If it helps, it suits me.

  • marty_jones

    Nadia- I have to confess that I don’t yet know how to use the words that the Creator is ‘crazy about me’. I know that it’s true; and at the same time I don’t know that I’ve ever really understood the concept.

    Thank you for the reminder.
    Blessings, Marty

  • Daniel Wilcox

    But how can all people feel that God does love them when most churches, most Lutheran included, emphasize that God only loves an “unconditionaly predestined limited number of humans” as did Luther himself:-(?

  • Pr. Owen Griffiths

    Wow. Good news, Pastor!

  • Rob Bear

    I read something else about spirituality which made me think of you. “The reason to pray, meditate, journal, reflect, and learn about spirituality is simply to become a better person.” I agree with that. Great thought. Sounds like you.

  • Gary Dyer

    Be loved. Before you do anything. Awesome. Thanks.

  • Brent

    Thank you so much for sharing this piece with a very touching message about love. The greatest thing you could ever learn is to love and be loved in return.

  • Mary A. Gubbrud

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for this beautiful message which causes me to cry. God’s love and grace are so big that we often cannot grasp them and want to minimalize them by feeling we have to earn them. This was a beautiful reminder that we are LOVED in a way that is so much bigger than that. A love that is perfect and not earned nor deserved. A perfect love.

  • Erik Arneson

    Amen.

  • Mike Eisenman

    Listened to this in our clergy meeting last week (sorry if it violates copyright). As a Lutheran in Methodist vestment it’s nice to hear a well articulated discussion of what it means to be loved and what it means to be baptized in that love. It’s also nice to hear a “popular” preacher translate Luther’s Catechism and ancient theology into a word of grace for today.


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