Rev. Kelli Whitman
I love baptisms.
For my money, baptisms are the best part about being a minister. Sometimes I can barely contain the joy I feel when we get to celebrate a baptism together. Babies, young children, teenagers, adults—it doesn’t matter to me—I love every baptism.
Do you know why I love baptisms?
Because they are a chance to remember and remind one another of this one amazing and holy truth—You are God’s beloved child.
You are God’s beloved child.
You are beloved, not because of something you have done or can do, but because of who God is – a loving parent who wants nothing more than to see us flourish. Through the water of baptism, God chooses you. God says that you are enough. Already. That you are pleasing to God and deserve to be loved. And that beloved-ness comes from God and cannot be taken away from you or, for that matter, lost by you.
The blessing that came to Jesus in the water of his baptism falls afresh on us every time we witness this sacrament. You are God’s beloved.
But this beloved-ness is not just a gift for you—it is God’s gift and blessing to all of God’s children.
The family seeking sanctuary from deportation are God’s beloved children.
The single mother buying groceries with food stamps is God’s beloved child.
The people who are fleeing wildfires in Austraila are God’s beloved children.
The men sleeping on the floor of the Preble Street shelter are God’s beloved children.
The young adult fighting an opioid addiction is God’s beloved child.
The thousands of people still living without power in Puerto Rico are God’s beloved children.
What difference would it make in your life, in our community, and in our world if we started treating one another first and foremost as God’s beloved, holy children? What would it look like if we began to see one another not as adversaries to be subdued but as bearers of God’s blessing? How would your life change if you approached the world not with apprehension or apathetic indifference, but with eyes that searched for the beloved-ness in those around you?
There is an old parable that goes like this:
There was a monastery, which had fallen on hard times. Its many buildings had been filled with young monks and its big church had resounded with the singing of prayers, but it was now nearly deserted. People no longer came to be nourished by the prayers and presence of the monks. Only a handful of old, old monks shuffled through the cloisters and praised God with heavy hearts.
Nearby, on the edge of the monastery woods, an old rabbi built a little hut and came occasionally to walk in the woods. One day, his heart heavy with the burden of the monastery and the failing of the faith, the abbot decided to visit the rabbi. After morning Eucharist, he set out through the woods.
As he approached the hut, the rabbi greeted the abbot warmly. Across their differences, there were similarities. Both knew God; both knew the difficulties of keeping alive the faith in their communities; both were concerned for the welfare of those they served.
The only words spoken were the mysterious words of the rabbi, 'The Messiah is among you' and an instruction, 'you must only repeat this once. After that no one must ever say it aloud again'.
Finally, the abbot and the rabbi exchanged an embrace and the abbot returned to the monastery, pondering the words of the rabbi, 'The Messiah is among you'. Whatever could the rabbi mean? Could Christ be cantankerous Brother William? Could Christ be mean and spiteful Brother Stephen? Could Christ be the one young novice, petulant and withdrawn, and still to be named? Who could Christ be? The abbot pondered this all afternoon and all night.
The next morning, the abbot called the few monks together and shared the teaching from the rabbi. 'You can never repeat this', he said. 'The rabbi who walks in the woods says, "The Messiah is among us"'.
The monks were startled by this revelation. 'What could it mean?' each asked himself. 'Is dirty and sloppy Brother John the Messiah?' 'Is moody Father Matthew or crotchety Brother Thomas the Messiah?' 'What could this mean?' 'The Messiah is among us?' They were deeply puzzled by the rabbi's teaching. But according to the instruction, no one ever mentioned it again.
Days and weeks went by. The monks began to treat one another with special reverence and respect. There was a gentle, wholehearted, human, yet divine, quality about them which was hard to describe but easy to see. They lived with one another as men who had found something special. They prayed and read Scripture as men who were always looking for something. The occasional visitors found themselves deeply moved by the life of these monks. Before long, people were coming from far and wide to be nourished by the prayer life of the monks and young men began asking to become part of the community.
God’s beloved-ness is poured out on all of us, without regard to the color of our skin, the state of our bank account, our immigration status, our gender identity or orientation, our political party, our native language, or the state of our mental or physical health. Our commitment to care for, listen to, advocate for and respect one another should be poured out with equal abandon.
In a few minutes we are going to remember and reaffirm the promises that were made at our baptism. As you reach into the water, remember this: You are beloved by God. You were created to be whole and holy. You are capable of bearing God’s blessing in the world.
And as you return to your seat, take a minute to notice those waiting to touch the water. Remember that you are not God’s only beloved, whole, and holy child. Remember that in baptism we are given not only an identity but a mission. Touch the water and remember that God is calling you to seek out the beloved-ness in each and every person you encounter, so that together we might recognize God’s Kingdom made real in our midst. Amen.