Sunday, January 07, 2007


Last year on November 9th, after a long autumn of organizing and struggle, after a day of witnessing that began before dawn, and after the narrow but final vote to recess the Constitutional Convention, I confess, I celebrated like never before. Walking across the Common I was heady with victory. After months of work with MassEquality, legislative allies and supportive clergy, I believed them when they said, “The fight for marriage equality is over!” And so, I went to dinner, celebrated and rested on the laurels of a purported triumph.

Over the next few days confirmation of the victory appeared in headlines and emails declaring, “The War on Marriage Is Over,” “It is finished,” and “Romney Doesn’t Have a Prayer.” Even after it looked as though the Vote On Marriage was mounting unprecedented support, still the leaders of our movement assured us this was nothing to worry about.

Yet, just a few days ago, after a two month onslaught of letters and calls to the State House in opposition to equal marriage, after dozens of rallies and demonstrations by anti-gay activists, and after a controversial ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court stating that the legislature has a moral duty to vote on the merits of the issue, marriage equality supporters stood outside the State House wondering how we never saw this coming.

Even as the votes were being counted, many of us could not believe our eyes. This was not supposed to happen. We were supposed to adjourn. This was supposed to be a matter of mere procedure. The vote was never to take place. We trusted our legislative allies who assured us that they would adjourn and the measure would be killed once and for all. The heaviness of the defeat that weighed on us all felt even more burdensome under the pain of a betrayed trust. This time instead of leaving the State House buoyed by joy, we left feeling vulnerable and abandoned by those we trusted most.

It is easy to find ourselves disappointed by the broken promises of others, isn’t it? Mary Poppins calls them cookie crumb promises, easily made and easily broken. While most of us never make these promises intent to disappoint, the fact of the matter is that human nature is finite and fragile. Despite our best intentions sometimes we just cannot keep the promises we make.

Henry Nouwen, priest and theologian, struggled his entire life with these feelings of disappointment in the promises of others. As a closeted Catholic priest he yearned for an intimacy and honesty in his relationships he could never truly have. As he struggled with his own disappointment, hopelessness and depression, he came to understand that all human love, no matter how great or well intended always comes up short. While there are those who love us in the world, the truth is that the people who love us do not always love us well. The people that care most about us often are the very ones who wound us the deepest. Our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, our teachers, mentors and even our churches, despite their love and desire to care for us, hurt us. Nouwen understood that the only place we can find the one true, deep authentic love is in and from the Divine. It is the first Love, the one true Love, the Divine Love we know in and through God.

Nouwen saw this love bestowed on all of humanity as related in the story we read today from scripture of Jesus’ baptism. Jesus’ baptism is indeed one of the dramatic, moving stories of our gospels. The text tells us the heavens parted, a dove descended and a beautiful voice rang out declaring, “You are the Beloved, the one with whom I am well pleased.” If we can let our minds wander into the mythic realm for just a moment and imagine that happening before our eyes, we find ourselves awed at such a public and grandiose declaration of love from one to the other. If you feel comfortable, close your eyes, for just a moment and imagine what it might have felt like.

If we linger in the world of imagination just a bit longer, we can even begin to sense what it might have felt like to be the object of that declaration ourselves. We can imagine what it must have felt like for the Spirit to descend and envelop us, to be embraced with warmth and love, and to hear our names declared Beloved by the Divine. Imagine. Just imagine.

For Nouwen, and for us as United Methodists, we believe that this mark of belovedness was
not just reserved for Jesus. All of us have been chosen by God as the Beloved and we recognize
and remember that through our ritual of baptism. Although we confess that with or without
baptism we are each known as the Beloved by God, it is this symbol of baptism which helps us
rehearse that identity, because we know how easy it is to forget who weare in the world.
Baptism is the outward sign and symbol of God’s grace poured out upon us as we are
incorporated into Christ’s Body as the Beloved. From eternity to eternity we have already
been redeemed by God, for it was God who knit us, knew us, named us in our mothers’ womb.
Baptism rehearses that reality for us as it marks us, names us and claims us, just like the Spirit
did that day to Jesus at the Jordan, proclaiming that we too are indeed God’s beloved children.

For many of us, our baptism happened when we were but infants leaving us with only the constructed memories of stories families tell. And so, to remember and rehearse our identity as God’s Beloved, periodically in the Church we reaffirm our baptism. Some of us do this weekly as mark ourselves with water from the font, others of us do it when we recommit ourselves in covenant with the Divine, and still others of us do it in a formal rite of reaffirmation, like the one we are invited to later in this service. We do this because we understand how easy it is to forget who we are. The world wears on our Divine identity making us believe we are less than in so many ways…we don’t have the right things, we don’t do the right things, we don’t please the right people. All of us at one time or another have felt the world chip away at our Belovedness. And, so, in remembrance of who God created us to be, we remember and reaffirm our baptism.

The love we claim in baptism is unfailing not just because it bestows upon us an external,
objective love and grace from the Divine, but also, and perhaps, even more importantly,
because it instills within us a deep understanding of who we are, an identity that root us
and grounds us, an identity that nurtures and encourages us, an identity that strengthens
and steels us, unleashing a power we knew not we possessed.
Jesus knew that he was the beloved child of God through his baptism and it was this knowledge
on which he hung his entire life and ministry.
Jesus’ identity as the Beloved was that which
sustained and strengthened him throughout his life. It is this fundamental identity that gave
Jesus the courage to engage in his prophetic and radical ministry that we read about in the
Gospels, a ministry and message that was so threatening to those in power that
they sought to silence it.
Just as Jesus drew strength and courage from God’s love, so also can we. It is this same unfailing,
unconditional love from God that sustains us through all the broken promises and struggles of
our lives, renewing our energies when we think we can go no further. It is from this deep well of
passion that we draw our strength to continue with God along the path Jesus laid out for us to
bring forth God’s reign of peace and justice despite the many barriers to that reality.
When we open ourselves to the presence of the Holy Spirit, moving and dwelling in and through
our lives, we like Jesus, will feel that Spirit of Love grow in us, declaring us as the Beloved,
the ones with whom God is well pleased and from that conviction we will draw strength
for our journeys.
Take a moment, and know the word of God. Know God’s word to us, not with our heads, but
with our hearts, our souls, our guts, that we are the beloved children of God. Think about it.

We are the Beloved with whom God is well pleased.

You are the Beloved with whom God is well pleased.
God tells us "Do not fear. I have redeemed you. I have called you by name and you are mine.
Because you are precious in my sight and honored and I love you I will give anything in exchange
for you. Even before you were formed in my womb, I loved you. I had your name written on
the palm of my hand. You are my beloved child and with you I am well pleased.
I want us to be able to know that word that comes to us from eternity to all eternity telling us
that we are all the beloved children of God, because once we know that word and believe in
that word we can be freed to love ourselves and each other. We can be freed to see the truth
of our identity as children of God and draw strength and courage from that Divine Love.
God's love for us grounds our whole being in this world. When we act from and live from this
center our lives are enriched and whatever happens in the world, good or bad, does not deter
us from knowing that we are beloved by God first and foremost. The pain of life does not go
away but becomes a way for us to live out our belovedness. Yes, we will have pain, yes we will
feel rejected and hurt, yes we will be sad and face depression, isolation and loneliness, but we
will face all of these things with the knowledge that we are the beloved children of God.

When we seek perfect love from an imperfect world we will always be disappointed. All the loves of this world are partial, limited and painful, yet when we are grounded in God's great love for us we become free to live as the beloved, and love as the beloved. When we claim our belovedness, when we begin to live our belovedness, when we come to believe in our belovedness, we become as free as Jesus to love, minister to and care for the broken world around us.

Leaving the State House Tuesday, hope seemed elusive. Yet, as I approached the Park Street T stop, I saw a circle of lights flickering in the evening darkness. At first I thought it was a celebration rally for our marriage opponents, but the mood was too somber for that. The circle was small, a paltry number compared to the hundreds on both sides who had spent the day at the State House advocating for and against marriage. But despite their small numbers their candles cut through the darkness with a silent brightness.

Their signs were hard to read from afar but as I drew nearer I saw the numbers, 3000, 650,000 and I knew at once why they were there. It was a vigil for the 3000th US soldier to die in Iraq and for the countless Iraqis who fell victim to the war. Those who had gathered were the parents of soldiers and veterans of wars gone by. As they held pictures of loved ones lost and messages of peace, their faces shone with courage and hope. Even in the midst of a seemingly endless war, with no sign of retreat, these parents and veterans vigiled with a hope still alive that peace might one day be a reality. Despite the ever growing number of casualties and the insensitivity of the government to halt the violence, this small group stood amidst the hustle bustle of evening commuters and offered a vision of peace and hope in the darkness of the night.

I stopped and joined the small circle. Surveying the small crowd, I realized that ours is the same struggle and the same hope. Together we work for justice in all parts of our world and together we draw from the same well of strength and sustenance. It is the Divine love showered upon us and awakened in each of us that allows us to confront the injustices and horrors of the world. It is our identity as the Beloved in which our courage is rooted and from which we draw our strength.

Take heart, find courage, and journey on with the strength God has given you, for “You are the Beloved, the one with whom God is well pleased.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

what an interesting post. divine love is so universal. you may find this article about divine love at interesting also.