Called to Deep Relationship: Beloved and Blessed
At Jesus’ baptism, he heard God say “You are my Son. In you I am well pleased”. In the same way, God calls us to a deeper relationship with Him, rooted in being beloved and blessed by Him.
There are these different tests or inventories you can take to help you understand yourself, your personality and your identity better. One of them is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which I’ve taken a few times over the years. Maybe you’ve taken the Myers-Briggs as well.
According to Myers-Briggs, I’m an ENFP. I won’t unpack all of it now, but I’ll just highlight the “E”, which stands for extrovert. If you know me, you would agree that Myers-Briggs got that one right.
At Bluffton University, where I worked before coming here, all the students and faculty take an inventory called the StrengthsFinder. The philosophy behind this test is that you discover your strengths, you focus on the things you’re good at, and don’t worry about the things that don’t come natural to you.
There are 34 different strengths, and you only find out your top 5. When I took it, my top strength was what’s called “WOO”, which stands for Winning Others Over.
WOOs are similar to extroverts in some ways, so I wasn’t surprised that I came out as one. WOOs and extroverts like to be around people, lots of people! We are usually good at making a connection with almost anyone, finding something to talk about with them.
We draw energy from social situations where we can talk with a lot of different people, and much of the time that involves making small talk. We’ll talk about the weather, favorite sports teams, food we love to eat, and people we know in common (that’s called “The Mennonite game” in our church circles!).
Small talk is great, and it has it’s place. I mean there’s nothing more awkward than, well, an “awkward silence” when you’re in a conversation with someone you don’t know very well.
But the downside of small talk is that if that’s all that takes place in a relationship, then a relationship will remain superficial and you will never get below the surface. To go truly get to know someone as a friend instead of just an acquaintance, you have to go deeper.
And I not talking about “friends” as social media defines them. Most of our “friends” or “followers” on social media are acquaintances, they are more people that we know about that than people whom we truly know.
And the challenge is that the more time we spend scrolling and seeing posts of what people are doing on social media, the more that becomes our normal way of relating to people, at the expense of relating to people in ways and settings where we really get to know them on a deeper level.
You see, in order to really get to know someone, you have to be willing to talk about things that really matter, like values and beliefs. You need to be honest and transparent with them, you need to take the risk of being vulnerable by sharing your hopes and your dreams, your feelings and your fears.
When you can share on this deep level with another person, you can truly say that you know each other, that you are close friends. And that’s when you can experience closeness and intimacy, which I believe is something that we all long for as human beings.
But as much as we desire it, we shy away from getting close to people and being vulnerable with them because it’s risky. We’re afraid of rejection or indifference.
We wonder, if you really knew me, would you like me? Would you count me worthy to be your friend?
If you really knew me, would you accept me with all of my flaws, strange habits and idiosyncrasies? If you really knew me, could you love me, or would you turn your back or turn away from me if I let you down, or did something you didn’t approve of?
In many ways our relationship with God is like our relationships with other people. In fact, I believe that there’s a close correlation between knowing and loving God, knowing and loving others, and even knowing and loving ourselves. They’re all interconnected.
I believe that we long for a deep relationship with God just like we do with people. In fact, since God is our creator, God desires to have a relationship with each one of us as well.
St. Augustine, an early church leader of the 4th and 5th century, prayed “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”
Just like our relationships with people, there are different levels in our relationship with God. We can remain on the acquaintance level instead of knowing God on a level where we are open about our deepest hopes fears and feelings.
Just like with people, we long to be known, accepted and loved by God.
And just like our relationships with people, there are barriers that we put up to keep us at a distance from God. We’re afraid of getting close to God because we’re afraid that we’re not worthy of God’s love or friendship, and that God will reject us.
Our scripture passage today from Mark’s gospel has something to say about all this. The passage covers a lot of ground in 6 short verses. That’s the way Mark’s style is, he doesn’t go into a lot of detail about things and keeps the story of Jesus moving.
Our passage begins with Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, then Jesus is immediately sent into the wilderness to be tested and tempted by Satan for 40 days,
And then it moves right into Jesus beginning his ministry of calling his first followers, or disciples.
This morning I want to focus on that first part, Jesus’ baptism, because what happened there is what I believe prepared Jesus for his time of trial in the wilderness and then for his ministry of proclaiming the Good News of God’s kingdom.
Remember last week’s story of Jesus’ transfiguration? Well, that event has something in common with Jesus’ baptism. At both events, the voice of God is heard.
At the transfiguration, God is speaking to the disciples who are there with Jesus on the mountain. And he says, “this is my son; listen to him”. God is reminding them that Jesus has a message that is well worth paying attention to.
But long before that, when Jesus is being baptized, God is speaking directly to Jesus when he says, “You are my beloved son, and in you I am well pleased”.
What is happening here is that Jesus is receiving his Father’s blessing for his life and for his ministry. God’s telling Jesus, “I love you, Son, and I take delight in you.”
That blessing sealed Jesus’ identity as God’s son, as God’s representative of the Kingdom of God on earth. And receiving the blessing that he is beloved, loved unconditionally, gave Jesus the encouragement he needed to carry out his mission of ushering in the Kingdom or reign of God on earth.
Throughout his three-year ministry, Jesus kept close to God. He depended upon God as he faced tests and resisted temptations in the wilderness. In the midst of the busyness and stress of his ministry,
with so many needs around him, so much to do, people seeking him out and following him wherever he went, Jesus made time to be alone with God in quiet places to rest and be renewed.
Jesus prayed to God during these times, and also throughout his life. He prayed to God for his disciples, that God will protect them and sustain them with His spirit once he was gone.
Jesus prayed to God in the Garden of Gethsemane, being completely honest in pleading to God to take the cup of suffering away from him.
And while Jesus was hanging on the cross, he bore his soul before God, first asking God to forgive those responsible for crucifying him, then asking God “why have you forsaken me?”, and finally, surrendering himself to God when he said, “Father, into your hands I comment my spirit”.
It’s clear that Jesus had a very deep and intimate relationship with God.
Now I’m aware that Jesus was both human and divine, so he already had a direct line to God. But when we see Jesus praying to God in the gospels, I think that we clearly see the humanity of Jesus, his human side—
the side that needs to depend upon God for power and strength, the side that pours his heart out to God, the side that pleads with God, the side that bargains with God, and the side that ultimately surrenders to God.
Jesus knowing that he was beloved and received God’s blessing was the foundation for a deep and vibrant relationship with God.
And I think that in Jesus we see a great model of what a deep relationship with God looks like for us as well.
Even though we are merely human beings, each one of us is a son, a daughter, a child of God who is created in the image of God.
Every one of is was uniquely knit together in our mothers’ womb, we are all fearfully and wonderfully made, as Psalm 139 says so poetically.
When I worked with youth, one of the phrases that speakers would often say is “God doesn’t make junk!” No, God doesn’t. We are beautiful in God’s eyes, we are all his beloved children.
And God’s love for us is unconditional: there’s nothing we can do to make God love us more, nothing we can do that will cause him to love us less.
In the Old Testament, there’s a Hebrew word for the way God loves us—it’s the word Chesed. Chesed is translated as lovingkindness in some translations, and steadfast love in others. Steadfast love occurs several times in Psalm 25 that we heard earlier. The word appears no less than 224 times in the Old Testament.
It’s a love that is constant and everlasting, a love that is full of mercy, a love that is full of forgiveness and grace. That’s how God loves us, each and every one of us.
It is a deep love, a love that calls us beloved, a love that blesses us when we receive it as a gift from God.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I have trouble believing that I deserve that kind of love from God or anyone for that matter. We live in a world where we have to earn everything, we have to perform in order to feel like we deserve something
Growing up, I had this image of God of this old man in the heavens who was watching every move I made to see if I messed up and broke one of the Ten Commandments, and when I did, God would get angry with me.
If something bad happened to me, I took it as God punishing me for disobeying Him. The image I had of God was not the one of steadfast love, not the one that caused me to know that I was beloved and blessed.
Fortunately, that came later in life, I came to the place of embracing my belovedness and receiving God’s blessing of unconditional love, and it has led to a deeper and more healthy relationship with God and love for myself.
And at the same time, it’s helped this extrovert and WOO to get beyond small talk and be able to form deeper, healthier and loving relationships with those around me.
Don’t get me wrong—I have a “people-pleaser” gene in me, and maybe a “God-pleaser one as well”. So I still struggle with feeling like I need to earn the love of God, and in believing that unconditional love can take place in human relationships. But I’ve caught enough glimpses of it to know that it’s possible.
I don’t know where you’re at with all this. Maybe you know a lot about God, but you haven’t gotten to really know God on a deeper level as your creator, as a friend. One is head knowledge, the other is heart experience.
Maybe you have had trouble feeling like you’re worthy of receiving God’s love, for things that you have done in your life or for things about yourself that you don’t feel good about.
Or maybe you’ve just been content to keep your relationship with God at a certain distance, closer to the surface, a comfortable level where you haven’t taken enough time or taken enough risk to go deeper with God. It’s easy to stay busy with other things and neglect or avoid cultivating our relationship with God.
During this season of Lent, I invite all of us to focus a little more on our relationship with God, to embrace the truth that we are beloved, and to open our hearts up a little more to receive God’s blessing upon our life.
To help us remember this, I’d like to invite us to take a stone and write a word on it that we keep in a place where we will see it regularly throughout the season of Lent. Maybe every time you see the stone, you can just take a moment to be in silent prayer with God.
I would suggest the word “beloved” or “blessed”, but also feel free to write another word has that is meaningful to you and that will help you remember God’s love for you during this season of your life.