When I became a Dad nearly 20 years ago my life changed. I discovered a love that had been in me all my life, but which wasn’t revealed until I held my beloved infant child in my arms. Not only did I discover a new depth and manner of love in me, I also became a better person on March 17, 2000, when my son, Casey, was born. The feeling was repeated, when on November 4, 2002, we welcomed our daughter April into the world.
My feelings of that special time are expressed in a poem by Edgar Guest. Mr. Guest was an American poet in the first half of the 20th century and became known as “The People’s Poet.” His writings were full of optimism. Here are a few selected verses from his poem: “The Responsibility of Fatherhood.” In the poem, a Father thinks to himself as he looks at his young son:
BEFORE you came, my little lad, I used to think that I was good, Some [selfish] habits, too, I had, But wouldn't change them if I could…
I treated lightly sacred things, And went my way in search of fun, Upon myself I kept no strings, And gave no heed to folly done.
But now you sit across from me, Your big brown eyes are opened wide, And every deed I do you see...
I want those eyes to glow with pride, In me I want those eyes to see That while we wander side by side The sort of man I'd have you be. And so I'm striving to be good With all my might, that you may know When this great world is understood, What pleasures are worthwhile below….”
Early 20th century and Legendary Irish, novelist and essayist, James Joyce also wrote some poetry. A famous one entitled: “On the Beach at Fontana” reveals his deep love and concern for his beloved son, Giorgio.
A father walks with his young son on a frigid day on a beach in Italy. The wind is bone-chilling and so is the feeling in the father as he realizes he won’t be able to protect his young beloved son from every trial and tribulation of life. James Joyce speaks autobiographically as he thinks of his own son and writes: “Wind whines and whines the shingle, The crazy pierstakes groan; A senile sea numbers each single Slime-silvered stone.
From whining wind and colder Grey sea I wrap him warm and touch his trembling fineboned shoulder and boyish arm. Around us fear, descending Darkness of fear above And, in my heart, how deep unending, Ache of love.”
Friends, according to the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus was baptized a voice from heaven as poetic as Edgar Guest’s and James Joyce’s declared: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” And as Jesus’ life unfolded the love of God for him, and his love for his Abba, his father, enabled him to endure and to triumph. Surely God loved Jesus so well that God’s heart ached often as God looked upon his son.
Matthew says that before those words of Jesus’ belovedness had come forth from the eternal poet above, Jesus, still dripping wet from his baptism in the Jordan, had stepped out of the river and the heavens had opened and Jesus had seen the spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him. Talk about poetic! In this poetic and world-transforming moment, Jesus is ordained by God to be the savior of the world. Indeed, Jesus, from this day forth, will carry out his ministry vested with the complete authority and will of God. And Jesus will do so as “the beloved” as a son who journeys in the love of God. Jesus reveals to us the life of the Eternal Divine. For when we look upon Jesus we see God in all his glory.
Yet I also believe that God’s proud and joy-filled proclamation about Jesus: “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased,” is a sentiment that God feels when God considers each of us.For just like Jesus, who was fully human, we too are made in the image of God.
As a former professor of mine from San Francisco Theological Seminary, Dr. Herman Waetjen often said: “We are all chips off the old divine block.” Children of a loving God. Yes, just as a father or mother looks with pride and deep love at their child—so does God look at you and at me.
Why is this an important truth to embrace? Because it is people who know they are loved, as Jesus did, who are able to love others…It is those who know and feel they are forgiven, who can forgive… It is those who know they have been healed themselves, who can offer a healing touch to others… It is those who embrace justice and peace, as Jesus did, that can be a powerful witness of God’s will in the world today.
Friends, consider what Jesus was able to accomplish in his relatively brief life of 33 years after that baptism at the river Jordan wherein he heard that he was God’s beloved son, and was well pleasing in God’s eyes… Yes, armed with that affirming truth Jesus must have felt that he could do anything. And so he did. Jesus, for some three years, took on everything and everyone who tried to deny the presence of God’s justice, peace, and love in the world. He took on the Jewish aristocracy and religious leaders as well as the Jewish and Roman politicians in government. And Jesus was faithful and loyal to God, whom he viewed as his loving Father, Abba. Loyal, even in the face of the great challenges and sorrows which came into his life—including loneliness, homelessness, rejection, suffering, beating abandonment, arrest, even death.
I think the question we each must ask ourselves this morning when we consider the baptism of Jesus, and remember our own baptism, is this: Who in my life needs the healing, the hope, the forgiveness, the comfort, and the love of God which I can bring to them as an instrument of God’s peace, God’s shalom? And, the question: In the face of the many injustices in our world today, will I, like Christ, have the courage to offer a prophetic message of challenge--when such a challenge is called for?
Friends, Jesus is not baptized and announced the beloved son, merely for his own sake, or for our entertainment. His baptism is announced in order to bring a message of hope that a brand new day has truly dawned in this world. A day in which Christ is commissioned and we are invited to join in his kingdom work.
I want to close with a brief story which I hope will stick with you and remind you of your own belovedness in the heart of God. There is much in God’s world that can remind us of God’s love. If as Jesus said: “We have eyes to see.” I’ve told Casey and April that whenever they see a beautiful moon at night to remember my love for them. The Bible gives us the rainbow, among other things, as a reminder of our belovedness in the mind and heart of God.
Consider this true story by Evelyn Riedel of Pelham, New York. Her story reminds us never to take a rainbow for granted—indeed, to slow down and take the time to consider and give thanks for the presence of God’s love all around us.
Describing an occurrence which I’m sure many of you have experienced, Evelyn writes:
“One summer day, when my children were ten, seven, and two, we, my husband included, were driving home from a restaurant. It had been a fairly dreary day, and the traffic on the cross-county parkway was proceeding slowly. I was muttering under my breath at the driver who had just cut in front of me when I looked up and saw the most magnificent rainbow stretched across the sky. The colors were more vivid than in any rainbow I had ever seen, each color as easy to distinguish as in a child’s painting. The arc spanned the entire width of the highway, each end disappearing behind the houses on each side."
“Abruptly, I drove the car across the lane to the right and parked it on the side of the road. My husband [startled] asked if there was anything wrong with the car. I said…’Everyone get out of the car—but make sure you get out on the right.’ I unbuckled the youngest from her car seat. When she was out of the car, I pointed skyward. Once [my two year old] saw the rainbow, she squealed and started jumping up and down. The rest of my family, arms linked, looked at the rainbow in awe."
“Other drivers were concerned when they saw our family standing by the side of the road. One person [slowed and] yelled out: ‘Are you OK? We pointed to the sky. The car pulled over and the passengers got out to look at the rainbow. This kept happening [car after car] until five cars were on the side of the road and a group of us was looking upward. Finally, a police car stopped and asked if there had been an accident. We pointed up…"
“At that point, the rainbow was starting to fade. The officer was [confused]…this is what you stopped for? [If only he had been there 60 seconds earlier] All of us looked at one another and realized the moment was over. Slowly, we returned to our cars and carefully eased back onto the highway. But standing on the side of the road, my arms around the other members of my family, I knew I had seen the covenant, [the promise of God to care for us] and all was good.”
Friends, the promises of God are for us all. God has given us Christ, God’s beloved Son, as the unshakable foundation for our lives. Let us eat, and drink, and receive the amazing grace present in this Lord’s Supper, a grace which enables us to be the beloved person, the beloved community, God has created us to be.