Sermon from January 9, 2011
(Epiphany 1 – Year A)
Matthew 3: 13-17
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas
The first movie I ever saw in my life in a movie theater was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
I must have been about three or four years old when I first saw Snow White.
Snow White is the story of a beautiful woman who takes refuge in a tiny little cabin with seven little dwarfs.
The names of the seven dwarfs are:
Sneezy, Sleepy, Dopey, Doc, Happy, Grumpy, and Bashful.
And the names of each of the seven dwarfs correlate with what each of the dwarfs do.
Sneezy is always sneezing all the time.
Sleepy can never keep his eyes open.
And Grumpy is scowling in the corner.
People and characters are often named because of what they do.
My mother went to an all-girls school for high school.
At this all-girls school, my mother, whose real name is Nancy, was given a nickname.
At school, my mother was named Peppy, because it was descriptive of the girl who was the ringleader for most of the fun and lively shenanigans on campus.
For many, many years, my mother went by Peppy, until finally, as a young married woman, she retook her given name of Nancy back.
What we name ourselves – and what others name us – has a lot to do with how we are perceived by others and how we think of ourselves.
At the very beginning of his earthly ministry, Jesus goes to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist.
After Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan, the heavens are opened, the Spirit of God descends on Jesus, and a voice from heaven says:
“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
At the very beginning of his earthly ministry, Jesus receives a name, a name that describes who Jesus is – and not what Jesus does.
Jesus receives a name, as the voice from heaven says:
“This is my Son, the Beloved.”
The voice from heaven, if you notice, does not give Jesus a name that describes what he does.
The voice from heaven does not say:
This is my Son, the Teacher or the Healer.
No, instead, the voice from heaven proclaims:
“This is my Beloved.”
Because at the very beginning, at the foundation, we are loved for who we are, rather than what we do.
Today, we are baptizing Victoria Margaret Davis.
Victoria will be baptized in water just as Jesus was.
Victoria will be united with Christ in his death, so that she will be united with Christ in his resurrection.
And in her baptism, Victoria will receive a name.
Certainly, she will be named by her parents as Victoria Margaret.
Yet I also believe that a voice will come from heaven, giving her a different name.
The voice from heaven will name her, saying:
“This is my daughter, the Beloved, in whom I am well-pleased.”
At the very beginning of her earthly ministry, Victoria is named for who she is, as God’s beloved child, long before she has a chance to be named something else based on what she does.
Because long before Victoria goes off to school and the kids on the playground give her a nickname,
She is named Beloved.
Long before she brings boys home and her father, Jesse, cross-examines them,
She is named Beloved.
Long before she messes up and falls short of the glory of God,
She is named Beloved.
Because at the very beginning, at the foundation, we are loved by God for who we are, rather than what we do.
When I was in my mid-30s, I read a book that had a huge impact on my life.
The book is called “The Return of the Prodigal Son” and it is written by Henri Nouwen.
Henri Nouwen was a Roman Catholic priest who died in 1996.
In this book, Nouwen meditates on a Rembrandt painting of the Return of the Prodigal Son.
The Return of the Prodigal Son is a story that is told by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke.
It is a story about two different sons.
The younger son goes away and lives a foolish life, squandering all of his father’s inheritance.
The younger son therefore receives the nicknames:
“Bad Boy” and “Irresponsible.”
The older son, instead, stays at home with his father to manage the family business.
The older son receives the nicknames:
“Good Boy” and “Dutiful.”
Yet, when the younger son returns home repentant into his father’s embrace, both sons have an epiphany.
The two boys then realize that their Father does not care so much about what his sons do.
Instead they realize that their father loves both of his boys equally,
Because their father has given each of them a name.
The father has named both of his sons:
I suppose that the book “The Return of the Prodigal Son” has spoken to me so deeply, because the words of Henri Nouwen call me to hear the voice of my heavenly Father, calling me his beloved son.
You see, when I first read this book, I had believed that I was named:
“Conservative Accountant” and “Suburban Dad” and “Fearful of Change.”
Yet, in my own life since that time, I have constantly tried to reorient my thinking and my heart, to hear the father’s voice from heaven telling me that I am loved, not because of what I do, but because of who I am as God’s son.
And for me, when I try to experience times of silent prayer, I try to not get caught up in the mechanics of ‘doing prayer’ –
But instead, in prayer, I try to simply ‘be’ –
To simply rest in God’s presence, to simply listen for God’s voice, calling me his beloved.
For prayer can be as simple as recalling the voice of your Father that was spoken at your baptism, saying,
“This is my son, this is my daughter, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Therefore, your name is not based on what you do,
But your name is based on whose you are.
Your name is not Grumpy or Sleepy or Dopey or Peppy.
Your name is not Lazy or Stupid or Messy or Drunk.
Your name is not even Skinny or Smart or Stylish or Successful.
Your name…is Beloved.