The Beloved

“The Beloved”

by the Reverend Doctor Peter W. Allen

Hingham Congregational Church, United Church of Christ

Hingham, Massachusetts

January 7, 2018


Mark 1:4-11

It wasn’t a private affair. There were hundreds of people there on the riverside. I like to think that the sun was glistening off the little waves on the water. John the Baptizer was there, hairy and disheveled, dressed in rough animal skins, a little wild-eyed, but commanding the full attention of everyone around him, full of the Spirit of God.

Just as his crucifixion was an experience he shared with many other victims of the Roman Empire’s brutality, Jesus’ baptism was something he shared with hundreds, maybe even thousands, of John’s other followers.

It feels kind of strange to us that Jesus followed anyone during his life. We are so used to identifying him as the one whom we follow, the one whom millions over the last two thousand years have followed. But all the evidence in scripture points to a situation where Jesus, before he came into his own, was one of John’s disciples.

And even though it seems strange, I really like that. It means that Jesus’ story is more similar to our own stories that we usually think it is. It means that he had a mentor. It means he was human and needed to follow and to learn, just like we do. It makes him more relatable.

And frankly, it’s kind of hard sometimes to relate to a Jewish storyteller/healer/rabbi who lived near the shores of the Mediterranean 2000 years ago. Oh, and he happens to be divine, too.

But here he is, Jesus, submitting, freely submitting to his older brother in the faith, trusting John completely, allowing him to dunk his head under the water.

Many theologians, starting with the apostle Paul in a few of his letters, see this moment, with Jesus completely submerged in the waters of the Jordan, as a kind of death. Jesus dies to himself in that moment, lets his ego float downstream, and gives himself over to his teacher and to his Creator as well.

He needs to do this if he is to become who is called to be. He needs to die to himself in order to become his new self, his complete self.

I’m not one of those people who think Jesus came out of the womb completely equipped to be the Messiah. I think he had to have a whole lot of experiences: childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, work, and the experience of following another, devotedly, before he was ready to ask others to follow him.

And John wasn’t an easy guy to follow. He tended to be very direct. And he asked for repentance. He asked his followers to acknowledge their sins and turn and walk in a new direction.

There are many who believe Jesus was without sin. Others say that he was able not to sin, which is a tiny but more believable. I hope that, if you are one of those people who believe Jesus never sinned, you will forgive me when I say that can’t believe that.

Traditional Christian theology holds that Jesus is fully human and fully divine. Even if you struggle with the divine part, and many do, if we believe he was human, how can we not also believe that he sinned? What good is it to tell us he is human —  and therefore like us, if we are also told that he never did anything wrong? How could any of us possibly relate to someone like that?!

Anyway, my heresy aside, an important part of John’s baptism was being honest about one’s shortcomings and choosing a new life with God.

How many of us were baptized as infants and had no idea what was going on? Most of us. So, it seems to me that it would be good for us, from time to time, to acknowledge our baptism and think about what it has meant to us and what it means to us now.

During our prayer time, I will invite you forward, starting with the folks in the front row, if you wish, to come forward and dip your hands into one of the bowls, to feel the water on your hand and contemplate what your baptism means to you.

What does it mean to you that you are baptized? Do you ever think about that whole idea of repentance and forgiveness and deepening your connection with God? What about the idea that those of us who are baptized are also called into a ministry? Not necessarily ordained ministry, but a ministry of some kind.

Some of you have a very strong identity as lay ministers, those who serve God, not from up here in the pulpit but in other ways.

Some of you carry out ministries in your own homes, as you are perhaps the only one there who is comfortable talking about faith. Some of you are ministers in your workplace, not because of what you say but because you set an example of compassion and of strong ethical standards.

Some of you have very specific leadership and servant roles here at church.

Some of you may not have thought of yourselves as a minister before and are just now considering what your ministry as a baptized person might be.

Because baptism is not just a ceremony, it’s a way of life.

At least that’s the example Jesus sets for us. According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus goes directly from his baptism into the desert for a time of self-examination, then right into his ministry.

It is amazing and inspiring to me the he had such a clear sense of his own call.

I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised. Mark says that the Holy Spirit descended like a dove and the voice of God said, You are my son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.

The author of Mark doesn’t say that this happens at anyone else’s baptism, just Jesus’. He sets Jesus apart as a unique figure. The Beloved.

I like that title almost more than I like Messiah or Son of God. Messiah means anointed and kings were anointed. I’m not much into kings. Son of God isn’t so bad, but it’s kind of confusing. If there is one God, how can Jesus be divine and the son of the Divine at the same time? Anyway, I like that title. The Beloved.

Jesus, the beloved of God and also our beloved. Our beloved teacher; our beloved example; our beloved inspiration; for some of us, our beloved recuser; our compassionate authority figure; our beloved rock, anchor, and foundation. The beloved center of our lives.

And the great thing about Jesus’ story is, remember, that it is also our story. If Jesus is the Divine in human form, the word made flesh, the presence of God on earth, then we, as his brothers and sisters in the human family, get to participate in that.

We are not God. We are not the Messiah, but we are daughters and sons of God in our own way. I believe we are.

And if Jesus, by virtue of his baptism, is The Beloved (with a capital B), then we, by virtue of our humanness and our baptism, are at least beloved with a small b, right?

Can you accept and claim that identity for yourself? Can you see yourself as a baptized person as a beloved child of God, one who is cherished by your Creator and chosen for a ministry of some kind?

I hope so. And I hope that, in a few moments, if you choose to come forward, you will feel the cool water on your fingertips and give thanks for the blessing you have received as God’s beloved child and as a member of this beloved community.