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God’s Universe-transforming Whisper to Us

January 19, 2013

I read recently these words by Mary Ann Bird from her memoir entitled The Whisper Test:

I grew up knowing I was different, and I hated it. I was born with a cleft palate, and when I started to go to school, my classmates – who were constantly teasing – made it clear to me how I looked to others: a little girl with a misshapen lip, crooked nose, lopsided teeth, and hollow and somewhat garbled speech.

When my schoolmates asked, “What happened to your lip?” I’d tell them that I’d fallen as a baby and cut it on a piece of glass. Somehow it seemed more acceptable to have suffered an accident than to have been born different. By the age of seven I was convinced that no one outside my own family could ever love me. Or even like me.

And then I entered the second grade, and Mrs. Leonard’s class. She was round and pretty and fragrant, with chubby arms and shining brown hair and warm dark eyes that smiled even on the rare occasions when her mouth didn’t. Everyone adored her.

The time came for the annual “hearing tests” given at our school. I was barely able to hear anything out of one ear, and was not about to reveal yet another problem that would single me out as different. And so I cheated. I had learned to watch other children and raised my hand when they did during group testing. The “whisper test” however, required a different kind of deception: Each child would go to the door of the classroom, turn sideways, close one ear with a finger, and the teacher would whisper something from her desk, which the child would repeat. Then the same thing was done for the other ear. I had discovered in kindergarten that nobody checked to see how tightly the untested ear was being covered, so I merely pretended to block mine.

As usual, I was last, but all through the testing I wondered what Mrs. Leonard might say to me. I knew from previous years that she whispered things like “The sky is blue” or “Do you have new shoes?”

My turn came up. I turned my bad ear to her plugging up the other solidly with my finger, then gently backed my finger out enough to be able to hear. I waited and then the words that God had surely put into her mouth, seven words that changed my life forever.

Mrs. Leonard, the pretty, fragrant teacher I adored, said softly, “I wish you were my little girl.”

This story touches my heart. It speaks about the power, the fundamental importance, of being chosen, beloved.

And being chosen, beloved, is what our passages from Holy Scripture are about today.

First, in today’s Gospel, Jesus joins those who are being Baptized by John in the Jordan River. He begins his public ministry in a way that identifies with us, that says that he chooses us. Jesus came to share life – to share our life, his life with us. He says to us, “You are my beloved.”

And to this act, the Heavenly Father responds, saying to Jesus: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” These words combine Isaiah 42 and Psalm 2, the Suffering Servant, who takes on the pain of his people, and the glorious King, for Jesus is both.

Luke says that when this took place, “Heaven was opened.” Matthew says it was “torn apart.” This speaks to me of the delight of the Father! As a friend of mine used to paraphrase this passage, it’s as if the Father exclaims, “That’s My Boy!”

And then, Luke writes about the activity of the Holy Spirit: “the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.” So we see in Jesus’ Baptism the life of the Trinity. It reminds us that our identity as beloved child of God is to be caught up into the very Divine Life of God.

[This is how I understand the words in Matthew 28:19 about “baptizing … in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The Greek word translated “in” by NRSV is eis (into), not en (in). Often in the New Testament, eis is used interchangeably with en, but not in Matthew. So I would argue that the sense of movement should probably be included in the English translation (the NIV margin does give “into” as an alternate).]

Jesus shares God’s Divine Life with us, as we are drawn into his own Baptism. We are buried with him in his death, and then rise up with his new life within us, coursing through our veins (see Romans 6:4-5 and Colossians 2:12). As Galatians 2:20 says, it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. Our life is now inextricably bound up in his: we are in him, and he is in us, for evermore. This is the fundamental identity of Rowan and Victory, who are being Baptized today – and it is our fundamental identity, too.

This makes all the difference in our lives. It is so easy to be filled with fear, to be overwhelmed with existence. We are such small fish in such a big ocean! But what if this ocean is God’s love for us? I love the cover of today’s Order of Service. The face of the infant in the arms of the child’s mother say it all, a face enwrapped in wonder, in trust. It reminds me of today’s Psalm: “And in the temple of the Lord, all are crying, “Glory!” When we trust in God the way this child is trusting in this mother, then we can see life as it is – a wonderful, exciting journey ever-deeper into the life of the God who is love.

In Ephesians 3:14-17, the Apostle Paul, again bearing witness to the activity of the Holy Trinity, writes:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father … I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.

This is where we get the title for our “Grounded in God’s Love” Video Series, which we are showing to begin the year precisely because the Apostle Paul’s prayer is our own. We pray that all of us – every single member of our Parish family, and indeed every single person on the planet – may be caught up into the Divine Life of the Trinity, so that all that we do – whatever fruit we bear – may come from God’s life flowing within us, from our roots’ going down deep into God’s unfathomable love for us. We pray that all of us may hear the voice of God whisper to our most fundamental identity: that we are chosen; the beloved children of God.

Amen.

(This is adapted from the beginning of the sermon at our January 13 Services.)

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