Imagine for a moment being Jesus on his way to the Jordan. Imagine him for a moment really as a human being, with every human limitation and concern, joining so many others on his way out to the desert prophet, seeking also a “baptism of repentance.” Why was he going there? What was he looking for?
Did he feel like a failure, that he wasn’t a good Jew. Maybe he didn’t think he had been a good son to his mother, or a good provider for her. Maybe he had failed to create a family to bear his father’s name. Maybe he wasn’t very good at carpentry or building or whatever trade he had inherited from his father. Maybe he feared his life had lost direction, that he was unworthy.
Now step into the water with Jesus, and imagine seeing that mystical vision and hearing that heavenly voice: You are my son, the Beloved. With you I am well-pleased. And imagine for a moment the feeling of being freed from all your doubts, all your fear of failure, and discovering yourself entirely loved by God, without ever having done anything, accomplished anything, to “deserve” it.
Now step back again, on the way to John at the Jordan, except this time go as yourself: Imagine all your own self-doubts, your own fears: Am I a good parent? A productive person? Am I success?
Imagine all those other voices, all those other standards, the world proposes that we measure ourselves by: whether we are too fat or too thin, too old or too young, whether we have enough money, or if our job is important enough or prestigious enough, whether our marriage is good or happy, or our family fits the model, whichever model currently proposed.
And don’t forget those gnawing, terrible questions lying beneath all those measures: Am I good? Am I worthy? Am I loveable? Am I “normal”?
And now step into the water with Jesus and hear the good news, God’s loving judgment on all that fear and self-doubt: You are my child, my own, Beloved. With you I am well-pleased.
What is it like to have all that doubt, all that fear, washed away by Jordan waters, to feel ourselves beloved, not despite our differences or limitations, as the world judges them, but beloved by God in them and through them.
Beloved in our bodies, in their many shapes and sizes, in their many gifts and abilities and limitations, beloved in our ages, beloved through the spectrum of how our brains process the world around us, beloved through our moods, in our depression, in our joyfulness, beloved when we can pay attention and when we can’t, beloved in our families exactly as they are, beloved in every moment of our human stories, through both the highs and the lows.
Now let us feel ourselves together as the beloved community, that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King imagined, born of Jordan waters: beloved together in our all our blessed differences, all of them created by God, and blessed and redeemed in the waters of the baptism.
That is not to say, of course, that being beloved is without difficulty, or that every blessed difference is easy to hold in this or any beloved community, especially for the person whose difference is hard to bear.
I have been thinking this week of the death last month of a transgender teenager in Ohio named Leelah Alcorn, who could not find a community to see her difference, her change from being Joshua to Leelah, as something they could hold and bless as Beloved. And even for Leelah that difference became too much for her to bear alone, and she decided she could no longer go on living.
As I thought of Leelah, I longed to be part of a beloved community that could bless and affirm her difference as beloved of God, even if it’s a difference I don’t fully understand. And I wondered how this church might cultivate such a vision of all that is beloved of God, so that no matter who comes among us, we recognize God’s beloved child walking through the door, so that no one has to bear their difference alone.
I would like to think that this gathering is one place we do that, that here, Sunday by Sunday we notice with care, and never overlook or dismiss, all the beloved and blessed difference that gathers here.
Here, Sunday by Sunday, we remember in word and sacrament, as we will when we renew our baptismal covenant in a few minutes, that everybody, everybody, everybody is invited into the healing waters of the same font, that everybody, everybody, everybody is invited to a place at this table, and that everybody, everybody, everybody, is held in life beyond death in all our blessed difference by the loving gaze of the One who has created and restored us.
That is the vocation of being Beloved of God, to practice here the vision God has for creation, to gather as God’s outpost of belovedness in a world in desperate need of it, and to be sent to share this good news of God’s loving judgment on all the unkindness of the world: You, all of you, are my children, beloved. In you, all of you, I am well-pleased.