Many of you may know this poem: Children Learn What They Live by Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D.
If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.
How many of you have heard or read that?
Most of us are not children. 😉 Even while we are all children of God. And for those of us who have raised children, or are raising children now, there is a never-ending balancing between affirmation of their innate goodness and holding them accountable when they behave badly. Between encouraging them to be stretch their wings… and cautioning them against foolhardiness. Between loving them unconditionally and encouraging them to be their best selves.
Jesus was a child once… we don’t know much about his life between the two accounts of his birth and his baptism. The Gospel reading tells of Jesus’ baptism by John, though John is shocked: baptism was usually reserved for Gentiles who were becoming Jewish, those who were converting. As Matthew relates the story, it is a transformative experience, where God’s voice is heard, naming Jesus as beloved. Let’s listen to Matthew’s gospel in chapter 3: 13-17:
3:13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 3:14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 3:15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 3:16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 3:17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Have you had one of those moments? A crystal clear, shining moment of clarity, in which you felt loved, affirmed and exalted? I trust that you have… perhaps at the birth of a child… perhaps a moment of intimacy between partners… perhaps in nature… Those are awesome moments and we have to hang on to them… treasure them… polish them up and remember them. Not to enshrine them and make them static, but to remember them when we get bogged down by the muckiness and murkiness of life.
These questions ran through my head last week:
• Does being loved make us brave?
• How can we develop and exercise our bravery muscles?
• Does baptism make a difference?
Who has loved you so much… believed in you so much… that you have been able to accomplish much more than what you dreamed of? Is there someone like that in your past or present? A teacher, a mentor, a friend, a minister?
Imagine if you will, that scene of Jesus baptism. We don’t even need to imagine John’s reaction, it’s written in the text! He can’t believe that Jesus is asking John to baptise you and said, “Would you lay hands on me and pray for me?” That’s the kind of reaction John has!
Our reading today doesn’t tell what happens next… Jesus is immediately sent out into the wilderness… wrestling with temptations. And he leaves the wilderness knowing what God is calling him to do. Bravely setting his face towards Jerusalem.
I don’t think it was his baptism that made him brave… although our rituals of belonging are important. I don’t think it was the Holy Spirit, descending on him like a dove, although there are times when I have felt that. I think it was that voice, telling him he was beloved, BELOVED, that made Jesus a bravely face everything that was to come.
He knew, deep in the marrow of his bones, that he was loved. That knowledge, soaked into his heart, soul and body, just like water soaks into the dry, dusty areas of our lives.
We are beloved… and in that love, we can be brave!
We are beloved! We are brave!
Can you say it with me?
We are beloved!
We are brave! (With some encouragement, the congregation said it with enthusiasm!)
Peter discovered that eventually. In the reading from Acts, he is surprised to find that God cares not only for Jews, but for others, as well. This comes after he has been thoroughly rattled by a dream that challenges his view of clean (as Jews) and unclean (as Gentiles). He wakes to find himself summoned to visit Cornelius, a Roman Centurion. He goes, seemingly still arguing with himself all the way, but shaken into a new awareness of the message of Salvation for all people. So, speaking to Cornelius and his household, he retells the Gospel story, but with new eyes, sharing it with new ears. Let’s listen to Peter’s message, as reported in Acts 10:34-43 (Scripture intros written by the Rev. Stew Clarke and the Rev. Catherine MacDonald)
34 Peter began to speak: “I now realize that it is true that God treats everyone on the same basis. 35 Those who fear him and do what is right are acceptable to him, no matter what race they belong to. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, proclaiming the Good News of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know of the great event that took place throughout the land of Israel, beginning in Galilee after John preached his message of baptism. 38 You know about Jesus of Nazareth and how God poured out on him the Holy Spirit and power. He went everywhere, doing good and healing all who were under the power of the Devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses of everything that he did in the land of Israel and in Jerusalem. Then they put him to death by nailing him to a cross. 40 But God raised him from death three days later and caused him to appear, 41 not to everyone, but only to the witnesses that God had already chosen, that is, to us who ate and drank with him after he rose from death. 42 And he commanded us to preach the gospel to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God has appointed judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets spoke about him, saying that all who believe in him will have their sins forgiven through the power of his name.”
Preach the gospel and testify!
We hardly recognize Peter in this passage, he is now publicly passionate about the transforming power of Jesus. Remember him denying Jesus? Somewhere along the line he has been transformed… by Jesus… just as we can be transformed by Jesus. We too are invited into transformation. We too are invited to expand our worldview and see beyond what we have thought church should be. We too are invited to being shaped into something new by our belovedness.
I rewrote the poem that I shared at the beginning of my sermon.
I rewrote it and called it: Churches Teach What They Live
If a church teaches criticism, it will condemn.
If a church allows hostility, it teaches aggression.
If a church lives in fear, it becomes fearful.
If a church lives with jealousy, it learns to feel envy.
If a church lives with shame, it teaches guilt.
If a church lives with encouragement, it learns confidence.
If a church lives with praise, it is appreciative.
If a church lives with acceptance, it is loving.
If a church lives with sharing, it is generous.
If a church lives with honesty, it learns truthfulness.
If a church lives with fairness, it learns justice.
If a church lives with love, it learns to be brave.
You are beloved and brave. Thanks be to God for each one of you. Amen.
Acts 10: 34-40a
Matthew 3: 13-17
January 19, 2020 – SMUC