Sermon ST. Dunstan’s 1.13.19
“I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight, and honored,
For me, when I prepare a sermon, the first thing I do is study the readings or Propers for the day..And the Lessons appointed for the First Sunday after Epiphany, “The Baptism of our Lord” are all filled with so much richness- so many ideas came flooding in – a very familiar Gospel lesson in Luke, another familiar lesson in Acts- and the Psalm is filled with the beauty, power, and splendor of the LORD, with beautiful images of the Glory of God painted in words by the Psalmist.
And then there was the prophet Isaiah…I kept being drawn back to that verse, “Because you are precious in my sight….and honored…and those last four words would just jump out at me each time :
And I LOVE you.
Years ago, when I taught Sunday School to 3-5th graders, we had lessons on how to use the Bible, what the different books were in the OT and NT, how to look up verses, etc. And I remember in the first lesson of the year on the Bible- in describing what it was, how it was different than anything else written then or since, etc. I remember there was a part in the curriculum to describe what the Bible was- and we taught that the Bible was a very long love letter from God to us.
And over the years, I’ve become convinced that is just what the Bible is…Our loving creator, calling to us with love – a love that we don’t really understand.
A love we think we have to earn or become loveable by changing our own actions and behavior. That somehow we have to “measure up” to be loved at all by GOD. And most of us don’t believe we are good enough for God to love us. We see the world around us, experience hardship and sorrow, and begin to believe God doesn’t love us at all.
The more I studied the lessons, the more I found myself reading God’s love letter in them…So, I decided to explore the meaning of the words, Love, Beloved…
What I found was the English translation of Love and Beloved from Hebrew and Greek is sadly lacking…
God says “I love you” over 32 times in the OT through the Hebrew word ahab. Sadly, we humans tell God I love you, through the word ahab, less than 19 times in response. (and most of these responses are found in reciting shema and in Deuteronomy).
Another Hebrew word used in the OT that denotes love is “hesed”. Hesed is considered by most Bible Scholars to be one of the richest, most theologically insightful terms in the OT. Hesed is used in the context of the relationship between God and humans. Hesed describes the special relationship God has with his covenant people. However, Hesed it is a difficult word to translate into English. It has so many different meanings- hesed encompasses kindness, love, loyalty, and mercy and more.
In the lesson from Isaiah today, God is expressing in every verse his loving kindness, loyalty and mercy…when you pass through the waters, I will be with you, when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, I give nations in exchange for your life…do not fear for I am with you….because you are precious in my sight, and I love you.”
In the NT, the Greek word used for love is agapao – “to love”. The Greek word used for beloved is agapetos. Again this word is difficult to translate because it encompasses the special bond that exists between the one who gives love and the one who is loved. ..like Jesus’ special bond with the Father…At Jesus’ baptism, when God says, “You are my beloved son…” the details include that the Father loves his Son, and Jesus loves the Father, but also Agapetos also means “to speak of the loving activity to be accomplished through the Son”!
The loving activity of GOD–all the loving things Jesus accomplishes in those three years beginning on the shore of the Jordan after his baptism…well, it would be a very long sermon if I recounted them all…but let’s just hit the highlights…
The healing of the sick, the blind, the lame, the demon-infected, the feeding of the multitudes for their body, and for their souls, the forgiveness given to those who never believed they would be forgiven…he taught us how to pray, love, forgive ourselves and our neighbors over and over…he taught us with God, anything is possible...he loved us and promised he would always be with us. And the greatest love of all: he laid down his own life for us.
Here is Jesus, in prayer after being baptized with water for forgiveness of sins, sees the heavens open, and the HS descends on him softly, gracefully and privately. He is baptized with water and the HS.
Then Jesus hears God say those incredibly important words of love, affirmation and identity: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
The One who gives love and the One who is loved. That special relationship, between God and the Son.
And don’t forget- the other meaning of The Beloved – the loving activity of GOD, accomplished through Jesus! So too, is our Baptism like Jesus’- it is about love, identity, affirmation, commitment, promise and more!
Because in Baptism, God’s incredible, unending love for us is proclaimed, God calls, names and claims us as God’s BELOVED children; gives us the gift of the HS, and if that’s not enough, our generous, recklessly loving God also promises to forgive, renew, and restore us at all times!
So, beloved children of GOD...those most precious in his sight, we are in that beloved relationship with the One who gives love and who is loved. We are loved more than we can ever imagine! From the beginning of time- GOD loves us- we are called to the loving relationship –
Remember, Agapetos also means “to speak of the loving activity of GOD to be accomplished through the Son”!
Jesus showed us what the loving activity of GOD looks like- he taught us how to forgive, how to pray, how to love our neighbor…GOD tells us we are precious to him, (notice he doesn’t say “perfect in his sight”), we are honored, and best of all, he says without holding back, without requiring anything from us, with reckless abandon, I.LOVE.YOU.”- All of His children are His Beloved.
So, here’s the thing:
In our case, (as beloved of children of God)God’s loving activity must be accomplished through us. That’s right. Not someone else. US.
So those doors to the world outside are going to open up wide in a few minutes, and we will be commissioned:
Commissioned to GO! Go! BELOVED CHILDREN OF GOD to BE LOVE out there and serve the LORD.