What would you do if you knew, really knew in the depths of your soul, in your heart of hearts, with every fiber of your being, that you are belovéd? How would your life be different?
A couple first in love and on their wedding day, knows what this feels like. You feel strong, and brave, and energetic, like you could tackle anything you need to. You feel at peace, and those around you see your beauty shining from within. We hope that children have this love from their family and experience it frequently.
But we also know that remembering this love and feeling is not always easy. Things sometimes get in the way – misunderstandings, hardships, challenges, difficulties of all kinds can muddy the waters, cloud our love, make it hard to express or receive love. Life happens, and when it does, our hurt and anger can create barriers that we hide behind; we wall ourselves off; we diminish ourselves bit by bit; we become smaller and harder and darker inside.
The Season after Epiphany is book-ended by experiences of belovédness. At Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River (which we read about five weeks ago) we heard God’s voice come from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." Now, on this Last Sunday after Epiphany, we see Jesus on the mountain with Peter, James, and John, and hear God’s voice from the cloud, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" Bookends of belovédness.
What happened up on that mountain was that Jesus experienced – and Peter, James, and John witnessed first-hand – the power of God’s love. Jesus’ transfiguration was reality breaking through; the fullness of God’s love and truth and power present in such a way that the only words for it are glory, dazzling, light. The veil between the human realm and God’s realm has been drawn back, and we (along with Jesus’ inner circle) get a glimpse of the divine energy – too great for most of us to take in most of the time. And just in case the disciples miss the point, God says: "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!"
We often speak of mountaintop experiences as moments of clarity or revelation or perspective, after which everything is different. We think differently, we understand differently, we make decisions and act differently, we value things differently. But we also know that those experiences are usually events we ponder and pray over, keep coming back to because we can’t absorb them all at once, and we often understand new and different layers of their meaning only in hindsight. That may well be the reason that Jesus urges Peter, James, and John to keep the experience to themselves until after “the Son of Man has risen from the dead.” It would be only after the Resurrection on Easter that the fullness of the reality of God’s love, glory, life, and New Creation would all finally make sense.
In the meantime, they are to listen to Jesus, God’s beloved Son – unique, one of a kind. By listening to Jesus they will be listening to God, perhaps in a more direct, easily audible way. That’s important because of what Jesus and his followers are heading into. Mark doesn’t state it as clearly as Luke does, but Jesus has “set his face toward” Jerusalem, knowing that his mission will eventually take him there. We know, in hindsight, that Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem will spark the show-down with the powers and principalities and cosmic forces that found their expression in the brutal Roman military governor, the vassal king of Judea, and the failure of the religious authorities. But at this point in the story the disciples don’t know all that yet.
What they do know is that they have been following a rabbi who teaches in a way that is newly authentic and authoritative. They have seen some powerful healing, the wondrous feeding of a crowd of thousands, the driving out of evil spirits, people restored to life – and all in the context of announcing the nearness of God’s kingdom or reign, a harbinger of the Messiah’s arrival.
Peter, James, and John need to have this glimpse of reality on the mountaintop and to hear God’s voice so they will remember to hew closely to Jesus, lest they go off the rails with a different idea of what their mission is. And Jesus, I think, needs to have that affirmation of being God’s belovéd Son, a touchstone to sustain him in the days ahead – not only for the titanic events of Holy Week and Good Friday, but also for the weeks and months of tiredness, frustration, criticism, willful ignorance, and spiritual challenge that will meet him on the road.
Jesus is God’s belovéd. And we who are his followers, we who are “in Christ” by faith and baptism, are also God’s belovéd. Let that sink in – you are God’s belovéd son, belovéd daughter, loved to the depths of your being, with everything God has to offer. God takes delight in you, God chooses you. Imagine that dazzling light, that radiance the disciples saw in Jesus on the mountain pouring into you and through you – enlightening and enlivening you with holy energy. You are loved profoundly, completely, and without end. Not because of what you’ve done, but because of who God is. It’s a gift to be received – as love always is.
So, I ask again: What would you do if you knew, really knew in the depths of your soul, in your heart of hearts, with every fiber of your being, that you are belovéd? How would your life be different? What would you do differently? What could you stop hanging on to – what fear or resentment or anger or injury? What courageous action might you take? With whom might you be reconciled? What might you risk? More importantly, who might you be when you know that you are God’s belovéd – loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, faithful, gentle, self-disciplined…all the fruit of the Holy Spirit working in you. And this is not just for your own self-improvement, to be a “better person”, but displaying the fruit of the Spirit, living from a place of belovédness so that you as an individual and we as the gathered Body of Christ may be carriers of God’s radiant love – spiritual mobile “hot spots” at work, at home, in the community.
We are God’s belovéd; we also are part of Jesus mission in the world. “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ,” as our Prayer Book Catechism says. Jesus bids us to take the love we have been given so freely and give it away to others, in this world that so badly needs to love and be loved for God’s sake.
But just like Jesus, the road ahead of us is challenging, frustrating, hard, tiring and we will not always be well-received. So stay rooted and grounded in love. Hew close to Jesus and listen to him. Be directed by the Spirit working in and through all of us. And never forget that you are God’s beloved, indeed.
Let us pray.
Lord take my lips and speak through them; take my mind and think through it; take my heart and set it on fire. Amen.
~ William Maxwell Aitken
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
Last Sunday after Epiphany
February 11, 2018