Today we commemorate the baptism of Jesus by John and the revelation comes forth- this is my beloved son. God’s identity made known and a declaration- he belongs to me. And because of Jesus we too hear those words at our baptism- you are my beloved child. And the water fills and is emptied. And we are filled with God. We too belong to God. But this belonging at its richest calls us to be emptied, of our egos, and our longings. To be filled with the Spirit and sent forth to be emptied so that God might be revealed. Trusting that the one thing we will never lose is our identity as God’s beloved child. Could we let everything else up to God’s vision? This week I asked people what one thing they would do differently in response to remembering that we belong to God. And the answer that stuck with me was this- I’d listen to my heart where Jesus resides and follow where it leads, no matter how "crazy" it seems. Normally we walk away from “crazy” or at least talk ourselves out of it.
I know it must have seemed crazy to John. Jennifer Peterson Singh writes, “Frankly I share John’s confusion when I feel God calling me. John’s words “Why have you come to me?” are often mine. I don’t know why God would want me and I don’t know if I even understand what I’m being called to do. Don’t you wish God still gave us a star to follow? Truthfully, she says, I probably need a giant neon sign in the sky.” Because we come to the place where we encounter Jesus and like John we come mostly prepared to think of our own wants, and for God to fill us up to be more the selves we want to be. To fill out the picture think we should see. But Jesus comes in a very different way. There will be a picture but it’s not the one you think. He will empty himself and then will stand totally in our world with us, to reveal God and to take root in us. And give us the example of what it means to express our identity as beloved and claimed and empowered. As children of God. Loved not for what we have but whose we are.
One of 2013’s new movies is “Philomena” based upon the real life story of Philomena Lee. Pregnant as a teenager in Ireland in 1952, Lee was sent to a convent to be looked after as a “fallen woman.” She gave birth to a son. She and other young mothers were forced to work in the convent laundry, seeing their children once a day. But at around age 3, her son was put up for adoption by the nuns and taken away to America. Despite being shamed she held on and she spent the next fifty years searching for son in vain. Then she met a political journalist who happened to be intrigued by her story. Together they set off on a crazy journey to America that would not only reveal the extraordinary story of Philomena’s son, but also create an unexpectedly close bond between them. Two very different people, at different stages of their lives, help each other to tell her son that he was her child and he was loved. The book written was a catalyst for thousands of adopted Irish children and their ‘shamed’ mothers to come forward to tell their stories and encourage the many still searching for their lost families. For 50 years she kept his existence a secret. Because the world’s version of the story was that it should be erased from her heart. But inside she knew she was loved not for what she’d done but whose she was. And that he must know his identity.
Lee says telling the story is a challenge because she normally led a very quiet family life, but now she's fully aware of the power of her story on film. And at the heart of it is a message that you are beloved. As timeless as that day Jesus showed up at the Jordan River.
What one thing might you do differently as you remember that you belong to God? “Listen to my heart where Jesus resides and follow where it leads no matter how “crazy” it seems.” Baptism creates that space where Jesus comes to dwell in our hearts, empowering the new life that is coming to be. To make known that God desires not only to forgive but to transform over and over again. Water is emptied and we are filled with the Holy Spirit and the declaration that we are God's children.
Baptism is a beginning, but being baptized finds its purpose in what follows – emptying ourselves in a calling to God's way of doing things in a world that often resists, but is always changed by those who seek to walk God's path. God sees our hesitance and feelings of confusion or unworthiness, but continues to remind us who we are and empower us for what God wants us to be and to do. That sense of being beloved carries us through confusing times and joyous times, giving hope and fulfilling God’s vision. Not just for doing good and feeling good, but the justice and righteousness God calls us into. Continually transforming us and the world so everyone gets a fair shot. Reorienting us to become involved, to change the processes that keep people trapped on the margins of society. Even when it seems crazy. Because you’re loved not for where you are on the journey but whose you are.
Come to be filled with the Holy Spirit and reminded of Christ within us. Filled for emptying that transformation out upon God’s world. This is celebrating what Jesus first revealed and brought forth and brings forth still. Water and word, filling and emptying. Calling us to let go and be filled. Over and over again. And we never do it alone, Jesus says. Let US do this now to God’s purposes. Things we could never even imagine doing on our own. Emptying, filling, giving ourselves away. Loved not for what we have but whose we are. Beloved, every day brings something new. And every day is a holy day when we recall Christ’s baptism and our own again. May we be filled again with the desire to be filled by God and God alone, and to walk the disciple's road. AMEN
Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory,
and my entire will --
all that I have and call my own.
You have given it
all to me.
To you, Lord,
I return it.
Everything is yours;
do with it
what you will.
Give me only your love
and your grace.
That is enough
for me. Ignatius of Loyola