Sunday 10th January 2016, Baptism of Christ, Morning
by Revd Chris Palmer
God said to Jesus: ‘You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.’
These are really significant words for Jesus. They declare his relationship with God, his closeness, God’s approval, God’s pleasure and delight.
And I believe that God is saying these things not only to Jesus. He is saying the same thing to each of us.
We might be tempted to respond, ‘but Jesus is special. He is THE son of God, only begotten; he is the sinless one.’ This is true. But Jesus came to restore us all to this relationship with God, in which we are God’s children, acquitted, justified by God.
Our failure to believe this is a failure to believe in God’s salvation. It’s not merely a lack of regard for ourselves, it is a lack of trust in God. Coming to faith is not just about believing in God, his goodness and his love. Coming to faith is also believing God’s account of us, which is so much better than our own account: ‘You are my child, my beloved, with you I am well pleased.’
Lots of people see-saw between an egregiously arrogant account of themselves and a hopelessly demeaning one. At one minutes we’re looking down on others – trashing their opinions, values, contribution; condemning their faults. And the next minutes we’re beating ourselves up for our failures – believing that we’re unworthy of love, that we’re unforgivable because our failures are so persistent or deep.
In this mindset we either feel entitled to approval and recognition, or we’re endlessly working to avoid being found out for our failing. It’s this mindset that feeds our insecure ways of working, our anxieties about education, or around relationship, or the ways we exclude others to make ourselves feel big - and the ways we accept other people excluding us. Our fearful, awkward, bullying, defensive, attention-seeking, compulsive, controlling, self-harming behaviour arises from this lack of belief in ourselves - or rather from our lack of belief in God’s account of us: ‘You are my child, my beloved, with you I am well pleased.’
So I want to take what God says to Jesus, what God says to us, and give it a chance to sink into us. Hear this as what God is saying to you.
‘You are my child, my daughter, my son. You arise from my creativity, from my choosing. The Godseed is in you. You are made in my likeness, you look like me. When others see you they see God. You are my family, my heir, my offspring.
‘You are my beloved, the object of my affection, of my desire. My heart melts for love of you. I am filled with tenderness, with ardour for you. For are worth crossing the bounds of heaven and earth for, living another life for. You are precious, cherished, and all my desire is for you. I would give anything for you, have given everything for you, even my own life.
‘With you I am well pleased. I delight in you, approve of you, think you are good, and worthy, and worthwhile. No, don’t say, ‘But, I’ve done such and such…’: despite that I’m pleased with you, think you are good, enjoy you, relish knowing you, want to spend time with you, desire what is best for you. I believe in you.’
The main difficulty when it comes to faith is not believing in God, but believing what God believes about us.
I hesitate to single anyone out as an example. But, we are very sad to present at the death of Eleanor Ashton, beloved member of this congregation. But she was such a person of faith, who’s every moment expressed and confidence that she was loved by God, cherished by him. With this faith, there is no arrogance or showoffiness – it’s not ‘thinking we’re great’ but ‘knnowing that God thinks we’re great’.
Let me suggest a couple of tools for developing this way of trusting.
First. spend some time this week meditating on these words, ‘You are my beloved child, I delight in you.’ - or on any words in which God’s love and delight are expressed. There was an article this week in the Catholic Herald, the testimony of a person who found that spending just fifteen minutes of prayer a day transformed life – because in being with God, we start to embrace God’s perspective, get to see ourselves and others from his viewpoint. We stop merely telling ourselves the old corrupt story, and listen to a new story.
Second, we can live ‘as if’ God’s account of us were true. What would you choose to do differently today if you believe yourself to be God’s beloved child. We don’t need to self-sabotage, or demand others recognition to make up for our own lack of self-belief; We don’t need to overwork to make others think we’re dedicated; or criticise others to mask our harsh inner self-critic. Living ‘as if’ is a good tactic.
And we should be prepared that it will be uncomfortable. Our old self-hating ways of living bring a certain security: they are familiar, we’re used to them, they feed the existing story of what we believe so don’t challenge our thinking. To think something new, to live out of a new way of thinking – this is uncomfortable. It’s like trying to speak a new language, live in a different culture, take up exercise when you’ve not run, swam, or cycled for twenty years. It will feel uncomfortable at first.
The temptation is to give up on God’s way of believing in us because it’s filled with this discomfort. But through the discomfort there is well-being, and wholeness. Call it by its traditional names, eternal life, salvation. These are not only what happens to us when we die; they are God’s gift to us in the present.
God invites us to embrace the truth of our creation and baptism, that we are God’s begotten, God’s beloved, God’s delight – and to live out of this confidence.