What if our theology always begins with the truth that we are God’s beloved? Would it change the way we view ourselves? Would it change the way we view God and the world around us?
When I was a kid, we always began every worship service with the Order for Public Confession from the old Service Book and Hymnal (or Red Book as we used to call it). Toward the beginning of the Confession, the pastor said the following words on behalf of the congregation: “Almighty God, our Maker and Redeemer, we poor sinners confess unto thee, that we are by nature sinful and unclean, and that we have sinned against thee by thought, word, and deed. Wherefore we flee for refuge to thine infinite mercy, seeking and imploring thy grace, for the sake of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”
Now, if you’re seven years old, do you really think of yourself as a “poor sinner?” who “by nature” is “sinful and unclean?” That’s a lot to process! When the pastor paused for a moment of silence, giving us the opportunity to reflect on the awful things we had done since the last time we were in worship, my mind was pretty much a blank. I was a good kid, growing up. I never got into fights with my kids in my class. I obeyed my parents. I loved my baby sister and cannot remember treating her poorly. What about my nature was “sinful and unclean?”
Yes, I know this is good Lutheran theology, but what if we began each worship service with a reminder that we are God’s beloved, instead? Would it change the way we view ourselves? Would it change the way we view God and the world around us? I think it would.
Yes, we sin and make bad choices from time to time. But, above all else, we are God’s beloved. And when we are God’s beloved, I think we’re motivated to be the best beloved we can be. I think we’re motivated to do good in the world, because God’s love brings out the best in us. Does that make sense?
If we are always, by nature, “sinful and unclean,” what’s the point in trying to do better? After all, we’re just going to mess up again. So why not just lower our expectations of ourselves and trust that God will forgive us no matter how badly we screw up? What difference would it make if the first thing seven year old David heard every Sunday morning was that he was God’s Beloved? I think it would make all the difference in the world!
1 John 4:19 says “We love because God first loved us.” Being God’s beloved is a big deal. It is the source of our love. It’s what bring out the best in us. So, perhaps, we should start each day with a reminder that we are God’s Beloved and see what happens. I’m willing to give it a try and I think seven year old David would wholeheartedly agree!
When Jesus was baptized by John, the first thing he heard as he came up out of the water was “You are my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus’ “belovedness” was the starting point of his ministry. It’s what kicked everything off as he ventured into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He defeated the devil by Scripture, the power of the Holy Spirit, and his status as God’s beloved. One could argue that his ministry consisted of reminding others that they were God’s beloved, too.
After Jesus leaves the wilderness and calls his first disciples, Matthew tells us that Jesus “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them.” [Mt 4:23-24]
In Jesus’ day, it was thought that sickness was tied to sin. In other words, our afflictions were punishment from God for something we, our parents, or our grandparents did. Those suffering from mental illness were thought to be possessed by demons rather than suffering from a medical condition. Lepers were labeled as unclean and were banished from the community, instead of being seen as persons worthy of our compassionate care. Perhaps Jesus healing all of them was to remind them that they were God’s beloved; that their afflictions had nothing to do with sin but were simply something that happens to our fragile human bodies.
As he preached the Sermon on the Mount, he began his words with statements of blessing, which can be seen as declarations of belovedness: “So, you’re poor in spirit You’re beloved by God! You’re a citizen of God’s kingdom. You’re mourning losses in your life? You’re beloved by God, too! God will comfort you. So, you’re meek and sometimes let others treat you like a doormat? You’re beloved by God, too! You are worth far more than you can possibly imagine. You’re hungry and thirsty for justice You’re beloved by God, too! God will join you in the fight and satisfy your craving for what is right and good.”
When Jesus came up out of the water, the first thing he heard was “You are my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” His “belovedness” was the starting point of his ministry. Perhaps this should be the starting point of our relationship with God as well.
In her magnificent book “Love Without Limits,” which we’re going to study this coming Lent, Jacqueline Bussey talks about the name tags we wear in life. “What is the name tag you usually wear?” she writes. “Does it have written on it in black Sharpie Unlovable or Not-Good-Enough or Failure or Stupid? Here’s what God wants to do right now with all the wrong name tags that human miscarriages of love—either your own or someone else’s—have forced you to wear 1. Rip them off. 2. Insert them in the nearest paper shredder. 3. Replace them with the right one that only the Divine can hand you. ‘And you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give’ (Isaiah 62:2) Real love renames everything, even you.”
So what is written on this new name tag? “You are God’s Beloved,” of course Beloved is the name tag we are supposed to wear. It was given to us on the day of our baptisms when we heard the voice of God say to us “You are my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” It might not be good Lutheran theology, but we do not need to be reminded constantly that we are “by nature sinful and unclean, and that we have sinned against God by thought, word, and deed.” What we really need to hear is that we are God’s Beloved. This has the power to transform our lives and the world around us. Being God’s Beloved is what seven year old David needed to hear each week as he worshipped. Being God’s Beloved is what fifty seven year old David needs to hear as well.
In a few minutes, we’re going to remember our baptisms. I invite you to go to the fount, drip your finger in the water, and make the sign of the cross on your forehead if you like. As your fingers swirl around in those baptismal waters, may the water wash away any false name tags that have been placed on your heart. As you affirm your baptism, I hope you will hear the voice of God saying to you, “You are my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Then, you go back to your seat, please take with you one of the Beloved name tags so you don’t forget that you are precious in God’s sight. You can either wear it or take it with you and place it somewhere in your house to remind you of this truth.
We are God’s beloved. Never forget this. We are God’s Beloved who are able to love others more fully and deeply, because God first loved us. Amen
Copyright ©2020 by David Eck