Singular and Plural: Beloved - Reflections 1-10-19

Texts for Sunday, January 13, 2019
Baptism of Our Lord


Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
Acts 8:14-17
Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22




In the fall of 1991, 
I went on a three-month sabbatical. The congregation to which I was called at the time had a policy that offered a sabbatical after 7 years of service. 

A couple of caveats: We needed to spend at least some of the time examining something that could benefit the congregation and we needed to remain in our position for 2 years following the sabbatical (or pay back the salary you got while you were gone).

For the first weeks, I headed to the east coast.  I attended a personal silent retreat, a professional development conference, and a group spirituality retreat.  I drove out in my car since I was moving between events and locations. All were wonderful events in different ways, that filled my heart and soul with thoughts and hopes and prayers. I was a little homesick. I had never been away from my husband and daughter that long. 

As I headed home, my route took me across the Blue Ridge Mountains. At the highest point of the highway there was, of course, an overlook of the foothills and valleys below. Standing there, taking in the beauty of the scene with mind and heart filled with so much to still process, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of being completely alone. All this beauty and all this “stuff” – and I was just standing there alone. I started crying and pretty much cried my way across Kentucky and Indiana. I took a photo at that overlook and to this day when I look at it, I can feel the utter desolation of being alone.

The second part of my journey included a trip to a conference center and classes on the west coast. This time my family went along with me. The three of us shared the beauty of the Black Hills, the Rockies (scenic look outs included), and the wildernesses of Wyoming and western Washington. There was plenty of time to talk about God things and interior things with my husband as we drove. And some delicious silence of companions on the road. My weeks with my family made the final two weeks away after that quite bearable at my old seminary with a built-in “sojourner together” character anyway.  

I share all this to get to the point that people were created for relationship and belonging. We deeply yearn for connection and acceptance. These relationships are with God and as well with others who often bring God’s presence to us in the flesh. 

In our Isaiah text for Sunday, God says “I have called you by name, you are mine,” “do not fear for I am with you”. When I first hear those phrases, I immediately hear them as a singular pronoun “you”. Those intimate, tender and explicit words comfort, strengthen, encourage and gladden my heart. 

I recognize that the original “you” in this passage is a plural pronoun, addressed to God's people in exile. But, being a part of God’s beloved and ever-accompanied people still comforts and gladdens me. We are loved alongside others “with skin on” who can deliver God’s love to us.

In the Gospel, Luke describes Jesus’ baptism by John. In it, Jesus - and the crowd - hear God proclaim love and favor with this person in the water. God so loved the world that this one was given to us; God so loved this one that he wanted to world to know.

Henri Nouwen, priest and author, claimed that God’s announcement “You are my beloved” at Jesus’ baptism is said to us as well.
There is that voice, the voice that speaks from above and from within and that whispers softly or declares loudly: “You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.” It certainly is not easy to hear that voice in a world filled with voices that shout: You are no good, you are ugly; you are worthless; you are despicable, you are nobody—unless you can demonstrate the opposite.” 
- Henri J.M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World

Is it hard to hear God’s voice? Is it hard to believe God’s voice? 

God’s voice comes, calling you by name, calling you honored and precious. God’s people speak in community of God’s love, God’s promise, and God’s commitment; the baptismal liturgy is where you can hear those promises and commitments most clearly.

You are God’s beloved. You are never utterly alone.
You can take that to the bank – as both singular and plural pronouns.

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Written by Pam Larabee-Zierath


Gathered by Grace, Scattered for Service
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