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January 12, 2003

"You are my beloved: The Baptism of the Lord."

(Mark 1: 7-11)

I think something happened to Jesus when he was baptized in the Jordan by John, that he suddenly realized who he was, because all the Gospels begin with his baptism and then his public life of healing, preaching and proclaiming the kingdom of God takes off. I would like to say a word about what happened to Jesus, what God says to Jesus and to us, and what this all means for us.

Luke's version of the baptism records that Jesus was sitting by the river praying when he saw the heavens torn open, and the Spirit descend upon him like a dove, and that a voice then came from the heavens, saying, "You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased."

I think these are the most consoling words of the Gospel and that they changed Jesus forever. He was probably searching like all of us, a person of profound prayer and contemplation who wanted to know who he is and what he is supposed to do, and then all of a sudden he hears these words of affirmation and confirmation.

God does not mince words or make small talk. God gets right to the heart of the matter and says to Jesus, "You are my beloved." Suddenly Jesus knows who he is. He discovers his identity, his vocation and his calling. He is "the Beloved of God." For the rest of his life, he will understand himself and his mission in the light of this revelation and this relationship. He accepts it, honors it, and welcomes it. He will never deny his identity. He will remain true to his identity until his final breath on the cross. He will live his life in a relationship of intimate love with God. He says, "Ok, I will be your beloved," and he accepts the consequences of God's love.

This is the key to understanding Jesus and the Gospel and our own lives and vocations. Not only does life make sense, not only does God exist, but God loves and affirms Jesus, and through Jesus, the rest of us as well.

Because Jesus knows who he really is, as God's beloved, he can go forward into the world and call people to God. He can trust God even when everything falls apart and death approaches. Jesus lives his whole life within the framework of this core identity as God's beloved.

The question for us is: what does this mean for us? I think it means that for all of us who are baptized as Jesus' followers, for all of us who sit in silent prayer, that at some point God says to each one of us, "You too are my beloved." God loves each one of us and is trying to tell us that God loves us but who of us listens? Who cares? Who dare accept this shocking, wonderful news?

Not only should we affirm one another, and tell each other that we love one another, just as God says to Jesus, but at some point in our lives, the Spirit of God comes upon us and whispers to us, "You too are my Beloved." From now on, like Jesus, we know who we are, that we too are the beloved sons and daughters of God, the brothers and sisters of Jesus. When did this happen to you? When did you hear God say "You are my beloved?"

What does this mean for us? The culture tells us that we are nobody, that we are nothing, that we are worthless, that we don't measure up, that we're nothing if we don't buy this product or vote this way or whatever; that we are poor, marginalized, or disenfranchised, that we're not successful, that we're outsiders, that we're illegal aliens, or for people like me, that we're troublemakers; or worse, for some, that we're expendable, we're not quite human, for people like the children of Iraq or people on death row, we are an enemy, and not worthy to live.

But the Creator of the universe dismisses all of this and calls each one of us "My Beloved."

From now on, we are the beloved of God, like Jesus, which means we no longer identify ourselves primarily just as a parent or as a child, as a teacher or student or employee or retired person, as a man or a woman, as a New Mexican or an American. We understand ourselves first and foremost as the Beloved of God. Once we know our true identities, and accept this true spiritual identity, like Jesus, we are called to remain faithful to our true selves, to be God's beloved for the rest of our lives.

I think Jesus had to figure out what it meant that God called him his beloved, which is why he goes to the desert to fast and pray, and we too have to figure out what this means for us. So I would like to invite you this week to hear God call you "My Beloved," and to reflect on what this means for you.

Living as the beloved of God I think means that we live every day rooted in that intimate relationship of love with our beloved God, just as Jesus did. It also means treating ourselves as God's beloved and treating one another as God's beloved.

Being the beloved of God carries personal, spiritual, interpersonal, social and global implications, as Jesus discovered. It means that from now on we live out what my friend Henri Nouwen called "a spirituality of love, of belovedness, the life of the beloved."

If you are going to take seriously the astonishing revelation that Jesus is God's beloved, and that as a follower of Jesus, as someone who shares in his life experience, that you too are God's beloved, then you have to be open to the shocking and wonderful news that every other human being in the world is also a beloved son or daughter of God, which means that from now on, they are our beloved sisters and brothers as well, which means that from now on, we love everyone, which means we can never hurt or kill anyone, or be silent while war and poverty and oppression happen anywhere, or while our country prepares to bomb hundreds of thousands of our sisters and brothers in Iraq. That is why I think Martin Luther King Jr. was right to speak of nonviolence, that this spirituality of love calls us to show love and respect toward every human being. This is what mature Christian spirituality looks like, an attitude of unconditional, all-inclusive, all-embracing, non-retaliatory, nonviolent, sacrificial redemptive love towards everyone on the planet.

That's how Jesus lives from now on after his baptism, and that's how we are to live as well. For the rest of his life, Jesus is faithful to his identity as God's beloved, and accepts the social implications of his spiritual identity, and the consequences of his fidelity to that calling, and we're supposed to do the same thing.

Whatever is going on in our lives, we can always stop and hear God calls us "My Beloved." That changes everything. We will feel affirmed by the Creator of the universe, and find the strength, like Jesus, to love and serve everyone, and to recognize everyone else as a beloved child of God, as our very own beloved sister and brother.

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