BIBLE READINGS: Isaiah 43:1-8 Acts 8:14-17 Luke 3:15-17
When I was the minister of Parramatta Mission I dealt with many people with mental disabilities. They have taught me a lot about what it means to be loved. Let me start by telling you that many of these people hear voices that tell them that they are no good, that they are a problem, that they are a burden, that they are a failure. They hear a voice that keeps saying, "If you want to be loved, you had better prove that you are worth loving. You must show it."
Sound familiar? These are voices we all hear from time to time – yet for many of these people they are loud and strident – overwhelming them. We all hear voices – perhaps the voice of some cruelty done to us in our past, maybe a teacher or a parent's voice telling us we will never be any good. Our challenge as we walk the path of Christian discipleship – is to learn to listen to another voice that says something else, that says, "You are the beloved and on you my favour rests."
You are the beloved and on you my favour rests.
Jesus heard that voice. He heard that voice when He came out of the Jordan River. I want you to hear that voice, too. It is a very important voice that says, "You are my beloved son; you are my beloved daughter. I love you with an everlasting love. I have moulded you together in the depths of the earth. I have knitted you in your mother's womb. I've written your name in the palm of my hand and I hold you safe in the shade of my embrace. I hold you. You belong to Me, and I belong to you. You are safe where I am. Don't be afraid. Trust that you are the beloved. That is who you truly are."
I want you to hear that voice. It is not a very loud voice because it is an intimate voice. It comes from a very deep place. It is soft and gentle. I want you to gradually hear that voice. We both have to hear that voice and to claim for ourselves that that voice speaks the truth, our truth. It tells us who we are. That is where the spiritual life starts - by claiming the voice that calls us the beloved.
So how do we live the life of the beloved? There are four words that come from the gospels, words that are used in the story of the Last Supper. Those words are: He took, He blessed, He broke, and He gave.
To be taken, to be blessed, to be broken and to be given is the summary of the life of Jesus who was taken, who was blessed by God, broken on the cross, and given to the world. It is also the summary of our life because just like Jesus, we are the beloved.
First, we are taken. Perhaps a better word would be chosen. We are chosen by God. That means we are seen by God as precious, as individuals. We are seen as precious in God's eyes.
In our world, when one is chosen it means for the others, "Too bad for us, we are not chosen." In God's mystery, being chosen doesn't mean excluding anyone. In fact, the more we know we are chosen, that we are are precious, the more we will realize that our friends and all people are precious to God.
One of the most amazing things about my work at Parramatta mission was how grateful people were because I showed them some attention. These people sometimes have a very hard time believing they are chosen. They suffer, not so much from their mental handicap, but from the feeling of being not wanted, not desired. They have lost touch with the truth that they are chosen. It is hard for them to be in touch with that, precisely because often the people around them have said, "I don't want you around. I don't want you to be here. Why don't you go away?"
The life of the beloved starts by trusting that we are chosen, that we are unique in God's eyes, loved and precious.
The second word to help us live as God's beloved is that we are blessed. It is so important that we experience that we are blessed. The word benediction means blessing. Literally, bene means good and diction means saying. To bless someone means to say good things about them. "You are good." We need to know that good things are being said of us. We really have to trust that, otherwise we cannot bless other people. So many people don't feel blessed.
At Parramatta Mission, every Wednesday I held a open door Communions Service – people off the streets, office workers – anyone could come and have communion and then I would spend time in prayers for healing and anointing people with oil – as a sign of the Holy Spirit's work in their lives. One time a very dirty street person came to me after the service and asked for prayer. He suffered from physical and mental problems that left him without much hope. He asked me to pray to God because he could not. He was not worthy. I prayed, but I also told him that he was worthy in God's eyes. I anointed him with oil and told him that as he smelt the perfumed oil, he would remember that God was close to him and loved him. He cried and hugged me. He became a regular attender of our service – his background was orthodox – and he kept giving me little religious gifts – he would save his money and buy me a gift – an icon, a statue – he also told his friends on the street about our service. Others came and took communion and were prayed for.
It is very important that when we are in touch with our blessedness that we can then bless other people. People need our blessing; people need to know that their brothers and sisters bless them.
Then we are broken. We are broken people. You and I know that we are broken. A lot of our brokenness has to do with relationships. What is it that makes us suffer? It's always because someone couldn't hold onto us or someone hurt us. Each of us can point to a brokenness in our relationships with our husband, with our wife, with our father, our mother, with our children, with our friends, with our lovers. Wherever there is love, there is also pain. Wherever there are people who really care for us, there is also the pain of sometimes not being cared for enough. That is enormous.
What do we do with our brokenness? As the beloved of God we have to dare to embrace it, to befriend our own brokenness, not to say, "That should not be in my life. Let's just get away from it. Let's get back on track."
No. We dare to embrace our brokenness, to befriend it and to really look at it. "Yes, I am hurting. Yes, I am wounded. Yes, it's painful." We don't have to be afraid. We can look at our pain because in a very mysterious way our wounds are often a window on the reality of our lives. If we dare to embrace them, then we can put them under the blessing. That is the great challenge.
Quite often we want to solve people's problems and tell them to do this or to do that, that we will help them out and let's get over it. The main task we have is to put our brokenness and the brokenness of the people with whom we live under the blessing. If you live your brokenness under the curse, even a little brokenness can destroy your life. It is like an affirmation that you are no good and suddenly you say, "You see what has happened? I lost my job. This friend didn't speak to me. He rejected me." We can hold on to it and see it proven that we are no good. We always thought so.
The great call is to put our brokenness under the blessing, to live it as people of whom good things are being said.
If we live our life as people who are taken, blessed and broken, then we can give ourselves. We are taken, blessed and broken to be given. This may sound a little strange, but our greatest human desire is to give ourselves. Quite often we say that we want to have a lot for ourselves then we will give a little bit. No, the greatest fulfilment of our heart is in the giving, to give ourselves. It is letting go. The mystery is that as we let go for others our lives start bearing fruit. That is a great mystery.
Jesus says, "It is good for you that I die because when I die I can give you my spirit and you will bear much fruit in your life." That is the final call, to give ourselves.
Some time ago I was at the side of a man dying of cancer. He was holding onto his life and he said, "I don't want to die." Gradually, he was able to let go. On the last day of his life he called his wife and children and embraced each of them and said, "I love you. I love you."
It was clear he was ready to let go. When he died, suddenly there was light for his wife and children because somehow he had given himself to them even as he was leaving them. Today they are still able to say, "Thank you for the life of our father – my husband." His life will be more and more fruitful because he gave himself, even in death.
When we are people who are chosen by God - blessed, broken - we can give ourselves to others. Our life can bear immense fruit. The people who have lived as the beloved, continue to bear fruit generations after they have died. When we think about certain great people in history, they still give us life. They still give us hope because their lives became fruitful, fruitful in the giving.
Remember the story of a little boy - he had little, but, he had five loaves and five fishes. This little boy was received by Jesus and He took these five loaves and five fishes. He broke the bread after having blessed it, and He gave it, and in giving it multiplied and it was enough for everyone to eat.
That story says something about our lives. We are little people, but if we believe that we are chosen, that we are blessed, that we are broken, to be given, then we can trust that our life will bear fruit. It will multiply. Not only in this life, but beyond it. Many, many people will find strength by knowing that they are being given new life by those who lived as the beloved and they can become the beloved themselves.