Texts: Isaiah 43:1-7; Luke 3:15-22
January can be a difficult month. The stress and frantic pace of the holidays now linger behind us. Expectations met and unmet rest on our hearts, minds, and souls. Many of us have returned to old routines, which can be both comforting and unsettling. Some of us have pledged to ourselves to break old habits and patterns; and now, on January 10, we have a sense of how well we are doing or not doing with our hopes for 2010. Yes, right about now, we are either feeling good about ourselves or we have dipped down into that place of weariness and longing. It is not uncommon in the holiday aftermath, along with the short days, longs nights, and bitter cold to feel a bit blue—to feel a sense of restlessness and emptiness. Maybe that’s why the lectionary texts for this Sunday focus on the theme of being God’s beloved.
We begin with the words of Isaiah—words that are strong and gentle, unsettling and comforting, revealing and passionate. Listen to them in my own words as I imagine God speaking them to us today.
Thus says the One who created you…who formed you. I am the One who made you; who knows your desires and longings, your hopes and dreams, your disappointments and failures. I am the One who knows your secrets, those thoughts and actions unheard and unseen by others. I am the One who knows your inner most thoughts and feelings—the One who created you and formed you.
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you—You don’t have to worry about being good enough, you are loved just as you are. It doesn’t matter what you do or don’t do, my love is constant. It’s not going away. No one can take it away. I have already redeemed you. You don’t have to try and earn what you already have. You don’t get worthy; you are worthy. Don’t be afraid that I may not love you. I already love you and my love is both unconditional and steadfast. When you can’t feel it, it’s still there. It’s real, it belongs to you and you belong to me—the One who created you, who formed you, who knows all of you.
I have called you by name, you are mine. You—Sally and Sam, Bob and Brenda, Rachel and Robert, Lou and Larry, Kelly and Ken, Jonathan and Judy—you are important to me. I know what brings you joy and sadness. I see your hope and despair. I understand your fears and your dreams. I hear your secrets and I see who you are. I am with you in your struggles and questions. I know all of you and I love you. My Spirit holds you close.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. In those times when you cannot feel my presence, I am with you. In all of life, I am there. When you feel lost or unfulfilled in your job, when you don’t feel worthy of love, when your marriage falls apart, when you can’t pay the bills, when your children disappoint you, when your parents don’t understand, when your church lets you down, when your health fails you, when you have more questions than answers, when you are afraid and angry, lonely and uncertain I am there with you—loving you, holding you, and protecting you.
For I am your God, the Holy One, your Savior. I am bigger and greater than all your worries and fears. I am the sustainer of life and peace. I am the One who wants for you joy and happiness. I am all that you know about love and truth and I am the mystery of love and truth. My love for you offers wholeness and fulfillment, meaning and authenticity. Even salvation.
Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you. I see you for who you are, and in all of who you are I love you. I respect you. I value every part of your being—the good and the hurt. I adore you and I long to be a part of your life.
Can you begin to imagine what our lives would be like if we really believed these words? If we allowed them to direct how we live? Can you imagine what our world would be like if we could live with and relate to one another as God’s beloved? Who would we really be if we believed we are loved like this? It’s so easy to read these words, to hear them spoken; and it’s so hard to let them into our hearts and live by them. If you are like me, you can honestly say these words to someone else and believe they are true for them. But can you believe them for yourself? Can I believe them for me? Can I really believe that God speaks these words to me? Can you believe that God is speaking them to you, today? That you are good enough and worthy enough to be God’s own beloved? That you don’t have to be perfect? That God welcomes you just as you are? I wonder. What does it mean—what could it mean for each of us—to live the life of the beloved? To believe that God calls us by name; that we are God’s own? How would our lives and living be different if lived from a place of knowing that we are precious in God’s sight; honored and loved?
Along with Isaiah’s words, you have also heard read this morning the story of Jesus’ baptism. Luke tells us that when Jesus had been baptized and was praying, the heaven opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” In our tradition, baptism is our initiation into the family of God. It is the touchstone for that moment when we open ourselves to the possibility of God’s love for us. And yet, it takes the rest of our life to understand it, to suffer it, and to live it. Saying yes to a life of faith is actually a matter of becoming who we really are and discovering that we are, indeed, God’s beloved. Those words, “You are my Beloved, with you I am well pleased,” are not words intended only for Jesus. They are words for every single one of us. And every single one of us needs to hear them again and again. You are God’s beloved. You are loved. You are loveable.
Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr, suggests that for people of faith there are three fundamental questions. The first question that the gospel sets out to answer for us is “Who are you?” It is the question of spirituality. And Rohr suggests that right at the beginning, on our baptismal day, we are told, “You are a beloved.” He writes,
All our life we hope to raise up our eyes and see someone looking at us and speaking that answer to our basic spiritual question… All of our lives we hope for that to be repeated and for someone to tell us what our soul of souls and our heart or hearts knows: I’m special, I’m good, I’m a beloved somewhere.
The second question the gospel asks is, “Can we love?” Can I be a loving, intimate person? Can I walk through those doors of fear into intimacy? Can I reveal my true soul to at least one person? Can I take the big risk and somehow discover who I am in another’s eyes?
Finally, Rohr suggests, the gospel helps us ask: “Can I create?” He writes, “We’ll never discover that place of [God’s] passion within us until we find our creative place, that place where we can create life [and love] in another, in the world, in our backyard.”
Living the life of the beloved requires knowing who you are: that you are God’s beloved. Living the life of the beloved also requires risking loving others—walking through those doors of fear into intimacy. Living the life of the beloved is responding to God’s call to create a world where we understand one another and treat each other as God’s beloved. God’s word for today is clear: You are good enough. You are worthy. God is with you in all of life. You are God’s beloved!