All I can do this morning is simply share Some Good News, Some Good News that has been shared here before, Some good news that we all I hope we have all already received and I shared, received and shared, and God willing, we will continue to receive it and share it… It’s a message that can be easy to forget, especially in a world inclined to be forgetful and inclined to be distracted by petty things – all the sound & fury. So, we always need to return to the Good News, to hear it, receive it, share it, to let it stir us awake again. There are different ways it’s been told, different ways we can hear it … Here’s one way to tell it, the Good News: There is a Holy One who calls the worlds into being A Holy One in which we all live and move and have our being A Holy One who is always, ever beyond the limits of ourselves, beyond the limits of this world. And this Holy One who formed each of us Our Creator, our God, Has created each of us and all of us To be beloved. At the core of who we are, at the pith of our being, We are beloved by God. And there is nothing we can do and nothing that can be done to us that can change that fact of our belovedness. God loves us whether we deserve it or not, whether we think we deserve it or not, whether other people think we deserve it or not, whether we think other people deserve it or not. God loves those God has created and is creating. God created the world and everything within it and said, “It is good!” God made the human soul and set within it a fragment of light, a sliver of mirror to reflect the pure light of Godself – within each soul Nothing we can do nothing and nothing that is done to us can change that… But There is much we can do and much that can be done to us that can lead us to forget this belovedness, lead us to cloud that mirror, or to turn away from it, to turn away from the light of God’s love. A lot of it boils down to thinking that human forces are our gods, or making ourselves out to be gods or worshiping or fearing some person or some human force as a god. Hatred, greed, lust, violence, judgment, callousness, self-absorption, neglect … we can go on … – whether we inflicted on others or whether inflicted on us, whether deeply personal or just something in the culture … these are forces that can turn us toward false gods, turn us away from the true and only God, who has created the inner core of all of us. The result is suffering. We can delude ourselves about the fact that we’re suffering – and some sins are more fun than others – or we can take some enjoyment out of the suffering for a time, enjoy our own suffering or the suffering of others. But one way or the other the truth catches up and strips us of the delusion: we are letting ourselves get led in endless wearisome cycles of suffering. But the Good News is: that as we can turn away from God’s love, so we can always return. God’s love wins. Nothing can overcome it. Every moment we can say “Yes.” Returning to this holy belovedness is what we can call New Life in the Realm of Heaven. This is what Jesus taught, this is what Jesus lived, this is what Jesus showed in his death and in his resurrected life. He brought some urgency to it: the translation of our reading this morning has Jesus saying, “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.” That message of return to holy belovedness, This is what we remember and hear again when we retell the story of Jesus’ baptism, the model for all of our baptisms. In the translation we heard, John the Baptist told those he was baptizing: “I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. His baptism—a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit—will change you from the inside out.” We usually hear this translated as “repentance” – the word in the gospels is “metanoia”. “Noia” means heart-mind, our sense of self according to which we experience everything and decide how to live… “Meta” meaning a change in state, an evolution, a sea-change. Metanoia is a “a transformative change of heart, of being. A spiritual conversion.” Jesus joined those going humbly into these waters of change, of renewal, The baptizer brought him down beneath the river… and “The moment he came out of the water, he saw the sky split open and God’s Spirit, looking like a dove, come down on him. Along with the Spirit, a voice: “You are my child, chosen and marked by my love.” You are beloved. From that belovedness Jesus worked to uncover the belovedness of everyone he encountered, and indeed of all humanity. Now, notice in the story that when the Spirit came in the baptism, when that Spirit disclosed his true nature and stirred in Jesus’ life, it immediately drove him into the wilderness where he was tested. There will be challenge: if we center our lives on the truth of God’s love, the opposing forces will rise to challenge us, tempt us to turn towards them and away again from God. Let me close with a reminder of part of the baptism vows in the United Church of Christ: “Do you promise By the grace of God To be Christ’s disciple To follow in the way of our savior To resist oppression and evil To show love and justice And to witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ As best you are able?”
It is by the grace of God that we are able to say Yes, and to keep returning to that Yes. Thanks be to God.