Sermon by Pastor Bill Chadwick | January 10, 2021
Mark 1: 4-11
Mark’s gospel is the briefest and plainest of the four accounts. In the beginning of Mark we find no manger, no shepherds, no magi, no birth narrative at all, no 12-year-old in the Temple, just Boom! Jesus as an adult, being baptized by John the Baptizer. This first Sunday after the Epiphany, which is January 6, is called the Baptism of the Lord Sunday. The account of the baptism of Jesus is found in all four gospels, a little bit different emphasis in each. Listen to Mark 1: 4-11.
4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
This brief passage raises many theological conundrums, the most obvious being, “Why did Jesus need to be baptized? Especially since Mark declared that John’s baptism was for the repentance of sin. Our theology says that Jesus was just like the rest of us humans, EXCEPT without sin. So why baptism? Most scholars suggest that it was the first example of Jesus deliberately choosing a symbol of his solidarity with us. Jesus is one of us.
But let’s leave the questions behind and focus simply on the heavenly declaration, “This is my Son, the Beloved.” This sermon is a fitting follow-up to Pastor John’s sermon last Sunday.
In his wonderful little book, Cherry Log Sermons, Fred Craddock writes,
One time I was conducting a chaplains’ retreat at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. They treated me very well. I ate in the officers’ mess, and the soldiers who waited on us wore sort of sad green fatigues. However, on their uniforms where normally a soldier would have a nametag, there was nothing. That name badge had been ripped off. I said to the fellow waiting on me, a very nice young man, “I see you don ‘t have on your name tag. What’s your name?” He didn’t answer me.
I said to the officer beside me, “Why didn’t he answer? What’s his name?”
“He doesn’t have one, ” the officer said.
“What do you mean? Give me a break here? What’s his name?”
“He has no name,” the officer repeated.
“Who are these people waiting on us?” I asked.
This was during the Vietnam War, and these were conscientious objectors. They do not exist, they have no names, so eat your lunch. (p. 105)
Names. Names are so important to all of us, and they were especially significant in Bible times.
Let me tell you about my little brother. Not my birth little brother, but LaMont, “Monty” for short. We became acquainted through Big Brothers of America.
Monty had an incredibly rugged childhood . Now, when it came to the family I was born into, I won the lottery. Pure luck! Monty’s family was at the other extreme in every conceivable way. His father left the family. His mother was in a mental hospital most of his life. He was raised by great-grandparents. On top of it all, he was in a car crash when he was nine and suffered some minor brain injury, which makes learning more difficult. When Monty was 10, his great-grandfather died. His great-grandmother contacted Big Brothers and I was paired with him when I was 18. We have stayed in touch for now 50 years. The challenges he has overcome are astonishing. I’m so proud of him!
As his Big Brother, I brought him to church with me, and from age 10 he had a wonderful, nurturing experience in the Oak Grove family. After I left for seminary in California three years later, he had three more Big Brothers, all from Oak Grove. Church life was positive for him. The rest of life, not so much. School was academically difficult and horribly painful, as he was teased and bullied.
As a young man, I think in his late 20s, seeking to distance himself from the persecution he had suffered, and to forge a new identity for himself, he changed his first name, from LaMont to… “Rex,” Latin for “King.”
Though it’s not very Minnesotan, I have to applaud him for that. Re-naming yourself “Rex” is kind of a shorthand version of the passage that Pastor John talked about last week. God loves us so much we are called “children of God.” Each one of us a king, a queen. A Chinese proverb says, “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right name.” You and I are children of God.
Father Greg Boyle has been working with Latino gangs in East Los Angeles for over 30 years. He founded Homeboy Industries, starting out with a bakery to provide employment. It has evolved into the largest gang intervention, rehab, and re-entry program on the planet. Father Greg has written a couple of books, Tattoos on the Heart and the sequel, Barking to the Choir. Fantastic, inspirational and hilarious books. I recommend them for our church library. Here’s one of the dozens of stories he relates,
A homie named Memo never knew his mom and dad and doesn’t like to think about them, as it is too painful. After his parents died, he was raised by an aunt who was somewhat notorious in his neighborhood. She was killed when he was nine. He was once asked how old he was when he started (participating in violent gang activities).
“In the womb,” he said sadly.
Memo is always on the search for his roots, thinking one moment that he is Japanese and convinced another moment that he’s Jewish. He greets me every day with “Mazel tov.” In a morning meeting once, I mentioned that God’s nickname for God’s people in the Old Testament was “God’s delight.” For days, Memo would greet people this way: “Good morning, God’s delight.” (Barking to the Choir, pp.134-144).
For those of you who are parents or grandparents, I ask you, “Why do you love your children or grandchildren? Do you love them because they behave so well? (Laughter) Or do you love them simply because they are your children, or grandchildren?
So, too, we are loved simply because we are God’s child. As Philip Yancey writes in his book, Amazing Grace, (another suggestion for the church library, if it’s not already there), “Grace means that there is nothing you can do to make God love you more and nothing you can do to make God love you less.”
Friends, as a minister of the Gospel, I declare to you, you are “God’s delight.”
Now, I admit that it would be nice to hear that in a loud voice from heaven, but it doesn’t work that way. That is the message from one end of scripture to another and God has commissioned me to remind you of that. I repeat: You are “God’s delight.”
And so is everyone else …and I mean every one: from that gang member to your annoying brother-in-law to Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump, and on and on. Everyone.
Another paragraph from Fr. Greg Boyle: “Knowing homies has changed my life forever, altered the course of my days, reshaped my heart, and returned me to myself. Together, we have discovered that we all are diamonds covered in dust. They have taught me not that I am somebody but that I am everybody.” (Boyle)
We are all children of God. Therefore, we are all sisters and brothers. And, we are “God’s delight.”
Is that hard for you to believe? Are you thinking, “Well, Preacher, you don’t understand who I am and what I’ve done. I just can’t believe God could love me.”
There is a story I read long ago. I’m quite sure it’s not true in the factual sense, but it’s definitely true in the theological sense. A young mother was seeing a therapist. At one point during a session the psychiatrist asked her, “Which of your three children do you love the most?”
The woman immediately replied, as we might expect, “What a horrible question! A ridiculous question! I love all my children the same.”
The therapist calmly replied, “That’s not really possible, to love people exactly the same. So I repeat, which of your children do you love the most?”
“I love them all the same!”
“No, you don’t. Which of your children do you love the most?”
A long silence. Finally, with tears glistening in her eyes, the mother replied, “I guess whichever one at the moment is in trouble, or naughty, or hurting. That’s the one I love the most.”
You might feel like God can’t really love you. You’ve done some horrible things, said some horrible things, or NOT done some things you should have.
Well, we believe that God loves all of us completely, but I like to think that perhaps God’s heart really glows with compassion for those of us who have trouble loving ourselves.
Fred Craddock reminds us that Luther said, “Remember your baptism.” (We don’t perhaps say that enough in the Presbyterian Church: “Remember your baptism.”) “Why did Luther say that? To make you feel guilty? ‘Aha! You’ve strayed from your baptism.’ No, no. Every one of us strays from our baptism. Every one of us … what Luther had in mind was this: Remember your baptism by claiming yourself to be a child of God and by going about God ‘s business—serving other people.” (‘God’s delight’)” (Craddock, Cherry Log Sermons, p.11)
God’s business, the business of love. All we are asked to do is to be who God is in the world” (Greg Boyle). As the author of I John said, “We love because God first loved us” (I John 4:19). But friends, some people don’t know they are loved. You need to tell them…and show them.
Your name is “God’s delight.” It is also “Hope,” and “Justice,” and “Peace” and… “Beloved.”
You are loved. Pass it on.