Filed under: Uncategorized
Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
The other morning, I was rushing around, grabbing socks and blankets to pack the kids up for school and daycare. I don’t know why I was rushing around, I had been up since 5:30, but 7:40 always comes quicker than I expect it to. So I’m scanning Lydia’s room, looking for any last items I may have forgotten, while Laila’s thoroughly brushing her teeth in the bathroom next door. She’s playing with my cabinet drawers, which have been overtaken with toddler hair clips and kid’s jewelry. I’m barely paying attention at first, but then I’m jarred by her words. She’s saying, “Mommy, next Christmas, I want a kit to make me beautiful.” I had this sinking feeling… I called back to her, “you are beautiful just the way you are.” But then she went on to say she needed nail polish and whatever else she could put on to make herself beautiful.
I was in too big of a rush that morning for taking the time to have my own mommy meltdown. But I am horrified that at 4, my daughter is starting to not only absorb messages about what makes her beautiful, but wants to do whatever the world tells her she should do in order to form herself into the image she’s told she should be.
This is the last thing I want for her. But I’m afraid it’s something she sees modeled in our home. I’ve been pretty bad at it. There’s so much pressure to be the person other people expect you to be.
As a leader, I want the community to be happy. I felt called to the ministry because I wanted to be a part of God’s bringing people to faith, witnessing the holy in the midst of the ordinary and extraordinary circumstances of life. I didn’t fully appreciate how much being pastor would mean being the moveable piece in any congregation- the person who should change to satisfy any dissatisfaction. The weight of responsibility to fulfill the community’s need for happiness can be overwhelming.
I have a friend who’s a pastor in another church. When she came to her congregation, she put on her robe and stole like she always had at every other congregation she served. Some people remarked on it, mostly saying things like, “oh, how pretty.” But not long into her call, some of her leadership told her she had to wear normal clothes like their previous pastor. Her get up was making her too inaccessible. So, being new and not wanting to be out of a call in record time, she found something else in her closet for the next Sunday. Not two weeks later, another couple people pulled her aside and told her she wasn’t dressing professionally enough- didn’t she care about her new congregation? Wasn’t she taking this call seriously? The next Sunday, she stood in front of her mirror. What would it be? Maybe a robe and stole for half of the service and a skirt for the rest? Maybe a stole and a skirt with no robe? That might be a good half-way point. As she smoothed down her stole, her eyes caught her nails. She hadn’t painted them this week. Were they too plain? Should she have gotten a manicure? Or would they think she was too vain? Or maybe that they were paying her too much if she could get her nails done? All of it wore away at her, until she was frozen, unable to make any decisions, unable to serve and to lead. She had given away control over her sense of self. She lost her identity and her call.
As a woman, I think I’ve been especially conditioned to try to make myself the person others seem to want. I was born later than the generations of wives who had to have dinner on the table and a cocktail ready when their breadwinning husbands came home, but still my generation struggles with the need to be smart but not too smart, to claim, “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss.”
But that’s not just my issue. To some degree, we all try to live up to expectations of who we should be- whether they come from media, or our parents, or our friends, or the next interview panel we imagine ourselves standing in front of.
Even Jesus dealt with this. We opened Luke this morning to hear John the Baptist preparing the crowd for the coming Messiah. The way John’s envisioning him, the messiah will baptize with fire, clearing away the chaff to be burned. John spreads his vision of the messiah to all who come out to listen to him, so the whole crowd has this same picture of the messiah growing in their minds. The messiah demands repentance and destroys the unprepared.
This picture was drawn before Jesus came on the scene. No one asked the messiah if it matched his vision for his ministry. Who knows if he had even heard it? Is that who he’s willing to be?
In today’s text, we read this amazing moment of affirmation after Jesus is baptized, while he is praying. God speaks to him, “You are my beloved” and the Spirit of God hovers over him in the form of a dove. Bathed in the love of God, Jesus knows who he is.
But is the crowd ready for who he will be?
At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus goes to read at the synagogue in Nazareth and the people hate what he says. Jesus has so disappointed and challenged them that they try to run him off a cliff and kill him. The people try to make Jesus fit into their image of who he should be. When he doesn’t, to call it conflict is to put it mildly!
When John is in prison, his ministry at an end, he sends his disciples on a search with a disappointed tone. They come to Jesus and ask, “Are you the messiah, or are we to look for another?”
Jesus points them to the work he has been doing, “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk,… the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them…”- he does not back down from claiming his ministry. It looks different from the ministry John prepared people to accept. But Jesus doesn’t try to make it fit, he doesn’t try to spin it or apologize.
What makes Jesus so sure of his identity that he is able to stand firm, staring down a crowd wanting his death, pointing to his ministry rather than backpedalling to make it sound similar enough to John’s expectations?
Jesus knows who he is. This surety comes from his baptism and his prayer. These are the same channels open to us.
In baptism, you are united with Jesus and given a new identity. You and Jesus are made one. That means you receive everything he has: life and relationship with the Father. In prayer, you grow in that relationship with God. This relationship tells you who you are.
The night Jeff proposed, I had been busy with my work-study job, sweeping and mopping all the staircases in our academic halls and dorm. In a gross t-shirt with dust clinging to my hair down to my shoes, I sat down to a steak dinner he cooked in the dorm kitchen. He gave me a binder full of our letters, written through months out of the country, summers at camp. It was a reminder of the growing of our love and a pledge of the love that was yet to come, contained in these words on a page.
This is the function that prayer and Bible study play in our lives. Opening the Bible flips open the love story God has written for us. There we are reminded of God’s choosing a beloved people, of God’s coming into creation, and Jesus’ death to expand the beloved community to all. The Bible trains our ears to hear God’s voice when we listen in prayer. We know that when we open our hearts to God, phrases like, “I love you.” “You are mine.” “You are beautifully and perfectly made” “You are forgiven.” “I will never forget you” all come from God. The Bible helps us learn the language of God’s love so that we know that when we hear God speaking love to us in prayer, it is God speaking to you and me. When we can’t hear God speaking, we can look back at the Bible, as I look back at my love letters, and we are reminded of who God is and what God has done to love us- and we can be certain that even in an experience of God’s silence, God is still playing God’s love song for us. Prayer helps us hear God’s certain love for us.
Baptism is an act of God’s making us beloved. I’ve been enjoying our book club book, “A Hypnotist’s Love Story,” maybe a bit too much. I’m fascinated by the imagery the hypnotherapist protagonist uses in her work. She has people relax and visualize images that are meant to help them deal with the problems in their life, from pain or fear of public speaking. As I come to this text of Jesus’ baptism, I find myself wondering how I might visualize the power of baptism in our lives.
Could you imagine the water dripping on your head like a gentle waterfall covering an entrance- a threshold you can step over as you enter a new space. This new space is the new identity you’ve received- as beloved child of God. The cross marked on your forehead glows through you, around you, a shield of light that is Christ’s light shining into the world through you, pushing back the darkness of hate and judgment and shame.
Or maybe an image doesn’t work for you as well as music. I don’t know if kids make each other playlists anymore, but when I was younger, you’d make a mixed tape for your friends, boyfriend or girlfriend, to express your friendship or love or help them get into a different emotional place if they were down. How might baptism become our playlist? Would it include songs like “Shake it Off” and “Let it Go” when other people were getting us down, trying to make us live into their expectations rather than God’s given identity? Would it help us get to a different mindset with “God Makes Beautiful Things?”
Make yourself a playlist this week- of scripture and of song. Fill it with things that remind you that you have been united with Jesus. You are a beloved child of God with whom God is well pleased. Share it with a friend. Share it on our Facebook page. Let others listen in to the prayer you’re having with God. Be a part of freeing others from the pressures to live up to the world, so that they can be freed to live for God.
This is hard work. To live with the joy and freedom that is ours through Jesus Christ. That’s why I’m glad you’re here. We come to church where we splash in the water, we eat the bread and the wine, because we need them. We need to wash off all the labels and judgments and expectations of the world. Today, once again, God washes you clean and frees you, so that you can be you. The you God created you to be: God’s own beloved child, with a style and a mission that comes from God alone.
Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment