January 12, 2020

I Love You; I Forgive You; Supper’s Ready
of Jesus, Epiphany 1, Year A
Becky Robbins-Penniman


Over 20 years ago, in a sermon by a Lutheran Bishop, Cal Holloway, he related that a national poll had asked, “What words do you most want to hear said to you?” The 3 phrases that led the pack were, in order of popularity: “I love you.” “I forgive you.” “Supper is ready.”

“I love you.” . . . powerful words indeed – words that actually create a new reality when we hear them; they change our status to that of “beloved.” To be truly loved is a pure gift, not something we earn, or win like a prize. This is important to the story of the baptism of Jesus because, so far, he hasn’t really done anything except be born, be a refugee in Egypt, and return. In fact, 2½ chapters into Matthew, Jesus has yet to say a syllable. The first words he utters in this gospel are Allow me to be baptized. This is necessary to fulfill all righteousness.

“Baptize” is a word plopped untranslated from the Greek, like both “angel” and “Eucharist.” “Baptize” means, literally, to dip. Not all that interesting a word, actually. The significance of asking being baptized, however, is huge: it takes two. Just as we can’t kiss ourselves on the lips (or on the elbow, for that matter) we can’t baptize ourselves; it is done with and by another person. In Christianity, being dipped is what we ask to be done to us to make public proclamation of faith, of submission to God’s will. That’s what being “righteousness” means – to do God’s will in our lives. The first words Jesus hears after committing to do God’s will are that he is a beloved son, and that the Father is finds happiness in him.

Was he beloved BECAUSE he had done God’s will? Nope; remember, Jesus hasn’t done a thing yet. The Heavenly Father loves Jesus because that’s what kind of God we have. But the hearing the words “I love you” directly does make a difference. I believe hearing the words were terribly important to Jesus from then on; indeed, the word “love” resounds throughout his ministry. Jesus emphasizes love over and over again loving God, loving each other, loving ourselves, That love, divine love that serves the beloved, begins with God. As one of the letters of John puts it, we can love because God first loved us. In baptism, we are responding to God’s call to love as God loves; by submitting to God’s will for us, which is to live in unity with God…

For the full sermon text, click HERE.

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