Gifts of Love

Matthew 3:13-17

Before I begin,
I want to share with you the poem
“Last Fragment” by Raymond Carver,

“And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.”

Whoa.

To feel myself beloved.

Isn’t that what we all want … to feel beloved?

And yet, sometimes those words feel so far away.

Loved? No, we can’t be loved …
there are so many things we do wrong,
or there’s a list of traits that we still need to acquire,
or there are ways we need to improve first.
Right …

Those are realities with which I wrestled this summer,
as I was taking improv comedies class.

In my classes,
I was required to speak spontaneously frequently.
How do you create a funny scene on the spot?
I didn’t know.
But I did know this:
it required me to stand up in front of everyone,
and be willing to fail in front of them.

I was not in control …
I could not pre-plan or thoughtfully craft a scene.

Yet we practiced rules like,
“Make your partner look good,”
and before class shows,
we would all physically tap each other on the back,
and say, “Got your back”.

And sometimes I did fail. Gloriously.
Sometimes I stumbled onto success.

And through it all,
my classmates stepped on stage with me,
winging through the scenes,
falling and soaring with me,
finding laughter the whole way through
at our ridiculous human foibles.

As we found humor in our mistakes,
and said to each other,
“Got your back;”
“Got your back;”

it made me think:
What if failure doesn’t define us?
What if the purpose of life is to be held by grace?
To be willing to mess up, sometimes royally,
in front of others, or God,
so that we can discover
that love isn’t something we have to work up to,
but is something we can experience right now
in the midst of our absurd humanity?

Be loved. Beloved.  Just sit and be loved.

For you are God’s beloved.

These are the words
that tumbled over Jesus after baptism.

As Jesus rises from the Jordan River,
water drips down his face
and a voice spills from the heavens, proclaiming,

“This is my Child, my Beloved,
on whom my favor rests.”

Or, as another translation reads,
“with whom I am well-pleased.”

Words drench Jesus,
before Jesus had really done anything.

This blessing doesn’t say —
This is my beloved,
with whom I am well-pleased,
because Jesus has really earned it
by reading Scripture everyday
praying perfectly every morning
and passing the
board certification for leper healing.

No!

Jesus is just starting out,
likely nervous about what will come next,
unsure what
the next stage of life will look like.

What will it be like to step into public ministry?
Who will help him along the way?
How will people respond? What will people say?

Jesus doesn’t know yet.

After this,
Jesus goes into the desert
for a time to pray,
for a time to say,
Dear God, show me the way.

Yet, before Jesus has done even that,
in the face of all of self-doubt and fear,
the heavens open up,
as love showers out
and names the baptized one: Beloved.

And likewise in our own baptism,
the waters of love
have named and claimed you
as God’s own.
Grace has held you and whispered,
“You are my beloved.”
A gift worth recalling,
again and again and again and again.

Even if you don’t remember,
imagine water wet on your face,
imagine mercy spilling over you,
imagine the soft words
spoken specifically to you,
“You are my child, my beloved,
with whom I am well-pleased.”
Before you know or understand what that means
or have even changed your life.

God says,
Come, just be held by grace.

There is a river to our east,
a baptismal pool behind us,
under the stage,
and water all around us,
so if you want to be baptized,
or remember your baptism,
the words are yours, always, to receive:
“You are my beloved,
with whom I am well-pleased.”

My own baptism happened decades ago,
and still the words are sinking in.

What does it mean to be God’s beloved?

How would you speak to a beloved one?
How would you treat a beloved one?

This a question that
author, speaker and Love Big coach,
Rozella Haydee White
has been wrestling with this past decade.

Right before the new year,
Rozella posted a video that said
that the most profound lesson
she has learned over the last decade,
has been around self-love,
characterized by
true care for,
passion for
and desire to be around one’s own self.

For her,
she has learned love encompasses
not only good qualities about herself,
but also qualities she doesn’t like about herself,
and things she finds to be her flaws.

One way she has accessed this love
is by practicing speak life over herself.
She has changed the way she thinks and talks
about herself, her body, her experiences,
and the life that she has lived.

The thing is,
she says,
she doesn’t always believe it.

Rozella notes
how so many of us, including her,
are quick to believe the worst about ourselves,
quick to believe we are unloveable,
quick to believe an experience of being broken-hearted
is the defining experience of worth.

And so,
she has developed a practice,
and invites others to engage in it with her,
of engaging in belovedness as a practice.

She remembers first and foremost that
she is, as are we, beloved,
because God created us,
and said so from the very beginning.
God created us; God called us good.

There’s nothing more you have to do.

These days,
she’s learning to lean into that.

Transitioning to 2020,
Rozella says she wants to leave behind thoughts
and words that she says to herself,
things she would never say to someone else,
things God would never say
to her and about her.

She is committed to the process
of speaking life over herself,
over every part of her identity,
of affirming her body, her mind set,
using positive words to describe this creation
that God saw fit to bring into the universe
at this time and place.

She says, I want that for you.
Practice saying.

I am loved.
I am worthy.
I am gifted.
I am kind.
I am funny.
I am beautiful.
I am handsome.

These things are in you
because God made you
and you carry an image of the divine.

Your charge today is this:
Practice speaking words of life.

As simple as,
Got your back.
You are beloved.
And I am beloved too.

Amen.

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