There is a wisdom story that says that at the beginning of time, God resolved to hide within creation. As God was wondering how best to do this, the angels gathered around. ‘I want to hide myself in my creation’, God said. ‘I need to find a place that is not too easily discovered, for it is in the search for me that my people will grow in spirit and in understanding.’
‘Why don’t you hide yourself deep in their earth?’ the first angel suggested. God pondered for a while, then replied, ‘No. It will not be long before they learn how to mine the earth and discover all the treasures that it contains. They will discover me too quickly, and they will not have had enough time to do their growing.’
‘Why don’t you hide yourself on their moon?’ a second angel suggested. God thought about this idea for a while, and then replied, ‘No. It will take a little longer, but before too long they will learn how to fly through space. They will arrive on the moon and explore its secrets, and they will discover me too soon, before they have had enough time to do their growing.’
The angels were at a loss to know what hiding place to suggest. There was a long silence.
‘I know,’ piped up one angel, finally. ‘Why don’t you hide yourself within their own hearts? They will never think of looking there!’
‘That’s it!’ said God, delighted to have found the perfect hiding place.
And so it is that God hides secretly deep within the heart of every one of God’s people, until he or she has grown enough in spirit and in understanding to risk the great journey into the secret core of their own being. And there, each person discovers their creator, the Source of life and love, and is rejoined with God for all eternity. (Wisdom Stories by Margaret Silf, “God in Hiding”, pgs. 32-33, Traditional story adapted)
Today is the 1st Sunday of the Season After Epiphany. The Season After Epiphany begins with Baptism of Jesus Sunday and ends with Transfiguration Sunday. It is the season of the church year, after Advent, Christmas and Epiphany and before the Lent and Easter seasons, when we enter what is known as Ordinary Time. This is an in-between season where we can pause and celebrate God’s presence, Christ’s presence, in the ordinary, and yet extraordinary, experiences of our lives and our faith tradition.
In today’s scripture reading, from the Gospel of Mark, we heard the brief but powerful story of Jesus’ baptism:
“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ ” (Mark 1:9-11)
The reading from a later chapter in the Gospel of Mark that we’ll hear on Transfiguration Sunday contains a line that is strikingly similar. A few of Jesus’ disciples are on a mountaintop with him when they witness a startling transformation in which Jesus glows with a mystical brightness. The Gospel story tells us that:
“Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ ” (Mark 9:7)
These two stories, with Jesus highlighted as God’s beloved, surround this Season After Epiphany and provide the framework and context in which we can understand the stories of call, response, and healing that will be offered to us in the coming weeks. This season also provides an opportunity to reflect on our own lives, as people of faith, and to renew our own commitment as followers of Jesus.
In Jesus’ life and ministry we can see glimpses of our own lives. Jesus was born in humble circumstances, was baptized as many other people were, and lived and worked with ordinary people. Yet in the midst of the ordinary and mundane experiences of life, God’s spirit worked through Jesus in miraculous ways to give faith and courage to people who struggled to believe that life could be so meaningful, so full of blessing and purpose. God’s spirit dwelt within every human being and they, and all others, were God’s beloved.
When we think of Jesus’ baptism, where he was blessed with God’s spirit and called “beloved” we remember that we, too, are God’s beloved; that we belong to God; that we are precious in God’s sight; that God’s spirit dwells within each of us. We also remember that we are connected by a faith tradition rooted in the life and ministry of Jesus, the one we call Christ. When we gather as a community of faith, Christ is present, in story and in spirit, and in the way we, as members of the Body of Christ, continue his ministry of love and compassion in our daily lives.
In the Declaration of Faith, at the beginning of our baptismal liturgy, we affirm that love is the essence of our faith with these words:
“We are loved by God, Source of love; by Jesus Christ, who made God’s love known to us; and by the Holy Spirit, God’s gift of love to us all.”
During the Action of Baptism you’ll recall me saying these words:
“I baptize you in the power of God’s love;
in the name of our Creator who creates us in love,
in the name of Jesus the Christ who is love incarnate,
and in the name of the Holy Spirit whose love guides us.”
And then, as part of the Laying on of Hands in blessing, these words:
“…the power of the Holy Spirit rest upon you, that being born of water and Spirit, you may live a life of love, peace and hope all your days. In the name of Jesus whose love surrounds us, we pray.”
I believe the words of our baptismal liturgy that proclaim that Jesus is God’s love incarnate. I believe Jesus reveals, as much as any human being can, God’s steadfast and unfailing love for the world. In all Jesus did and taught, he sought to reveal the love of God, to empower others to share in the work of actualizing the vision of a community where nobody would feel greater or lesser that another, where all would feel welcome and valued.
As followers of Jesus, if we know ourselves to be loved and blessed by God, then I believe we have a responsibility to share that love with others. Jesus’ call for radical inclusivity is an invitation and a challenge to us. Just imagine what our church would be like if we welcomed every person as precious and valued, as beloved of God. And what a difference it would make in our own lives if we truly believe that regardless of our human frailties, our mistakes and shortcomings, that we are, and will always be, God’s beloved.
The act of baptism is both a promise and a call. As a promise it is our covenant with God; as a call it is a new beginning in our life of discipleship. Just as a pebble dropped in water is a catalyst for movement which radiates outward, so too, is Jesus the catalyst within our Christian tradition for a movement outward into the wider community.
With this in mind, I’ll close with an excerpt from an “Affirmation of Baptismal Faith”:
We believe in the power of baptism.
We believe that something deeper than we know happens
and we are bound forever to a life
that is ancient yet born anew in us.
We believe in the power of baptism to transcend
time and space and call us to discipleship with Christ.
…We are no longer our own or on our own.
…We believe in the power of baptism to immerse us
in the waters of blessing and send us forth,
wet and wild with hope, to be a blessing ourselves.
Seasons of the Spirit, 2011, adapted
May we embrace the mystery and power of God’s love in Christ this day and in the days to come.