Passage: Isaiah 43:1-3; Mark 1:9-14
Date: August 12, 2018
Preacher: Rev Laurie M. Newman
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“Love. . . the Gospel in a word is ‘love.’ Love your neighbor as yourself, for God loves all.”
One of the many things I love about Westminster is the caring that you have extended to me over the years. I know that for many people coming into a large church, it can take a while before feeling like you’ve found a place, friends, and home. But as all the six other pastors I’ve worked with here have affirmed, Westminster is especially good at loving her pastors. A few years back, when I was going through the deep waters of divorce, you were remarkably kind and sensitive. When at times I was drowning in worry and grief, I would receive a kind word, a card, a hug, and understanding from you. I know you were praying for us. In those actions, you were the voice, the arms, the smile, the love of Jesus to me and my family. I can remember quite vividly, in that time, the realization that I was beloved of God, and this community helped me to feel that, from the inside out.
God, through the prophet Isaiah, said: “Don’t fear. . . I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. . .when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God. . .”
Today, the air is smoky with fires that are burning throughout the West. Earlier this summer, there were floods in Japan, India, and Bangladesh. In Denver, they experienced such violent, large hailstones that hail killed several zoo animals and sent some people to emergency rooms. As we see the impact of our changing climate, we are literally walking through flood and fire.
And we are flooded with discord and fears. We weep for the hundreds of refugee and immigrant children and their parents, still separated. Today is the one-year anniversary of the white supremacist rally and death of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville. With every protest, we fear that violence will erupt.Someone said that every morning, we wake up to news and hear something that we never thought to worry about before.
We ache for good news, don’t we?
Today we celebrate God’s blessing in baptism. Particularly on this Sunday, I wonder—how do we see and point out God’s love in a world that seems to be moving toward catastrophe? Sometimes, we feel more cursed than blessed. We wade through deep waters of loss. We walk through the fire of rejection, loneliness, conflict, and depression. When we listen to voices around us, we hear blame and anger.
The Biblical word for spreading the good news of God’s love is: evangel, from which we have evangelical. But, today, even the word evangelical is tarnished. Many non-Christians associate Christianity with narrow, judgmental hypocrisy. We may feel like victims of a world we can’t change. How do we share the good news of God’s love when the very word is being abused? The curses may be loud and boisterous, but here is the truth: You are a beloved child of God. You are blessed.
In just a few minutes, we are going to baptize baby Alexander Pugatch and welcome him into our family of faith. His entrance into this world, as with the birth of every baby, is a joyful miracle! Every baptism is a reminder that not only are we the children of our parents, but we are also God’s own beloved, created in God’s image.
Friends: from the time of Isaiah, when the people were in mourning and in exile from their home, to this burning summer day: You are God’s beloved, and blessed.
Today, I’m remembering the life of a member here, who was a most wonderful model of living a blessing.You may have known Penny Shuping. Tomorrow will mark seven years since she died. Penny was born with Down’s Syndrome. She lived a much longer life than many with that syndrome. She lived life as fully as possible. She was a joyful, compassionate young woman who had a way of greeting you with such joy.“You came back!” she’d say. She was confident. She saw herself as beautiful, sassy, and sexy. She was happy with her life. She knew she was beloved. She brought out the best in people. She made you feel loved and appreciated. Her sense of being loved enabled her to bless others.
I’ll never forget one of my first meetings with Penny. The youth group was Christmas caroling at Penny’s home. We had split into several groups, so as to reach more people. There were only five of us in our caroling group. We were pretty basic in our choice of Christmas carols: O Come All Ye Faithful, Silent Night, Joy to the World. We sang those carols and then asked Penny, do you have any requests? Without missing a beat, she said, “Would you sing the Hallelujah chorus?”
We declined because only two of us knew it, but Penny made us feel like we could—AND do it well and joyfully! She blessed us because she knew her own beloved-ness. And friends, that is the good news. Hallelujah!
Sadly, some of us did not get the love we needed in our early years from our parents. That makes the journey toward Love more challenging. But, that’s why we are here, together. God calls us to claim our place in the body of Christ. To know healing love and Christ’s affection. Jesus showed us that we have the power of love, to bless one another from our brokenness. To heal. To bind up what is broken.To set the captive free. Even to experience new life from death. The deep truth is that everything we live, be it joy or pain, health or illness, gladness or despair, can all be a part of the journey toward our being fully human. When we feel our beloved-ness, we can then extend the blessing to others. Our caring makes the broken places our gateway to joy. (For more on this, see Henri J.M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved:Spiritual Living in a Secular World.1992, Crossroad, NY.)
In the past, I have sung a song I wrote lyrics to around the time of divorce. I was listening to an instrumental version of the Irish tune “Down by the Sallie Gardens.” And as I listened, words came to me that felt as though they were God’s voice to me, and a message to share.
You Are My Beloved
Though the way is unclear, I am with you.When the road seems long, I am here.
In the dark of your doubts, I am with you.When you wake in the night, I am here.
Refrain:I have loved you from the beginning.I will love you as others come and go.
You are indeed my beloved. So rest, be still and know.
When your heart truly aches with its longing; when your mind is too tired to care.
When despair clouds your thoughts, I am with you.When the sun breaks through, I am there.
When you struggle with hope disappointed; when the judgment of others makes dim.
It’s the place where the heart has been broken that makes space for light to come in.