The One Who Loves Us
Two days after Christmas, while lying on the couch and scrolling away on my phone in that post Christmas stupor brought on by a steady diet of too much cheese and dark chocolate - if there is such a thing - I came across an honest-to-God piece of good news on Facebook.
I learned that Amy Grant, one of my childhood heroes - the woman who sang “El Shaddai” “Breath of Heaven,” (and the early 90’s ear worm “Baby, Baby,” for which I have forgiven her) - I learned that Amy Grant was going to host her niece’s same-sex wedding on her family farm.
Did anyone else see this little piece of news? It’s pretty awesome, isn’t it?
Now I know that same-sex weddings are nothing new, but the news that a woman who rose to fame as a contemporary Christian music artist back in the 80’s and 90’s would bless such a celebration certainly is…and I was thrilled.
What I didn’t know, is that Amy Grant hasn’t been silent about her support of the LGBTQ community for over a decade. When her niece came out back in 2013, she publicly described it as a gift to their whole family “because it widened (our whole families) experience of love.” I think that I just beautiful.
Sadly, it turns out that her unequivocal support of LGBTQ folks has angered and alienated her from any number of conservative Christians over the years- so much so that Religion News Service recently ran an article entitled: “Leave Amy Grant Alone.”
But as far as I can tell, she’s not only taken all the criticism in stride, like any good evangelical, she’s got some biblical justification of her own for her progressive views. Speaking to the Washington Post, Grant explained that she has chosen to focus on the essentials. “Jesus narrowed it down to two things: love God and love each other. I mean, hey, that’s pretty simple,” she said.
And speaking to Pride Source back in 2013, she explained: “I know that the religious community has not been very welcoming [to queer people], but I just want to stress that the journey of faith brings us into community, but it's really about one relationship. The journey of faith is just being willing and open to have a relationship with God. And everybody is welcome. Everybody.”
But what I loved most is what she said last year in an interview on Proud Radio. She asked: “Who loves us more than the one who made us?” And then said, “none of us are a surprise to God. Nothing about who we are or what we’ve done. That’s why, to me, it’s so important to set a welcome table. Because I was invited to a table where someone said, ‘Don’t be afraid, you’re loved.’ … Gay. Straight. It does not matter” (all quotes gathered from The Advocate article by J.D. Glass I linked to through apple news).
“Don’t be afraid, you’re loved."
“Who loves us more than the one who made us?”
“None of us are a surprise to God.”
Who knew Amy Grant could preach as well as she sings?
And I think she’s right. “None of us are a surprise to God: Nothing about who we are or what we’ve done.” Nothing about who we are or what we’ve failed to do … or have yet to do …or will yet fail to do.
Friends, we are just loved. Period. Full stop. We are just loved by the One who made us, no matter who we are, no matter what we’ve been through. No matter what.
And I know I say that a lot, but I say it a lot because it’s such a powerful, counterintuitive, countercultural, counter…well.. counter pretty much everything most of us have been taught sort of message - taught even here in the church - and yet it’s the message at the heart of our reading for today, because God’s unconditional love for all of creation is the message at the heart of Jesus’ gospel.
And ironically, it’s a message that might require a little repentance to hear clearly. I say ironically, because I know that the very word repentance carries such deep connotations of blame and shame within the church. So much so that the word “REPENT,” doesn’t sound loving at all.
But it doesn’t need to be that way. Repentance, even the repentance of sin, when seen in the light of God’s love, is a beautiful, liberating thing. When John told people to repent, he wasn’t punishing people down by the waters of the river Jordan because they were all so awful, he was setting them right because he believed they were capable of so much good.
John wasn’t just washing away the sins of the ungodly, he was inviting all people, the good and the bad, the believers and the seekers, the saints and the sinners, to die to their old way of thinking about God and rise up into a new way of thinking, an awareness that in spite of it all, God was coming to them. God was sending them a savior, a messiah, a messenger with the good news that none of them were a surprise to God, and God loved them anyway.
All of them: the bruised reeds and the dimly lit wicks, the ones who had wandered far off and the ones who had remained near, those who had gone east and those who had gone west.
God was willing to let bygones be bygones and declare a new day, a fresh start, a clean slate, because none of us are a surprise to God. Nothing about who we are or what we’ve done…and yet God loves all of us as her precious children any way.
Friends, to sin simply means to miss the mark.
To repent simply means to change; to “turn, turn,” as the Shakers used to sing, “till by turning, turning we come round right.”
When we repent, we re-orient our aim so we can fly true.
When we repent we tune our hearts to sing God’s grace.
Which is why Jesus, to the surprise of John, gets in the water right along with us.
Did Jesus need to repent?
It’s a deep, fraught, and thorny theological question.
Did Jesus need to repent?
And my favorite answer so far is from Steve Garnaas Holmes:
Did Jesus need to repent?
Yes. We all do, every moment.Even Yo-Yo Ma needs to tune up. (For)
To repent is to turn to God.It's not a one time thing. We need to turn with every breath,keep tuning in, tuning up with every note…
We need to keep turning toward the One who loves us because, my friends, life has a way of obscuring our experience of God and God’s love, robbing us of our sense of connectedness, the reality of our belovedness.
Here in America we’ve all been conditioned by a toxic mix of capitalism and warped Calvinism to believe that love must be earned. And so we work and we hustle, we strive and we starve, we rank and relegate, jockey and judge, all in an effort to prove ourselves worthy, when the reality is that God loves us - not for who we’ve become or what we’ve made of ourselves, but because of who God is, was, and will forever be - LOVE.
Love is where we start. Love is what brought us here. Love is what is carrying us along even now, and when it’s all over, it is Love that will welcome us home.
Life has a way of breaking us down such that we forget that, forget who and whose we really are, children of God, beloved children with whom God is well pleased.
“Who loves us more than the one who made us?” No one.
And I know, I know some of you might be out there thinking that if I really knew the things you’d done, the ways you have failed, the places where your mind has gone, the doubts, the fear, the selfishness that lurks in the shadows of your heart, that I might think differently.
But I don’t, because I think Amy Grant is right: “None of us are a surprise to the God who made us.” None of us are a surprise to God and God loves us anyway. And the more we understand that, turn toward that, and tune into that, the easier it will be for us to love one another, which, in the end, is what this life is all about.
And if you’re still not convinced. If you think that unconditional love might be what’s right for other people, but you, for whatever reason, are going to need to earn your way into God’s good graces before any of this makes any sense to you, well, I want you to look back at the gospel reading for today. When John was unsure whether or not he should baptize Jesus, Jesus said: “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”
“Let it be,” are Jesus’ very first words in this Gospel. Not let me do or let me just say. “Let it be.” And right after he is baptized, a voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
God is pleased with Jesus before he has even begun his ministry. God is pleased with Jesus before he has preached a single word. God is pleased with Jesus before he has done one blessed thing.
Which is why I believe that Jesus was baptized as a sign to us all that we start, whether we realize it or not, from a place of belovedness.
That we are enough, simply because we are.
That God is pleased with us because God made us.
God made us and longs to do good and loving things for us and through us.
All of us…because none of us are a surprise to the One who made us. Amen? Amen.
And so on this day, when we remember and celebrate Jesus’ baptism and Jesus’ belovedness, it is common in churches to remember and celebrate our own.
There is an ancient tradition, called asperging, that I would like to share with you today. This is something I have done with my former congregations and it’s a tradition I would love to begin with you here.
… Friends, this is the water of baptism. (Pour Water into bowl)
While you sing the next hymn, I am going to move among you, dip an evergreen branch in this holy water and sprinkle it over you all in remembrance of your baptismal vows …vows you may have said in some form as an adult or vows that may have been spoken in some form on your behalf when you were just a child.
If you have never been baptized, but want to follow Jesus and be baptized someday, I pray that this water would be a sign to you on your journey home and let us speak to one another soon. If you are not a believer, I pray that this water would be a sign to you that you are loved no matter what, as a friend of this body and a member of this community, and that you are invited to share in its joy and its call to serve others as best as you are able.
Before I move among you, I’d like to say the vows again with you that we might renew our baptismal covenant with God.
If it feels right for you, all you need to do is respond: “we do.”
Pastor: Friends, in the waters of Baptism, you were made new, born again in the spirit, adopted as a child of God, forgiven of sin, saved from death, and given new life in Christ. In the waters of baptism, you were recognized as beloved, a precious child of God, and beautiful to behold. And so today, in honor of Christ’s baptism, I would ask: do you promise, by the grace of God, to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ, to follow in his way, to resist oppression, to show love and justice, and to witness to the work and word of Jesus, as best you are able? If so please say: “We do.”
Pastor: And do you promise, according to the grace given to you, to grow in love for God and to be a faithful member of the body of Christ the church, celebrating Christ’s presence and furthering God’s mission in all the world? “We do.”
Then receive this gift freely.
For these are the waters of baptism.
Out of this water we rise with new life,
forgiven of sin and one in Christ,
members of Christ’s body.
(The congregation will sing “We Know that Christ is Raised” while the minister sprinkles water upon all gathered here).