The Work of the Beloved: A Sermon for the Ordination and Installation of Deacons and Elders

It’s amazing, the many, many ways in which, it seems, we are chosen for the work of God’s Beloved.

It seems that some of us were chosen by virtue of being carried by a Godparent into a church, when we were still pink and new.

And it seems that some were chosen when we felt a nudge, a kind of wind at our backs, that tousled our hair and pushed us, one day, right into the door of a soup kitchen, or onto a Habitat for Humanity building site, or maybe, even, into a church.

Some of us were chosen, it seems, by a tragedy that drove us to our knees.

And others of us were chosen, it seems, by a joy that pierced us, and made us throw our hands into the air in exultation, and wonder at the sheer goodness of the universe.

Our scripture can be found here...

The goodness of the universe is very present in our scripture passage—so brief, just a few verses, but preceded in this gospel by event after event which points to Jesus as God’s chosen one, God’s Beloved. The gospel starts with a genealogy, a long list of God’s covenant people, all leading, inexorably to this one child. It continues with a disconcerting birth story, in which the young fiancée of a carpenter is pregnant, and he strongly considers canceling the wedding. And then, the birth of a child—the child!—who is paid homage by traveling wise men from another country, and who is sought by a jealous, murderous king. And then the child and his parents become refugees, fleeing a massacre for the safety of another country that isn’t their own. Finally, after the death of that king, the child comes home. And every movement of his story is connected with the words of the prophets.

Can you tell, yet, that he has been chosen?

The story races forward—we don’t get to see at least twenty-five years of his life. Yet, here in our passage, Jesus, that child-turned man, presents himself for baptism—just like every one of us did, or had done for us. When John the baptizer hesitates, seeming to get a sense that nothing will stand in the way of Jesus’ service of God, and baptism for him seems almost superfluous … Jesus is firm.

“Let it be. This is what is right.” And John dunks Jesus down into the roiling waters of the Jordan, and as he comes up, the universe agrees.

Let it be. This is what is right.

The heavens open, and the Spirit of God makes an appearance, and the voice of God resonates in the hearts and ears of anyone who is ready to hear:

This is my Child. My Beloved. My chosen one.

Those who will come forward in just a few minutes, to have their ministries among us recognized by the church, may feel that they learned that they were chosen by a conversation at coffee hour, or a phone call, from someone they don’t know particularly well, or whom they’ve known for a long, long time. “The committee has been talking about you, the committee has been praying for you.”

But the truth is: The history of your chosenness is just as long and complicated as Jesus’. You were chosen by God, even before you were born. Your frame was never hidden from God, even when you were being intricately woven together from your parents’ DNA. Your days, all of them, were written in God’s book, even before any of them existed (Ps. 139:15-16). The same goes for everyone in this room, in this world.

You are God’s child. You are God’s Beloved. Here, now, in this day, in this hour, you are God’s chosen one, chosen for the work of the Beloved.

And that is what you will be doing. You will be doing the work of letting the world know, bit by bit, in this gift of your time, in that careful preparation of the table, in this act of befriending the friendless, in that time of prayer and meditation: Your work, my work, the work of all the baptized, is to show the world that each precious person is God’s beloved.

The writer and artist Jan Richardson reflects on that word, and that state, its implications for Jesus and for us.

Beloved, the voice from heaven had proclaimed as the baptismal waters of the Jordan rolled off Jesus’ body. Beloved, the voice named him as he prepared to begin his public ministry. Beloved, spoken with such power that it would permeate Jesus’ entire life and teaching. Beloved, he would name those he met who were desperate for healing, for inclusion, for hope. Beloved, echoing through the ages, continuing to name those drenched in the waters of baptism. Beloved.  Child of God.

So let us do this work together.

Beloved, spoken for us with such power that it must permeate our whole lives.

Beloved, we will name those we know and those we meet who are desperate for healing, for inclusion, for hope and home.

Beloved, echoing through the ages, for all of us. Beloved. Children of God, doing the work of the Beloved.

Thanks be to God. Amen.