Gracious Lord let these words be more than words, and give us the spirit of Jesus.
I find days like today a bit jarring. This is the Sunday after the Epiphany. Last week we were adoring the baby Jesus with the wise men. This week we find him all grown up, getting baptized by John. Time flies.
Of course, I’m particularly aware of the flying time because with every word I am closer to ending my time at St. John’s. I can hardly believe I have been with you all for four and a half years at St. John’s Church.
Though time plays a role, the speed of the narrative is not what I find most jarring today. The words that come from heaven are the most startling: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” These words should surprise us. Any word from heaven should knock us from our comfortable perches, but these words in particular. These words radically reorient our reality.
These words: “You are my child, my beloved, with you I am well pleased” these words are the words God speaks to us, each and every one of us. Our rector likes to say that he wishes our dome was retractable, that at baptisms we could open up the dome like the Dallas Cowboys, and pay a special effects company to create a three dimensional hologram of a dove, which would swoop in right as the child was baptized, and a booming voice would come over the speakers: “You are my child, my beloved, with you I am well pleased.” These words God speaks to Jesus, are the words God has for each and every one of you. These words jar us, pry us from life as we have lived it, and bring us to a new way of living, aware of our blessings, aware of God’s love.
As I read this lesson in preparation for today, I found myself thinking a great deal about John, the baptizer. Being a priest is an unspeakable privilege, one I could never fully express, but I find I identify a great deal with John when I think back on the moments I have shared with so many of you here. Many times, as I look back on these four and a half years, I have felt like John, wading in the Jordan, watching God interact with God’s beloved people.
Whether celebrating a marriage, seeing a couple tear up as they said their vows; or watching a family say goodbye to someone who has died; standing at the hospital bedside with a parishioner who has just given birth, or whether I was having a beer with someone who was wondering where to go next in their career, how best to be of service to their community, I have found myself, like John, watching God at work, listening as a that voice from heaven says constantly to this community: “You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.” Like John, I know I could never merit such a privilege. I give thanks to God, and to all of you, for inviting me into your lives, for sharing holy moments with me. Very few people in this life are privileged to share such intimate moments as often as a priest, and I am grateful you have allowed me to be your priest.
These are the moments that I hold on to, when people ask me how I can be a person of faith in the twenty first century. I have a lot of friends who don’t quite understand what I do for a living. In some ways, going to church seems very medieval. That is especially true when you have to put on these funny outfits that were designed by someone hundreds of years ago. The church can seem passé, unless you have the privilege of standing with people who invite you into the holy moments of their lives.
Beyonce Knowles opened her new self titled album with a powerful ballad, “Pretty Hurts.” The song decries that “perfection is the disease of a nation.” I think Beyonce has accurately diagnosed our national obsession. In our society, it is hard to be vulnerable. We focus on the image of having it all together. What Beyonce tells us, what I think this story from the Gospel tells us, and what my time at St. John’s Church has told me is this: you don’t find God through being perfect. Only when we are vulnerable, only when we are open to other people, are we able to hear God’s voice. Jesus makes himself vulnerable. He places himself, over John’s protest, in John’s arms, and let’s himself be lowered into the water.
The words Jesus hears are not just for him. They are God’s words for each and every one of us, for you and for me. “You are my children, my beloved, with you I am well pleased.” Thank you for being open to me. Thank you for opening your lives and your hearts to me and to Ellis. Since Ellis arrived on the scene, we couldn’t have expected the amazing open arms we’ve had from this church. Thank you for opening your wisdom, I’m looking at you Luis. Thank you for opening your minds around programs like Theology on Tap. Thank you for opening your voices with singing. St. John’s church has totally spoiled me musically. I’m going to have a hard time out there with all of those inferior choirs. Thank you for opening bottles of wine with me, again, I’m looking at you Luis. Thank you for opening your journeys, for sharing your lives with this new priest.
Thank you for the opportunity to listen with you for that voice of God, that tells us all, constantly: “You are my beloved child, with you I am well pleased.” Keep listening for those words, over the perfection of our culture. Keep being vulnerable with one another. Keep listening.