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Words to Live By

During our six Sundays of Lent, I’ll be preaching on six stories of Jesus from the Gospels of Mark and John, while using a quote from Marcel Proust to connect them all: “The only true voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” My goal for Lent will be to explore the passages with new eyes, to see what we may not have seen before, to see (in some cases) what the characters themselves might now have seen, to see beyond sight into the spiritual.

Our first story is the baptism, and subsequent wilderness experience described very briefly in March 1:9-15. Storyteller and theologian, John Shea, provides a wonderful new perspective on the baptism of Jesus I’d like us to consider. He suggests that the story of Jesus’ baptism is intended to explain to us that the Spirit didn’t “descend upon” Jesus as he came up out of the water, but “descended into” him. In that event, Jesus was changed by a close encounter of the spiritual kind. So close as to allow Jesus to know, to feel to the core of his being, the deep love of the Divine for him. The words, “You are my Beloved, my Own. On you my favor rests,” seems a theatrical way to inform the reader of what happened. This gift full presence, full awareness of God’s love was not about personal privilege – the declaration of Jesus as the “one and only Beloved Son of God,” as theology has often tried to teach us – but about giving Jesus a foundation on which to ground himself during the upcoming struggles.

Love - pure, unconditional, unbounded love- is extremely powerful.

This may be a weak example in comparison to the love of the Divine, but let me try. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that my "second mom," Sharri, loved me, believed in me, and trusted me implicitly to carry out her wishes while she was alive and after she died. I was her POA, and am now the personal representative for her will.  Her son has been nothing but mean and judgmental since she’s died. Within twelve hours of her death he accused me of helping take care of her because I wanted her money and suggested that obviously I have no moral compass because Julie and I are “abominations in the eyes of God.”

These attacks are not pleasant, but I can get through without getting too sucked into his drama because I KNOW how deeply I was loved by Sharri, and I KNOW the love of God in my life. With that knowledge I can refrain from striking back, stooping to the same level, or letting it eat me up too much.

In the same way, the deep knowledge of being the Beloved gave Jesus the inner resources and strength to “stay the course” not only in the wilderness trial of wild animals and Satan, but throughout his ministry.

Jesus’ mission was to show everyone they had the same potential that became actualized within him. Jesus was meant to be the template, the example. He was supposed to provide the Way, the Path, not be the exception, the one-and-only Beloved. The love Jesus knew, the oneness he experienced with God, the power and compassion and strength he drew from it… it wasn’t just about him and how special he was. It was about saying, “Look, here’s a regular guy, a carpenter’s son, a workman himself… if he can have such a close relationship with God, so can you!”

I would suggest that the amazing connection Jesus had began with an experience of God's all-encompassing Love. Love kept Jesus from giving up or giving in. Love kept him from resorting to violence. Love enabled him to embrace ALL people, and gave him the grace to suggest we need to love our enemies. Love called him to be the best possible human he could be, and that same Love beckons us and calls us Beloved as well.

A man who owned a small town grocery store saw a little boy come in one afternoon. The little fellow stood near the front door looking at a barrel of apples. He would look up at the man and back down at the apples. Finally, the man went over and said to him, “Son, are you trying to steal one of those apples?” The boy replied, “No, sir. I’m trying to keep from it.”

There are times in our lives when we are tempted to be less than we are. There are times when we let ourselves get drawn into arguments or situations or say things that do not exhibit our best side. There are times when we make excuses for our words and our actions when we know we did not even want to try our best.

The last line of the passage we heard today says, “This is the time of fulfillment. The reign of God is at hand! Change your hearts and minds, and believe this Good News!” In other translations we would hear the word “repent.” That has always carried the connotation of punishment, but repent simply means change your heart and mind, turn around. It asks for transformation. Believe the Good News. And what is the Good News? That YOU are the Beloved of God. God is Love, the pure brilliant energy of Love - that Love is in you and that Love IS you.

If everyone actually believed this to be true and lived out of this place, the world would be a much different, much better place.

Years ago a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore assigned his class to a city slum to interview 200 boys. “On the basis of your findings, predict their future.”

Shocked at what they saw in the slums, the students estimated that 90 percent of the boys interviewed would someday serve time in prison.

Twenty years later the same professor asked another class to lovate the survivors of the 200 boys and compare what had happened. Of the 180 boys they could find, only four had ever been to jail.

Why had the predictions by the earlier class proven false? A common denominator – over 100 of them remembered having the same high-school teacher, Miss O’Rourke, who had been a tremendous influence on them at the time.

After a long search, Sheila O’Rourke was found in a nursing home in Memphis. When asked for her explanation she was puzzled and replied, “All I did was love every one of them.” 

Love changed the lives of those boys. Love can change our lives, the way we behave, the way we live. I truly believe that love – unconditional, unbounded love  - can change the world.

We may be able to accept with our heads that we are the Beloved of God, but the harder part is BECOMING the Beloved.

I invite you to take this as your mantra this week: “I am the Beloved of God.” When you are tempted to lose your patience, remind yourself, “I am the Beloved of God.” When you are tempted to give up on someone or something important, remind yourself, “I am the Beloved of God.” When you are exhausted, or sad, or frustrated, remind yourself, “I am the Beloved of God.” Living by these words has the power to bring us back to ourselves.

Remember, being God’s Beloved doesn’t guarantee easy, but it does guarantee the strength and courage to get through anything with grace, and compassion and love.

Love & Light!