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January 13, 2019. As a body of beloved children of God, we hold to a system of beliefs. But we also recognize that being the beloved is a just and generous way of life. Pastor Stephanie preaches today on the baptism of Jesus, and God’s love for us and for all people.


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I read from a veteran preacher source that there are two things people want to discover in a sermon: is there a story here, and am I in it? If that is true for you, I can assure you that in this sermon there is a story, and you are most assuredly in it. Please pray with me that the story that is present, and the place where each of us resides in it, might become revealed through the power of the Holy Spirit in these next few minutes as we ponder this together. Let’s pray. Holy One, you reveal your truth in your word and through your spirit. As we wait upon you with expectation, enable us to hear what you have to say to us today, we ask of you, so that we might respond to your good news, the Gospel. In Jesus’ name, amen.


We are dropped into a scene in the Gospel of Luke where a crowd has gathered, exuding high energy. People were restless with anticipation. The buzz in every village was that change could be afoot. Positive change. Thoughts had been shared, perhaps at the city gate among the elders, and those thoughts found their way to dinner table conversations around villages. From there, the ideas and rumors became open wonderings about this unique, shall we say, person named John the Baptizer. His message captivated them. Chaos and corruption in their country had created such anxiety and despair that probably anyone who confidently called for people to repent and change their ways would get some kind of a following. But this John was a different kind of guy, in so many ways from others they had heard. His lack of smooth talk and promises, like so many would-be messiahs before him, somehow made them trust him more. Because he did not make promises that their jaded hearts knew by now could not be fulfilled by anyone but God, they listened to him. He actually pointed them to God, rather than trying to draw people to himself. John reminded them of what they knew to be true. They needed a fresh start, and John pointed them to that.


And so they asked John, “Are you the messiah? Are you the one who can refresh our lives and give us a true and lasting hope?” Imagine their surprise then when John said plainly, “No, I am not. I am not the one you have been longing for.” But he respects their desire to know anything at all that John can tell them to give them hope. And so he tells them that the one they have hoped for is coming, and coming very soon. Is that the moment when he sees his cousin Jesus out of the corner of his eye, standing in the middle of the crowd, lining up to be baptized? Because Jesus was there standing around with everyone else who had come to be baptized that day. And then in the very process of Jesus experiencing the water of baptism, something remarkable happens. The heaven was opened, the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove, and a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my son, my beloved. In you I am well pleased.”


Now clearly this is a story of the baptism of our Lord. Did he need to be baptized as a sign of repentance? No, he did not. But in concert with his entire life’s mission of coming to be with us, to demonstrate God’s deep love for us, he was baptized. You may remember how frequently he would call people “daughter of God” or “son of Abraham,” “son of God.” Those are endearing titles that let people know that they, and we, are beloved children of God.


Remember the Isaiah 43 reading, where God’s love for us is strongly underscored? It says when you pass through the waters of difficulty, they will not overwhelm you. When you go through the fires of challenges, they will not consume you. If you want to flip back a page in your bulletin to see it again, you will see these words from God saying, “I have called you by name. You are mine. When you go through all these things that you might think would separate you from me,” God assures us, “no circumstance can separate you from me. No way. I am with you. You are mine. You belong to me. You are my beloved. You are precious in my sight and honored, and I love you.” Called by name, each one of you is known intimately by God and cherished as God’s son, as God’s daughter. Known by name, God is always with you. You are precious in God’s sight. God honors you and God loves you. Your name might be Luke, or Sylvia, Kate, or Mike. But to God you have another name. So you are Beloved Luke. Beloved Sylvia. Beloved Kate. Beloved Mike. Baptism is a gift for us. It reminds us of our identification as being a child of God. It’s about hearing the promises of God to be with us throughout our lifetimes. It is celebrating our belovedness. Knowing this changes everything for us.


Do any of you ever do any negative self-talk? Just know, if you do, that does not come from God. Try to root that out. Of course, you are not perfect, but you are not stupid or whatever other label you might put on yourself that denigrates you. You are a beloved child of God. You, and you, and you, and you — I could point out each and every one of you here present — all of us who are part of this family, and those who are not present with us today, are the beloved. I am the beloved. We are part of the worldwide community of the beloved people of God. Now children who are secure in the knowledge that they are loved can become more loving toward others. Isn’t that true? The more we revel in the love God has for each of us, the more we are able to recognize how very much God also loves others.


Christ Lutheran Church affirms that all people are beloved of God. In preparation for the annual report on last year, I was looking through records and I found a statement that you adopted in November of 2017. It’s a truly beautiful statement, laced with the understanding that all people are beloved of God. Let me read it to you. Some of you here undoubtedly helped to craft it, and I’m sure it’s been shared periodically. But you may not have heard it recently. So here it is. It says, “Welcome to Christ Lutheran Church. We are a growing church community that welcomes and affirms all who seek God’s grace. The world is often an unloving place. But as Christ has shown his love for us, we pledge to show love to one another. Members of Christ Lutheran humbly strive to create wholeness, inclusion, justice, understanding, and healing in a world divided. We affirm that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female (from Galatians 3:28). Christ has made us one. People of all sexual orientations, gender identities, ethnic and racial backgrounds, economic conditions, people who are differently abled, and all who may feel excluded, are embraced and celebrated at Christ Lutheran Church.”


If that doesn’t cause a lump in your throat, then read it again, because it will then. We live into our baptism together. Our recognition that we are God’s beloved as we extend hospitality, grace, and love to others. It reveals to them that we acknowledge that everyone is beloved of God. That is no small thing. Where this happens, here or anywhere, it is life-changing for people to know that they are beloved. The Christian church in this country and world could be described as the early church was, as turning the world upside down with love, if it majored in communicating belovedness in all that it says and does. But of course, such is not the state of things in far too many sectors.


In his book The Great Spiritual Migration, Brian McLaren writes this: “For centuries, Christianity has been presented as a system of beliefs. That system of beliefs has supported a wide range of unintended consequences, from colonialism, to environmental destruction, subordination of women, to stigmatization of LGBTQ people, anti-Semitism to Islamophobia, religious leader pedophilia, to white privilege. What would it mean,” McLaren asks, “for Christians to rediscover their faith, not as a problematic system of beliefs, but as a just and generous way of life rooted in contemplation and expressed in compassion, that makes amends for its mistakes, and is dedicated to beloved community for all. Could Christians migrate from defining their faith as a system of beliefs, to expressing it as a loving way of life?”


You know the answer to that question. Yes, as a body of beloved children of God we do hold to a system of beliefs. We affirm those beliefs in the Apostles’ Creed and in other faith statements that we make, but we also recognize that being the beloved is a just and generous way of life, is dedicated to the beloved community for all. This coming transitional year has the possibility of seeing this dedication to being the beloved come together in fruition, in ever new and God-honoring ways.


At this point I’d like to remind you of a practice that was made and known by none other than Martin Luther. Among many other things, Luther is remembered for passionately reminding people to “remember your baptism,” he would say passionately and with fervor. Many, but certainly not all of us, were baptized as babies and can’t remember our baptisms. But I think Luther meant something bigger than our historical memory of one day, and I have a feeling he wasn’t just talking about dressing up in a pretty white dress or suit, having a party, and if we’re a baby having everyone say how sweet we look. In his catechism, Luther wrote this: “A truly Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism once begun and ever to be continued.” His own practice was to place his hand on his head most mornings, if not every morning, and say to himself, “I am baptized.”


Today as you come forward for communion, I invite you to dip your fingers into the water right here at the baptismal font, and either make the sign of the cross on your forehead or place your hand on your head — whatever is most comfortable for you — and say to yourself, “I am baptized” or “I am a beloved child of God.” Then you’ll be served the bread and the wine. As you do these things, remember who you are. Remember whose you are. And remember how very beloved you are, as you remember what God has done for you in Christ Jesus.


Today in churches all around the world, people are still being baptized, still being washed in the living waters, still thirsting for God’s grace and the word of forgiveness and life. Still waiting to be included, to find their place in the story of healing and salvation, still longing for their chance to start life over. Just like those crowds coming out to the wilderness so long ago with Jesus right there in their midst. Maybe you are with them and needing to be reminded of the vastness of God’s love in calling us his own and washing us anew with grace, forgiveness, and hope. I think if we’re honest, we’re all in that place. The voice from heaven says, “You are my child, the beloved. With you I am well pleased.” These words may come from heaven, but they do not come out of the blue. They echo God’s words from Isaiah, mentioned earlier, from long before. “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name and you are mine. You are precious in my sight and honored, and I love you.”


Thanks be to God for this extraordinary love that is given to us all. Amen.


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2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Isaiah 43