Homily for the Baptism of the Lord
13 January 2019
Cathedral of Saint Raymond Nonnatus
Heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, saying, “You are my beloved son; in whom I am well pleased.”
Here’s the thing: you’re beloved too. Have you ever been told that? That you’re the beloved of God? That on the day of your baptism, God the Father Almighty adopted you as his own, chose you as his beloved daughter or son; he promised to love you, to never abandon you, to forgive you, and that, when the time comes, there will be a place for you in his kingdom.
What is greatest tragedy of sin, the greatest tragedy of living in a world populated with people who are hurting and in pain? That we don’t know we’re beloved. And if we don’t know we’re beloved, where will our peace come from? Our hope in the future and in the will of God?
First things first. You are beloved. Each one of you is the beloved of God. Each one of you is good, is chosen, is holy, is going to be okay. If anyone ever says anything to you that speaks to the contrary, you better nip that buzz-killer in the bud and say emphatically, “Excuse me. I am the beloved of God. You better check yourself before your wreck yourself.”
Excuse me, I am the beloved of God, thank you very much.
I’m not very good at sports, and I used to get bullied for it. I used to think that meant I wasn’t a very good human being. Nope, that’s a lie.
Other guys in the seminary were smarter than me. I used to think that meant I’d be a terrible priest. Nope, that’s a lie.
Once, I got in trouble at one of my assignments because I moved a chair without asking, and it turned into a whole thing. I used to think that meant I was a moron to the core. Nope, that’s a lie.
What’s the truth? What is the truth of who I am that is deeper and way more important than any of these? That I am a beloved son of God. Period. End of discussion.
Everyone say it with me: Excuse me, I am a beloved son/daughter.
We’re gonna do this until you say it like you mean it.
Here’s the thing….why do so many people not know they’re beloved or doubt they are? Why do so many people live with deep anxiety or doubt that they are good and worthy and loved? Allow me to propose a case study.
Before Christmas, Father Bill and I were in the rectory kitchen enjoying some of the roughly 5 million Christmas cookies given to us by the good people of God. We were discussing plans to visit with some old parishioners and friends from our previous assignments. I began to tell a story of an interesting encounter I’d had at one of these gatherings and, to my surprise, he was able to finish my story for me. In his own holiday get together, he’d had the exact same experience.
Let me preface the story with this. I am willing to tell you this story because you’re my current parishioners, not the former ones of whom I speak, so rest assured I’m not talking about any of you. The other helpful piece of information is this: since March 2017, Father Ryan has gained 60 pounds. A year and a half ago, I was running 4 miles a day and eating well. But Father Ryan is also a bored eater, a nervous eater, an emotional eater, a social eater, and I also eat at normal meal times. I have a terrible penchant for McDonald’s, Starbucks, Chili’s, Panda Express, Culver’s, SubDock, Home Cut, Coca-Cola, Oreos, and ketchup. You may have noticed I didn’t mention anything like “bananas” or “apples” or “broccoli” or “water.”
The point is that I know I’m not the healthiest person, and the fact that my whole body has begun to jiggle uncomfortably when I drive over railroad tracks or that I can no longer carry laundry up from the basement without getting winded is all the proof I need to get into a better routine of healthy eating and exercise. That, and the fact that my mom gave me a scale for Christmas.
But what happened to me several times this Christmas season, both with extended family and former parishioners, is this: “Hey Father, wow I see the rectory has an excellent cook!” “Wow Father, I’m glad to see you’re eating well.” Someone put their hand on my belly and said, “I don’t think that was here last time I saw you.”
The people of God would have a conniption if, after not having seen them for a year or more, I said, “My God you’ve gotten fat.” I’d be the rude, insensitive priest; the clerical jerk face looking down from my feudal throne at the personal ineptitudes of my people.
It hurts Father’s feelings when the people call him fat.
But when the people who are my friends, with whom I have shared many intimate moments as their friend and priest, seem to only see the parts of me that I’m not proud of, I don’t exactly leave feeling very worthy of love and friendship. I am no longer feeling beloved; in fact, did I mention I’m an emotional eater? Now that I’m sad about myself and angry at them, how likely am I to turn around and be ready to see the face of the beloved in the next person I see? I’ll probably be a monster to them, be rude to them, be snippy with them about something trivial and now, ta da, I’m perpetuating the problem. Someone has denied me my status as a beloved son by barging into a part of me that isn’t theirs to barge in on and make it theirs. What does that do? Makes me turn around and do the exact same thing.
But if the person on the other side, the one talking to me, knew they were beloved in themselves without the need to control a situation or make comments that lower others, how would things be different?
How could this situation be different?
Father, oh my gosh, how are you? How is priesthood? I love to see your smile!!
Or, instead of correcting someone’s theology right off the bat or being condescending to them, maybe I could say, “Hey, Merry Christmas, thanks for everything you’ve done around here this year. I’ve noticed it and it’s really made a difference.”
What can we learn?
- Don’t call people fat.
- Our identity as beloved sons and daughters of God is not something trivial or something that only has to do with theology. How could life be different for ourselves and those around us if we began to live it from the standpoint that we are beloved? What if I didn’t have to approach every situation believing I was less than everyone else and so spend the whole time proving myself? What if I wasn’t afraid of other people being better than me and I could spend my time cultivating the gifts and talents of the whole group instead of putting others down so that I could feel better about my own shortcomings? What if I admitted to myself and others that I don’t have every answer or don’t know how to do something as well as someone else and relinquished some control in my work team or in my family?
How will life be different because I am beloved? So many of our everyday actions are what they are because we either know and believe or don’t know and don’t believe that we are infinitely loved by Father, that we are already loved by the one who ultimately matters and so we don’t have to spend our days proving ourselves or outworking, outsmarting, outproducing, outperforming the other people in our lives.
I am beloved and I am endowed with a certain set of gifts and talents through which the Father is empowering me to live out his will.
On the day of your baptism, some guy stood over you and spoke the 19 most important words that will ever be spoken to you: So and so, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Those 19 words changed your life forever; they gave you eternal life, a place in the kingdom; they washed away original sin in you, made you a temple of the Spirit, a member of the Body of the Christ, and an heir to the kingdom of God. But more than this, it was at the moment of your baptism that God the Father adopted you, chose you, as his child, his beloved.
The world will try to change that, other people will try to provide a lot of evidence to the contrary, and your own mind will convict you that because of this sin or that mistake that God no longer wants anything to do with you. These are lies.
What’s the only way to stand up for ourselves in the face of these admittedly convincing lies?
Excuse me, I am a beloved of God, in whom he is well pleased. I am good, I am important. I am desirable in the eyes of the Father.
Does this mean we’re perfect? No. We’re sinners. And a lot of our problems come from the relentlessness of our big, fat egos which must die so that we can be in union with God here and now and forever. But this call to conversion is so much more appealing and, frankly, seems so much more possible from the point of view that I don’t need to earn God’s love, I don’t need to prove myself to him after I’ve fallen into sin. No, even in our sinfulness we are his beloved. We are imperfect, and we are separated from him to some extent when we choose to sin instead of follow him, but we remain his beloved.
Heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, saying, “You are my beloved; in whom I am well pleased.”