Beloved Showing Forth

Sermon Preached on January 12, 2020 – Baptism of Our Lord
By The Rev. Dr. Nina R. Pooley
St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Yarmouth, ME

Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 29
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17

Beloved Showing Forth

Good morning.
Here we are, the second Sunday of January, and the First Sunday after the Epiphany, officially called: The Sunday of the Baptism of Our Lord. For us this year – it is also the Sunday we celebrate the Baptism of Lewis Fischer (known as ‘Baby Lewis’ in our house).

The season of Epiphany is about revealing, showing forth, and showing up. It begins with the arrival of the Magi, as they follow the star to Jesus, the child of promise foretold by the star’s rising. Today we experience the next revelation of Jesus’ identity, when Jesus comes to the Jordan to be baptized by John.

While we’ve heard this lesson many times, this week I’ve been struck by something I’d never considered before. Our text from Matthew:

And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. (So far so good.)

And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

We’re meant to assume that’s God speaking – and God is “well pleased”. Not high-five me elated, not cheering like an excited sports fan or a soccer parent on the sidelines – but “well pleased.” We might expect a little MORE enthusiasm, or out and out cheering, considering the journey Jesus has taken in the 30 years between last Sunday’s Magi and this week’s Baptism.

Rev. Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder, Professor of New Testament Studies at Chicago Theological Seminary, describes it this way:

He was almost killed by a deranged tyrant (Matthew 2:16). He had to travel hundreds of miles to Egypt and live as a refugee there (2:13). His parents could not return to their paternal birthplace because even the new ruler of Judea had some surly insecurity issues (2:23). Now, a few decades later Jesus travels from this place, Galilee, to be baptized by John in the Jordan. His vicissitudes in human form have not been light. Surely, a baptism in the wilderness would garner more applause.

[Yet] God is not ecstatic. The Creator is not jumping for joy. The Divine is merely pleased.¹

She has a point, so I took a look at the Greek, which gave me a more nuanced perspective. The Greek word involved here comes from the verb εὐδοκέω. It can be translated as “well pleased,” can also be “to take delight in,” or even “to be content with.”² Which means our text could be read: ‘This is my Beloved in whom I take delight,’ or ‘with whom I am delighted.’ Or even: ‘This is my Beloved, with whom I am content.’ Either one works better for me – gives me a sense of MORE from God than “well pleased.” Personally, I like the image of a God as a content parent – that overwhelming contentment of holding a child in a rare peaceful moment and being filled to overflowing.

As Jesus is baptized by John in the River Jordan, it is revealed – this is God’s Son, with whom God is delighted, content to overflowing. And all this happens out in the wilderness. For Matthew’s primarily Jewish audience it’s important to see the theological parallels between Jesus and Moses, this is the promised one who will save God’s people, this is the messianic answer to Matthew’s audience’s needs. The New Moses has come to deliver God’s people.³

As 21st century Christians, our needs are slightly different. When the voice of God declares from the heavens: “This is my Son, the Beloved,” God proclaims Jesus’ true identity. And God’s pronouncement of Jesus’ identity is the only one that matters. No matter what the world would have to say about Jesus, God’s claiming him as God’s own Son is the only identity that counts.

Remember – as we stand on the edge of the river Jordan and Jesus rises up out of the water, he hasn’t “accomplished” anything yet. This is before he has “achieved” or “succeeded” by any of our standards. Yet he is God’s own Beloved. With Jesus God is delighted, God is fully content. And everything about Jesus flows from his identity: a Spirit-anointed servant, a whirlwind prophet, the promised one who is named and claimed by God.⁴

And here’s the most remarkable Good News – God’s naming and claiming does not stop with Jesus. By our baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection God names and claims each of us: “You are my beloved child.” Friends, whatever other mantle you might claim — whatever else the world might say to you or about you — this is the claim that matters above all others: “You are God’s beloved child.” Out of this identity flow all the other gifts that come to us in baptism: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.⁵

We are beloved children of God before we are anything else. That’s the identity that matters, from which emerge all the gifts we have, and all the gifts we share with others – who are also beloved children of God.

I know it’s easy to say, and we all sort of nod like we get it, but – I think it’s harder for most of us to take in and really believe than we’d like to admit. (I suspect most of you think I’m just being nice when I say things like this.)

So I thought I’d get some help from brilliant communicator and all-around extraordinary talent, Lin-Manuel Miranda. His recent book Good Morning, Good night; little pep talks for me & you, is a compilation of his daily twitter posts. Each day he would tweet a Good morning post to the world, and then at night a Good night post; the collection creates a book of affirmations for the beginning and end of each day.

Here’s one day’s affirmations- these were written on the day after the nation was stunned by another high-profile suicide.

Miranda writes:
Gmorning.
YOU ARE SO LOVED AND WE LIKE HAVING YOU AROUND.
*ties one end of this sentence to your heart,
and the other end to everyone who loves you,
even the ones you haven’t heard from in a while*
*checks knots*
THERE. STAY PUT, YOU.

The accompanying evening post:
Gnight.
YOU ARE SO LOVED AND WE LIKE HAVING YOU AROUND.
*ties one end of this sentence to your heart, and the other end to everyone who loves you in this life, even if clouds obscure your view*
THERE. STAY PUT, YOU. TUG IF YOU NEED ANYTHING.⁶

To me, this is what Beloved means, what it looks like acted out – to nurture and care for each other, to hold fast to one another.

When we talk about being baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, we’re claiming our identity as those who are children of God and anointed by the Spirit in baptism. And our identity as children of God calls us to respond. To be baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection is to be baptized into the life-giving, forgiveness-granting, earth-shaking, relentlessly gentle, world-saving work of Jesus Christ. Baptism calls us to live with faith, in fullness and without fear – claiming our true identity first and foremost as children of God.⁷

So Beloved Ones, I have a small challenge for us this morning. I invite us to participate in the Epiphany practice of choosing a star-word for this new year. Somewhat similar to making New Year’s Resolutions, an Epiphany star-word is one that guides your intention for the year ahead. It’s natural at this time of year to reflect on our spirit, as we turn the calendar page – hopefully to a fresh and less chaotic beginning. It makes sense to take a moment and reflect on the well-being of our mind/body/spirit, and our relationships, and see what needs our tending and care in the coming season.

What guiding word will we discern as our guiding Epiphany light throughout the year ahead? Perhaps: *presence*, or *hope*, *nourish*, *rejoice*, *connect*, or even *content*.⁸ The choice is yours, whatever star-word will guide you well this year.

epiphany star                               epiphany heart

With this challenge comes a gift, a reminder – for those days or moments when you need one. You are God’s Beloved. Absolutely. Feel free to put this card on your mirror or somewhere you’re going to see it often. On one side our Star-word, our dreaming and guiding word; and on the other side, our ultimate Identity = Beloved.

Speaking on behalf of this community, God’s own children here at St. Bart’s let me say again:

YOU ARE SO LOVED AND WE LIKE HAVING YOU AROUND.
*ties one end of this sentence to your heart,
and the other end to everyone in this community*
THERE. STAY PUT, YOU. TUG IF YOU NEED ANYTHING.⁹


1 Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder, Commentary on Matthew 3:13-17, workingpreacher.org, January 12, 2020.
2 Citation number 2106 in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, as noted by Biblehub.com
3 Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder, Commentary on Matthew 3:13-17, workingpreacher.org, January 12, 2020.
4 Andy Nelson, Chaplain, Morningside College, Sioux City, Iowa; for Luther Seminary’s God Pause, January 9, 2020.
5 Andy Nelson, Chaplain, Morningside College, Sioux City, Iowa; for Luther Seminary’s God Pause, January 9, 2020.
6 Lin-Manuel Miranda, Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You, Random House, 2018
7 Andy Nelson, Chaplain, Morningside College, Sioux City, Iowa; for Luther Seminary’s God Pause, January 10, 2020
8 The Rev. Callie Swanlund, Wholehearted Wednesdays, blog post: January 8, 2020
9 adapted from: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You, Random House, 2018.