May I speak in the name of the God who loves us. May we hear Gods call and be affirmed in God’s love. Amen.
This morning in Epiphany season we explore the baptism of Jesus. John has been preaching for some time now about repentance and baptizing people in the river Jordan. John’s ministry is successful. The backdrop to this success is misery and oppression. Israel is occupied by Rome, they are governed by Herod, a puppet king, as oppressive as the oppressors he serves and the high priests who aren’t much better. Resistance movements had come and gone, most brutally got rid of. The people of Israel were ripe for their Messiah, something had to change. When John began this ministry telling people the time had come and was now, the people were desperate for his message of hope. Of course baptism in water, emerging from the river was meaningful to the people of Israel, reminiscent of their deliverance from Egypt as they emerged from the red sea. John’s repentance theme was doing what Isaiah had prophesied, preparing a pathway for the Lord, Jesus. If the people were willing to be open to returning to God, rescue was at hand. If John was walking the streets of Huddersfield with a megaphone today I wonder what his message would be to us to prepare us to walk in the way of the Lord.
There is an epiphany moment in the baptism of Christ in the relationship and intimacy of the Trinity. It is revealed at his baptism that Jesus is indeed the beloved child of God. I wonder if Jesus needs this affirmation at the beginning of his ministry, I suspect probably not, it is perhaps rather a moment where in the incarnation, in the humanity of Jesus he identifies with us in that need for affirmation and love as he responds to God’s call. This epiphany moment of love is not just expressed between the trinity but is shared with us too.
This is what we are called to: to hear God say to us, as to Jesus, that he loves us and he is pleased with us. Remember this wasn’t as a result of what Jesus had done he had yet to begin his ministry, at this moment all he had done was to recognise and respond to his call. The resounding joy of the message from the Isaiah reading is what we are promised in Jesus’ baptism, as he takes up his mission for us. Isaiah tells us we are created by God for God’s glory and that is why he chooses to redeem us. We need not be worried about whether we are worthy of God’s love, inexplicably God loves us whether we are worthy or not!
What does this mean for us what do we do with these amazing words from our readings today. Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. And the words which belong to us as they belonged to Jesus: you are my beloved child with you I am well pleased. Are they just beautiful words of scripture? Let me ask you to consider do you believe these statements for yourselves? Do you believe that God has redeemed you and called you by name? Do you believe that you are God’s beloved child and with you God is well pleased? Can we love our neighbour and encourage them to believe God’s love if we have not received it for ourselves? Would you be able to honestly say that you believe these words in the core of your faith and in your relationship with God? It is challenging stuff isn’t it, and I hold my hands up to grappling with this stuff too, but I also can truly say that I believe that we have to grapple with this and strive for a revelation of God’s call for us and love for us and God’s call in each and every one of our lives to share that love with ourselves in a real and deep way and then into the lives of each and every single person that we encounter. Isaiah makes clear there is nothing soppy about the love we accept we hold onto it as we live our call as disciples, as we walk through the water, walk through fire. This isn’t a cosy, fluffy romantic love affair but a deep seated committed love that each and every time we work at is deeply pleasing to our God who is the source of all love. In any relationship we work at it, we don’t get married and make no effort, as we deepen a friendship and spend more time knowing each other we grow closer if we don’t try the love doesn’t grow, being able to receive the love of God requires effort too.
Why is it so difficult? I remember being about 21 and selected for a fast track process for leadership in a significant organization. I attended lots of those leadership programme things at that time and I hated them all. I especially remember a very shiny, tanned, smooth, speaker. He started his session by telling us that we had to love ourselves, (I won’t do the accent but he said) every morning I wake up and the first thing I do is look in the mirror and I stare at the wonder of me and I say into the mirror you are amazing! I remember being horrified by the very suggestion. I didn’t last the course! But maybe we can learn something from the man. I am about to tell you that we need to get over our cultural nonsense about being big headed if we say a word that sounds positive about ourselves, in tandem with the image of being horrified by a man that did just that! We worry in contemporary culture about sounding like we are on one of those self-help programmes that we scorn… So….
The purpose of God affirming Christ’s ministry at Baptism, the purpose of us knowing that we are redeemed and called by God and affirmed in God’s love is not to give us a big head but to live the call and receive the love and affirmation of God in order to give glory to God and to point back to the love of God. Jesus commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, and to love our neighbours as ourselves. I think we all (even if we mess up sometimes) try very hard with loving our neighbour but so often fail at even thinking it is important to grapple with loving ourselves and receiving God’s love in order to do that. If you are thinking you are unworthy of God’s love then remember this – there is nothing we can do to make God love us more and nothing we can do to make God love us less. We are called and we are beloved and we need to receive the love of God and share it.
It is a discipline like prayer, reading the bible, coming to worship we have to work at it. I stand and share this sermon this morning not pretending to be the finished article at receiving the epiphany of God’s love and knowing it deep in the core of who I am but being committed to the discipline and vital importance of recognizing and living God’s call and knowing God’s love for me so that I can stand here and share it as a truth with you and those I serve and want to know God’s love for themselves.
So a challenge. On your way in you should have been given a heart post it note. I know luxury all the way!! It would be amazing this week if you would take it home with you having written the words: Do not fear for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name (write your name) you are mine and on the other side (your name) you are my beloved child, with you I am well pleased. I will put the things for you to write on the facebook page if you can’t remember. This isn’t I promise just a daft bit of creative fluff dreamt up by the curate it is part of the discipline of love. This week every day pray it for yourself, learn to say it and believe it, (it does take time) and then share it with others that true epiphany that was revealed through the baptism of Christ that we are redeemed, called, loved and beloved and God is delighted by each and every single one of his creations. So my friends I say with absolute confidence that God calls you by name, God loves you and is delighted by you when you turn to God, and I know that God loves me, calls me by name, and is delighted when I turn to God. Lets learn to say it as a community of disciples with no hesitation, no shame, no putting ourselves down to affirm ourselves in the call to share that transformative love in this place, in our community and throughout the world. Let us be counter cultural with the epiphany of God’s call to live in love, in and through us. Let us be a community that lives the call to love.