Scripture: Matthew 4:1-11
Before he began any ministry, Jesus was baptized–and as he came up from the water, the Holy Spirit came down like a dove and rested on him. And with the Spirit, a voice:
‘You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.’
All this happened before Jesus did a thing for God.
Years ago I served a beautiful church in South Boston. A community a lot like ours in many ways–people from every background, every circumstance gathered together in sincere, imperfect love for God and neighborhood and one another. And every year we would have a special service remembering Jesus’ baptism and after the message the pastor would call everyone forward and anoint our heads with oil and say over us the words that God spoke over Jesus:
You are my beloved child, with you I am well pleased.
People would come undone–weeping uncontrollably in joy and relief. It was so beautiful and holy and I knew it was as faithful. I knew it was true, but I didn’t understand how it could be.
I loved those people so deeply, but I knew them–almost as well as I knew myself. How could God be pleased with us–when we were still such a mess? Love us–sure, but be pleased with us? Not just pleased, but well pleased? How can that be…surely we have more work to do, more growing to accomplish first.
And even if it is somehow true, surely it can’t be good for us to hear it now?
But what we see in Jesus’ story–both in his baptism and in the season of temptation he endured just after–is that we cannot grow, we cannot heal, we cannot even begin to join the work of Jesus and we cannot resist the forces that pull us from God, until we know that God is well pleased with us. Until we believe that we are beloved–right now, right where we are. Our right beginning is in being with God–not in doing for God. Being–resting, rejoicing–in God’s loving voice calling us beloved, astonishing us with the revelation that when God beholds us, God is well pleased with us.
Until we know this, we know nothing of God.
Until we believe this, we can do nothing for God.
This Lent we are allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us Into the Shadows–to face the things we run from, to confront the powers that overwhelm us. And if we are brave (may God give us the grace to be brave), we will learn that God is in the shadows as much as in the bright. And in the shadows we will find a deeper, richer, stronger, healthier faith in Christ.
P.S. If you’d like to learn more about ‘being before doing,’ one of the truths a season in the shadows reveals to us–check out this podcast by Pete Scazzaro.
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