Rev. Tripp Hudgins
Baptism of Christ Sunday, January 12, 2014
First Baptist Church of Palo Alto
Let us pray.
Lord, I believe. Help, Thou, my unbelief. Make these words more than words and give us all the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.
First they heard the music.
Maybe you know the song.
“As I went down to the river to pray, studyin’ about that good old way,
and who shall wear the robe and crown, good Lord, show me the way.”
Oh brothers, let’s go down
Let’s go down, don’t you wanna go down,
Oh brothers, let’s go down
down in the river to pray.”
Yeah, it always starts with the music for me. It ends with the music, too. Be ready.
In the Cohen brothers film, “O Brother, Where Art Thou” the conversation between our three fugitive anti-heroes goes a little like this. You see, Delmar has been saved. So Pete says:
Pete: Well I’ll be . . . Delmar’s been saved.
Delmar: Well that’s it, boys. I’ve been redeemed. The preacher’s done warshed away all my sins and transmissions. It’s the straight and narrow from here on out, and heaven everlasting’s my reward.
Everett: Delmar, what are you talking about? We’ve got bigger fish to fry.
Delmar: The preacher says all my sins is warshed away, including that Piggly Wiggly I knocked over in Yazoo.
Everett: I thought you said you was innocent of those charges?
Delmar: Well I was lyin’. And the preacher says that that sin’s been warshed away too. Neither God nor man’s got nothin’ on me now. C’mon in boys, the water is fine.
Pete goes in. Everett does not.
Pete: The preacher said he absolved us.
Everett: For him. Not for the law. I’m surprised at you Pete. I gave you credit for more brains than Delmar.
Delmar: But they was witnesses that seen us redeemed.
Everett: That’s not the issue Delmar. Even if it did put you square with the Lord, the state of Mississippi’s a little more hardnosed.
Delmar: You should’a joined us Everett. It wouldn’t have hurt none.
Pete: . . . at least it would’a washed away the smell of that pomade.
Everett: Join you two ignorant fools in a ridiculous superstition? Thank ya anyway. And I like the smell of my hair treatment – a pleasin’ odor’s half the point. [laughs] Baptism. You two are just dumber than a bag of hammers. Well, I guess you’re just my cross to bear.
We do so much with Baptism.
We do so much.
We give up.
We take on.
This morning, I want us to focus on this one little bit from the scripture we heard. I want us to hear it like we hear music. Listening to the one melody, the one instrument, that one refrain while the rest of the sound washes over us like water, and holds us up. So, hold Isaiah’s song of the coming Messiah. And keep John the Baptist in the forefront right where he belongs (You know he’s going to insist upon being there anyway). But hear the Voice this morning.
“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Good morning, Beloved.
When has anyone ever called you that? Beloved?
“In you I am well pleased.” Has anyone ever said that to you? I hope so.
When was the last time you looked at someone and said, “In you I am well-pleased.”
“I really like you.”
“I love you. . .completely.”
“You are still fun to be with even after all these years.”
Beloved. You. Me.
Turn to your neighbor and say it, “Beloved, in you I am well-pleased.”
How did you feel? Did it make you uncomfortable saying it? Receiving it?
It’s a little embarrassing, perhaps, especially in such a place as this at a moment such as this. Church is a rather public place for such a personal and even private declaration. But think on those words for a moment. Think on that as a declaration of who we all really are deep down no matter what has happened to us in our lives, no matter what others have also said, or what we may have done.
Can you imagine it?
No matter what you have done, you are still God’s Beloved. The story of Jesus is about how God has moved heaven and earth, pushed everything else aside, to tell you so.
There is no government, no power, no principality, no system, no individual, who can take that away from you. . .
. . .and yet.
. . . it’s a seemingly uncommon sentiment, an uncommon idea that we might be God’s beloved after all. It’s uncommon enough that we have made up many excuses for why we don’t behave like we are Beloved or treat others like they are Beloved. It’s why we have standing armies and criminal justice systems. We have a lot of data to suggest we are unaware of our status as God’s beloved. Big data wins, you know.
Day to day, we struggle to live life as the Beloved of God. Maybe this is why we single one person out as an example. We single out Jesus. We Christians console ourselves, “Well, he did it. I’m not him. So, I can’t. But at least Jesus did it.”
But an interesting thing happens, I think, when we make such statements. We distance ourselves from Jesus when we do this while the whole time Jesus is trying to get to us. We hold Jesus at arms length. “I am not like you” or John’s “I am not worthy” claim from today’s Gospel. “But, Tripp, the Bible says Jesus is the Beloved, not us.”
We look at Jesus and try to make sense of him and in the effort try to make sense of ourselves. We consign Jesus to his “belovedness.” We call it “divinity,” that otherness of Jesus that keeps him safely at arms length . . . when all along it is Jesus who is trying mightily to show us our belovedness, who is fulfilling all righteousness, by giving us this moment to witness divinity. This moment where the Voice of God, this moment when the Spirit descends like a dove and alights upon Jesus is an introduction to who Jesus truly is and to who we are.
Created in the image of God. Created, as John’s Gospel reminds us, with Jesus in mind from the beginning of all things, fully in our present moment, to the end of all things. God proclaims it all Good. God proclaims it beloved. You. Me. All of it. And as it is all made through and with God, it is divine.
It’s terrifying to me, truth be told, that I might also be divine. It’s not an original idea either . . . “God became human so that humanity might become divine” are words from Athanasius of Alexandria, a third century bishop. It is a very old idea.
Even Delmar gets it, “The preacher says all my sins is warshed away, including that Piggly Wiggly I knocked over in Yazoo.”
God becomes human. God walks among us and when God does, what we see is Jesus’ life and ministry. Or put another way, if you want to know the nature of God, look at the life of Jesus the Christ. The entire nature of God is enfleshed in the life of Jesus. Born poor, vulnerable, outcast, in an occupied land, Jesus did not live an easy life. . . a carefree existence. Jesus did not die easy. There’s much to learn about God by looking at Jesus’ life.
This morning we’re invited to look at this one moment in the life of Jesus. We’re invited to look at his baptism and in this story perhaps see our own stories.
Look in the mirror. Have you forgotten you are Beloved? Have you forgotten that you are divine? In that forgetfulness have you (have I) lived as if our neighbor, the stranger, the alien in a foreign land, the poor (and the list goes on) are not also The Beloved?
Each act of violence, ignorance, uncaring, and thoughtlessness contradicts this.
We are all the Beloved . . . even after we knocked over that Piggly Wiggly in Yazoo.
As a Baptist, I know that we say that baptism is an affirmation of faith. I suggest that the realization of our belovedness is that faith. This is the impulse for baptism. This is the reason for the rite; it reveals what is already true and has been true since the beginning of all things.
It is faith. It is nature. It is ritual and rite.
We are Beloved.
It’s in our DNA. We are divine. It is The Image of God.
Nothing can take that away from us. God’s reaching out to us knows no end.
We are the object of God’s unending love, we are The Beloved.
We are divine because God has become human.
This is what we discover in the water.
This is what we reveal in the water.
This is what we proclaim in the water.
The world needs more of us to embrace the gift that baptism reveals for us.
We are the beloved. You are. I am. They are. We are. And in us, God is well-pleased.
So, what will we do now?
“Wade in the water.
Wade in the water, children.
Wade in the water.
God’s gonna trouble the water.”