Baptized Beloved

We are finding, in our new way of being church, that we want to get better at understanding and telling our story.  We have these wonderful experiences of worship - or awkward choppy ones - and wish we did a better job of recording and sharing what they were so we can learn and grow from them.  And there is no way to capture the spirit of the other night.  But for the sake of growing in our ability to tell our story, here is a picture of our worship on Saturday, Jan. 9.

Last night we held our Sabbath service around the theme of baptism.  We used Isaiah 43:1-7, God’s words to a hopeless and abandoned Israel, and Luke’s version of Jesus’ baptism. Before Jesus can begin his public ministry, just before he is sent into the wilderness and struggles against temptation, and in his first appearance since his childhood disappearing act in the temple while his frantic parents searched for him is this moment: this moment that defines him, that sets the trajectory, starts his vocation, affirms his calling, defines his ministry, this moment when God says, “This is my Son, the beloved, I am so pleased in him.”
Before we talk about what you will do, or not do, or what you will see or feel or fear or fail at or stand firm against, before we talk about your worthiness or your powerful message or your calling or your contribution – before all of it is this – you are my beloved. I love you, I choose you. I delight in you.

What would it be like to live from a place of being loved? we wondered together. Who are you? I am beloved, I am loved by someone. I belong to someone. That is first and foremost who I am, everything else comes from that place and returns to that place, that I am loved.  Love makes us brave, it makes us strong.  It makes us generous.  Being loved makes us about to love other people.
We pondered the power of the funeral ritual declaring that the person’s “baptism is now complete.”  Our beginning and our end is tied up in this – that we are chosen and loved by God.  We come from God and return to God.  And at death this one is now fully one with God, in Christ, where they belong, in the arms of the one who calls them beloved. 
We spent some time asking questions about baptism, grappling with the variety of traditions and approaches, the meaning behind such things as being baptized just once, the differences between adult and infant baptisms and the theological significance of baptism, what it truly means and does to us that we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and claimed by the One who spoke creation into being, the one who says, "I act, and who can reverse it?" (Is. 43)
Then we share the story of Fayette, written about this week in Jan Richardson’s blog, (and originally told by Janet Wolf in Upper Room Disciplines), a powerful story about baptism’s declaration that you are “Beloved, precious child of God, and beautiful to behold.”  And we pondered again, What would it mean to live as beloved?  To live from a place of being "named by God’s grace with such power that it wont come undone?"  What would it mean for us to see others as Beloved?

Our reflection ended with the words spoken over a child at baptism in our congregation (adapted from the Church of Scotland Book of Common Worship by the PCUSA Office of Theology and Worship)
“For you, little one, 
the Spirit of God moved over the waters at creation,

and the Lord God made covenants with his people.

It was for you that the Word of God became flesh 
and lived among us, full of grace and truth.

For you, Beloved child of God, Jesus Christ suffered death
crying out at the end, "It is finished!"

For you Christ triumphed over death,
 rose in newness of life,

and ascended to rule over all.

All of this was done for you, little one,

though you do not know any of this yet.

But we will continue to tell you this good news 
until it becomes your own.
And so the promise of the gospel is fulfilled:
"We love because God first loved us." 

Our prayer time, usually done with candles in sand, was this week done with stones, and a 3 foot tall, wide-mouthed vase, filled with water.  As we shared our prayer with the gathered community, we dropped a stone, heard it break the surface of the water and watched it plummet to the depths, sending up bubbles as it fell, finally landing with a tink on the bottom of the vessel like the ring of a chime.  Our own spoken prayers, fears, needs, wants, joys – taken into Christ’s death and resurrection just as we ourselves are. 
God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The rest of the service surrounded us with songs, harp music, silence and prayer, and we ended with a blessing ceremony.  Gathered in a circle in the center of the sanctuary, we watched as water was scooped up out of the vessel where it cradled our prayers, carried in the communion chalice, and poured into the baptismal font.  Then we took turns, dipping our fingers into the water and tracing the invisible mark made on another’s forehead at their own baptism, looking into their eyes and declaring, “You are beloved, precious child of God, and beautiful to behold.”  And the blessing was shared and passed, person to person, the truth spoken aloud over each one, until the whole gathered group embodied the blessing for and with one another.

From the sanctuary our worship didn’t end, but continued with our “Table Fellowship,” an evolving development of our Saturday services, where we sat, with table cloth, candlelight and good china, around a large single table, a Thanksgiving meal, at a warm feast of soup and salad and cookies, and enjoyed one another’s company before departing into what we’ve set aside as “sacred space and time” – our Day of Rest.

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