My friends, we gather here this morning first and foremost as the people of God. We gather as followers of Jesus. We gather as members of one body in Christ. But, of course, the life that we share as a community of faith does not occur in a vacuum. The separations we so often try to hold between the sacred and secular, the religious and political are actually artificial distinctions that do not reflect the reality and complexity of our lives. And so, even though we gather first and foremost as the people of God, we also bring with us this morning all that we have experienced and witnessed this past week. We bring with us this morning our emotions and reactions to the shocking events that took place in our nation’s capital. We bring with us our fears and our anxieties. Our anger and our grief. Our doubts and our questions. We bring all of those things and as we gather this morning, we are longing to receive a Word from the Lord. Longing for God to speak. Longing to hear the voice of the One who has promised to be with us no matter what.
And so, it’s interesting that in our gospel reading this morning we actually hear that voice speaking to Jesus. As Jesus emerges from the waters of the river Jordan, he hears a voice from heaven. Jesus at his own baptism hears God speaking. Jesus hears and receives a Word from the Lord. But before we get to that Word, we have to set the scene for a moment. Imagine with me, John the Baptist shows up in the wilderness. People from all around Judea and the whole city of Jerusalem are coming out to be baptized. Jesus himself comes all the way down from his hometown of Nazareth. And did you notice where they are all going? The wilderness! Where is John the Baptist doing his thing? The wilderness! Where are all of these events taking place? The wilderness! And so, when Jesus comes up out of the water, what is he confronted with right in front of him? The wilderness! In fact, several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the site that is the most likely location of the baptism of Jesus. And sure enough, when you stand in the water of the Jordan River and look straight ahead, as far as the eye can see is wilderness. The place of testing. The place of temptation. The place of confusion. But, my friends, it is there in the wilderness, that the Word of God comes. It is there in the wilderness that God speaks. Not in Jerusalem. Not in the Temple. Not in the Imperial palaces of Rome. Not in the usual centers of power or influence. But it is there in the wilderness that the heavens are torn apart and the voice of the Lord speaks. And that voice says to Jesus, “You are my beloved!” You are the One upon whom I have poured out my love.
In the wilderness, Jesus receives the promise of the Father’s love. But when Jesus receives this Word, when he hears the voice of the One of the who calls him beloved, it is not something he keeps for himself. Rather he goes into the world. He goes knowing full well the darkness that he will face. Jesus enters into the wilderness of real life. The wilderness of sickness and death. The wilderness of human pride and arrogance. The wilderness of injustice and inequality. The wilderness of suffering and grief. He enters into the wilderness of the human condition, but instead of giving into the chaos, he embodies what it means to be God’s beloved. Jesus lived and died and rose again as a living testimony to the power of God’s love to heal and transform and make all things new. But first, he heard a voice. First, he received a Word from the Lord.
My brothers and sisters, each one of us here this morning, each one of us who has been baptized with water and the Holy Spirit, we have received that same Word. That same voice calls to each one of us and says, “You are my beloved.” God has spoken and is speaking right now to each one of us and he is calling us to go into the wilderness of this world and to live as God’s beloved. To not give into the chaos, but to embody a different way. A more excellent way. A more powerful way. A more effective way. And that way is the way of love. But, of course, we have to stop and ask the obvious question is. What does that even look like? What does is it look like for you and me to live our lives as God’s beloved?
I believe the answer to this question is found in the all too familiar description of love written by the Apostle Paul nearly two thousand years ago. You all know these words.
Love is patient. Love is kind.
Love does not envy or boast.
It is not arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way.
It is not irritable or resentful.
It does not rejoice at wrongdoing,
but rejoices in the truth.
Love bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.
Love never ends.
What does it mean to live as God’s beloved? There it is! Can you imagine if we actually lived those words? Not in a passive “Pollyanna” kind of way. But with boldness. With conviction. With integrity. With passion. What if this is a moment in history when the church is being called upon to embody a radically different vision for the world? A vision in which we first hear the voice of the One who says, “You are my beloved.” And then we respond to that voice by living lives that actually embody the way of love. We respond by actually doing the work of love. We respond by actually living out our baptismal promises. To seek and serve Christ in all persons. To love our neighbor as ourselves. To strive for justice and peace among all people. To respect the dignity of every human being. Can you imagine a world, a church, a community, a family that embodies this more excellent way of love?
But, my friends, right now, we are in the wilderness. It seems that the forces of darkness and chaos are all around us. There is a very real sense of fear and uncertainty and even despair. But I’m here to tell you this morning there is a Word from the Lord. There is a voice calling out to us right now. God has spoken and is speaking. And he says to each one of us – “You are my beloved.” This is who we are and this is how we are called to live.
Love is patient.
Love is kind.
Love is not arrogant.
Love does not insist on its own way.
Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.