Text: Matthew 3:16- 4:11
We might have thought that the experience of Jesus’ baptism would have been sufficient to launch him into what would become his life’s work --the heavens opening … the experience of the Spirit alighting on him …the voice that so clearly names and claims him God’s Beloved. What more would he need to set him on his way?
A lot more! it seems, as the story goes. With the baptismal waters of the Jordon River still clinging to him and with “Beloved” still ringing in Jesus’ ears, the Spirit’s very next move is to lead him into the wilderness,knowing that it won’t be long before the sun dries his skin, and the pure sound of that voice will grow faint, and Jesus will be left with himself. If you’ve ever spent time with yourself alone, you’ll know how the chatter goes, how the thoughts arise, the questions, the doubts, the illusions and delusions! It turns out there’s wisdom in the Spirit’s leading to bring Jesus to this place of sifting and sorting what it means to be called and claimed God’s beloved … this place of confronting questions about who he is and what he’s here to do, to be. These are big deal questions … questions that are likely never answered once and for all, but critical for Jesus to contemplate at this juncture, before he moves on out to live his Spirit inspired life.
Chances are these big deal questions aren’t really where many of us are at where we’re just trying to live our day to day lives, take care of what needs to get done, respond as best we can to whatever’s coming our way. But here’s the beauty of this season of Lent: it offers us this check-point. It stops us, if we let it, and asks us who are you? where are you going? where are you coming from? what’s your business –what are you doing here? These are beautiful questions! I’m thinking a life without these questions is the poorer for it. Any one of these questions could open up our lives to an abundance, a level of satisfaction we might never have imagined tasting.
So before we decide this sifting and sorting was for Jesus alone because he had a big life to live, every one of us as God’s Beloved has a Spirit inspired life to live. And there’s something about being led into a place, into a time, a season, where we allow ourselves these questions … and allow ourselves the space to wrestle with and honestly listen to the spirit in our soul … and allow ourselves to be surprised, for what comes may be different than what may have come to us before.
Here’s one of the surprises that came to me in recent days. It was in reading a another passage of scripture in our morning prayer that I heard the reference to God’s own son, and the thing that occurred to me was how I easily affirm that Jesus is God’s own, but me? do I see myself as God’s own, as God’s own Beloved in the same way?
Servant, yes! … but God’s own Beloved?
What stops me from claiming who God claims me to be? Maybe I’m not alone in that as I look back at the piece by Jan Richardson that was printed on the front cover of last week’s bulletin, where she writes:
If you would enter
into the wilderness,
do not begin
without a blessing.
Do not leave
who you are:
named by the One
who has traveled this path
Do not go
without letting it echo
in your ears,
and if you find
it is hard
to let it into your heart,
do not despair.
That is what
this journey is for.
I’m heartened by that …the possibility that I could come to a different place, that I could let that deeper truth into my heart as I live more and more into these 40 days of Lent.
I have to wonder what else, what other names have come to occupy my heart instead? And of course I know some of them at least. The experiences I’ve had of messing up or not measuring up -- those have their ways of claiming me and naming me. Those experiences of disappointing myself and disappointing others … they have their ways of claiming and naming me. The ways I’ve known myself hurt, wounded, scarred. The ways I’ve excelled, been appreciated, affirmed – these too have their ways of claiming and naming me.
In a sense, this is some of what we see Jesus wrestling with in the wilderness … these voices that are not only vying for his attention but are doing their darndest to define for him what it means to be God’s Beloved. “if you are the son of God” … “if you are God’s own,” here’s what it means. And we see Jesus facing into each of those descriptions and ultimately saying “No!” … for in each case he realizes that’s not true. He realizes that being God’s own beloved doesn’t protect him from difficulty or distress; that being God’s own beloved doesn’t free him from danger or hunger or fear or the desire for power to override the way things are. So what I wonder does it mean to be God’s own beloved? not to say that these in themselves aren’t important discoveries.
I wonder where the NO came from? … I wonder if that rising of resistance, and that alternative insight that comes to him isn’t in some way an experience of Love’s presence and power abiding with in him and caring for him.
And what about for ourselves? Amidst all the stories, the experiences, the names we carry about ourselves, there’s a lot to sift through,and to notice what we’ve taken on board, taken to be true that isn’t … and what we deny or push away that is in fact for us to claim.
Do you know what it is to be God’s own beloved? to let the truth of that into your heart? We’re not just talking about Love’s naming of us … even a true naming. We’re talking about a living intimate dynamic … of being connected … of being deeply known and loved, and loving in response.
Do you know what it is to be God’s own beloved?
This is what this Lenten journey is for.
Today we can begin again from wherever we are to let our hearts open up to this living loving dynamic. And so trusting in Love’s presence and power abiding with us and caring for us, let’s take some time in silence now to invite God’s grace to help us loosen our grip on what is false, to let go what doesn’t belong … and to be filled with what is true.
We’ll begin in silence and then move into song.
 Jan Richardson, Beloved is Where We Begin, in Circle of Grace, Orlando: Wanton Gospeller Press, 2015, p96-8