The Rev. Steven D. Paulikas
January 12, 2020
Baptism of Our Lord, Year C
When John baptized Jesus in the River Jordan, Jesus stood up from the waters, and the spirit of God descended on him. And then a voice was heard from heaven, and it said, “this is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Every year on this Sunday, in the bleak midwinter when it’s cold and snowy, we remember and celebrate the fact that Jesus was baptized. It was at the beginning of his public ministry, before he called his disciples, before he became famous, before his miracles, before his passion and his resurrection. Jesus didn’t do any of these things until he was baptized. His baptism was the act the initiated a lifetime that would change the course of human history.
And what did Jesus do to deserve this baptism? Did he take a course or pass a test? Did he have to prove himself or explain the mysteries of the universe? What did he do to prove his worth?
The answer is: nothing. Yes, Jesus was God, Son of God. But at this point, this was nothing in particular he had done in his life other than be born and go out to see John. The Father is well pleased in Jesus simply because Jesus is, because he exists. And that’s the same way God feels about you, too.
You know, every time I’m at a baptism, I listen for that voice, and I can swear that I hear it. “This is my child, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” One of the things we do in baptism is acknowledge that those being baptized truly are God’s children. It’s a pretty basic part of being human, but sometimes it’s easy to forget that we didn’t create ourselves—someone created us. Our parents play a pretty big part in that, but as these underslept parents in the front row can already tell you, their children already have minds, personalities, and souls of their own. Even if you think we’re just the product of an intricate biological process, there’s still that something, that deep well of mystery about who we are and where we came from that makes us us that can’t really be answered by science. And as those same underslept parents will tell you, the birth of a child—any child—is a miracle. I think that’s what that voice means when it booms out: “this is my child, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”
Friends, what would the world be like if we all treated one another as beloved children of God? And what would our lives be like if we all believed we were God’s beloved, in whom God is well pleased? Again, these are simple questions—they’re easy enough for children to understand. And yet as we get older, they seem to get harder and harder to grasp. Nonetheless, the answers are central to this old, old faith of ours. Yes, every human being is a miracle. Everyone is a beloved child of God. You, the members of your family, the people in these pews. Friends, strangers, enemies. The people you see in the news every day and the people you’ll never hear about. The rich and the poor, prisoners, victims of violence and war and climate change. Babies born today and people on their deathbeds. God is saying of each and every one of them: this is my child, my beloved. As we get older, we inevitably to some things that God probably isn’t very pleased with. But like the bond between any parent and child, the love behind that voice never ends.
So if God loves each of us that way, then we should love one another the same. Imagine, for a moment, that every time you met someone, you thought about how they were God’s beloved child. It’s actually not that difficult. If you’ve never tried before, you can start today, right now. Aha, you’re God’s beloved child. You’re God’s beloved child. Imagine if every meeting began that way, every session of Congress and the UN, every corporate negotiation, every classroom session, every courtroom trial, encounter on a crowded subway car…
…well maybe that’s getting carried away. Because we all know it’s hard to love everyone on the subway. And the fact is that it can be pretty hard to see loved-by-God child in certain people. There’s a reason every event doesn’t begin with people acknowledging God’s love for one another. We are offended or hurt or even repulsed by something someone else does, and it becomes hard to remember that they are God’s child too. But just remember: when that happens, when it’s too difficult to see the child of God in someone else, it’s probably because there’s a little part of you that’s having trouble remembering the child of God in yourself. We are all children of God—including you. You’ve done nothing to deserve this status, which can make it hard to believe it’s real. So the annoying person reminds us of the ways we think we’re annoying. The criminal reminds us of our own offenses. Even the person from that other political party reminds us of the things we don’t like about ourselves. So it’s just easier to think of them as somehow not God’s beloved children—because they frighten us, trigger our own anxiety that maybe that booming voice from heaven wasn’t meant for us, or doesn’t mean it any more.
I’m convinced that most of the crazy things people do in this life—good and bad--they do because they are desperate to hear the words Jesus heard at his baptism. Mother Theresa wrote in her journals that she was desperate for God’s affirmation. But then, children that we are, we sometimes try to get God’s attention by being naughty. We all know the mischief kids get up to to test their parents’ love for them. When we grow up, we do it on an adult scale. Let’s trash the planet to see if God’s watching. Let’s bully the vulnerable and make life harder for the poor and see what Dad says. The mistreatment we visit on one another—abuse, dependency, neediness, violence—most all of it stems from our deep, deep fear…that our heavenly Father doesn’t really see us, that we are not God’s beloved.
So, friends, listen once again to the Gospel. Listen to it and believe with all your heart and all your mind that the same voice that says this about Jesus is saying it about you—and everyone you’ve ever met. “This is my child, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” You are God’s child. That’s why you’re here. You are God’s child, and you will always be God’s beloved.
There are two special children here this morning. Oscar and Harry are cousins. They are two beautiful 12 year old boys…just kidding that’s an inside joke between Julia and me. Oscar and Harry are just beginning their lives, and it is our prayer that they will remember long into the future that they are God’s beloved. I was thinking about Oscar and Harry on Friday, when I visited the senior member of our parish, Vera Crane. Vera lived in Park Slope from the time she moved here as a teenager—in 1927. A few years ago she moved to a lovely facility in New Jersey, and I went out with Chris Lee, our parishioner who will be ordained a deacon here at All Saints’ next Saturday. Chris heard his call to ordained ministry in part through is weekly visits to Vera to give her communion when she still lived in Park Slope. Vera is 106 years old. She reads without glasses and takes no medication. And I can tell you, when you spend time with Vera, you always leave feeling better about yourself. Everyone who has ever known her says she’s never been anything but kind and generous—and quick-witted. Once when I asked her about her favorite memories she said, well the first fifty years were so long ago I can’t remember a thing from then. Vera turned 50 in 1963.
You don’t spend over a century on this planet like that without knowing that you are God’s child, without that continued faith that we are all God’s beloved. When Oscar and Harry are Vera’s age, it will be the year 2125. And even though that is a future too distant for us to imagine, one thing is certain: there will still be a voice from heaven. It will be the same voice we hear this morning, at their baptism. It will be the same voice that calls out to you and to me and everyone you will ever meet. “This is my child, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Amen.