Jean (Xahn)Vanier (VanYEA),
founder of the L’Arche community for developmentally disabled
adults, tells this story about Peter, a community resident who has
Down Syndrome. Peter was asked by a visitor if he liked to pray.
Peter said he did. “What do you ask for when you pray?”
probed the visitor. Peter replied, "I listen." The person
persisted. “What does God say to you?” Puzzled, Peter
looked up at the man and said: "He just says, 'You are my beloved
That’s the glowing message Jesus personally received from
God, not once but twice. At Jesus’ baptism the Spirit descended
like a dove and a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved;
with him I am well pleased.”
In the transfiguration scene, Peter, James and John accompanied
Jesus to a high mountain. The Spirit descended on Jesus and his
face and clothes shone a dazzling white. Again the voice came, “This
is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
During that stunning scene, Elijah and Moses joined Jesus while
the disciples looked on.
I have always been struck by the word Beloved. I shared with you
in earlier sermons that as a teen and young adult, I felt very unsure
about whether God loved me. The words I heard clearly were, “Be
perfect.” The words “You are my beloved” were
mostly inaudible. Someone referred me to a book by Paul Tillich
-- I don’t remember the title. When I was feeling particularly
low I would go to a page in that book that said, “You are
accepted,” and hoped somehow the words would get through to
me. Today I can thankfully hear and accept that message, “You
are my beloved daughter, my favor rests on you.” The words
accepted, chosen and beloved all have the same special feel to me.
This understanding that God has called us beloved sons and daughters
is what I want to talk about. The baptism of Jesus and the transfiguration
are just the background of this truth.
These words of encouragement from the Spirit at Jesus’ baptism
were well placed in Jesus’ life. Immediately afterward, Matthew
says, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness
to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights,
and afterwards he was famished.” 3 The tempter came in that
moment of physical hunger and weakness, but because Jesus knew who
he was, he had the strength to resist temptation. Jesus knew he
was chosen by God for a bigger ministry than the one Satan offered
It’s always interesting to look through the Bible and see
the variety of uses for a particular word. Most references to the
word “beloved” come from Song of Solomon and the letters
of Paul. Song of Solomon speaks of a lover as “beloved.”
Paul refers to his traveling companions and friends as “beloved.”
The baptism and transfiguration stories refer to Jesus as God’s
beloved. Patricia Sanchez says that by virtue of our baptisms, we
are also God’s beloved children. “Endowed with grace
and dignity, we become holy places where the Spirit of God comes
to dwell and to remain.”
Romans 9 gives an interesting twist to God’s intent: “I’ll
call nobodies and make them somebodies; I’ll call the unloved
and make them beloved. In the place where they yelled out, “You’re
nobody!” they are now calling you God’s living children.”
Paul notes, “If each grain of sand on the seashore were numbered
and the sum labeled chosen of God, they’d be numbers still,
not names; salvation comes by personal selection. God doesn’t
count us; he calls us by name.”
I read several books in preparation for this sermon. The most helpful
was Henri Nouwen’s book, Life of the Beloved. In a series
of sermons on YouTube, Nouwen enlarges on the universal question,
“Who am I?” There are so many ways to answer that question.
I am what I do: “I’m
a mechanic” or “I’m a nurse.”
I am what others say
about me. That’s a dangerous one!
I am what I have --
a good education, a good family, great health.
But these answers go awry when we lose a job, or someone criticizes
us, or our health turns sour.
When Jesus was tempted, Satan said, “Do something and you
will be great. Turn the stone into bread. Throw yourself off the
pinnacle of the temple and the angels will protect you. Worship
me and I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the world.”
But Jesus knew they were lies. Our greatness is not in what we do
or who we become or what people say about us. The answer to “Who
am I” is “You are my beloved sons and daughters on whom
my favor rests.”
Here’s what the Bible says about us. God loved us before
we were born. God knit us together in our mother’s womb. God
calls us by name. God has a plan for us. God claims us: “You
are mine.” God carved our names on the palm of his hand. The
bottom line is, nothing can separate us from the love of God! Nouwen
wrote a whole book on the story of the Prodigal Son, the most compelling
example of God’s love and forgiveness that I know.
The greatest trap in our life, Nouwen suggests, is not success,
popularity or power, but self-rejection. “We live in a world
constantly trying to convince us that the burden is on us to prove
that we are worthy of being loved.” These negative voices
are sometimes so loud and persistent it is easy to believe them.
The secret fear we have is, “If you knew who I really am,
you wouldn’t love me.” Tell me, folks, that I’m
not the only one in this room who has experienced that! I have found
that when we comprehend that we are God’s beloved, we are
set free from fear.
God has chosen us. To be chosen as a beloved child of God is not
like being chosen for a baseball team or being the teacher’s
favorite. “Instead of excluding others, it includes others.
Instead of rejecting others as less valuable, it accepts others
in their own uniqueness. It is not a competitive, but a compassionate
choice.” The greatest joy of being chosen is the discovery
that others are chosen as well.
How do we get in touch with the fact that God chooses us? Nouwen
suggests three ways. First, keep unmasking the world for what it
is: manipulative, controlling, destructive. Second, look for people
and places that remind you of your identity as God’s chosen.
Third, celebrate with gratitude that God has chosen you; acknowledge
that you are not an “accident,” but a divine choice.
It is only when I know that I am uniquely loved by God that I have
the eyes to see that you, too, are unique in God’s eyes.
This week’s Christian practice is a liturgical exercise called
the “Beloved” Prayer, written by Arthur LeClair, director
of the Spiritual Life Center in Denver. Look at the description
in your bulletin a minute. Paragraph 2 suggests writing a note to
yourself with the words, “You are my Beloved. My favor rests
on you.” Put it on your nightstand and read it every morning
when you get up.
He also suggests taking some silent moments to think about these
three statements, one at a time.
Jesus, you are the
Jesus, I am the Beloved
Jesus, we (all) are the Beloved
Our comprehension happens in this order. First, I acknowledge God’s
declaration about Jesus that he is God’s son on whom God’s
favor rests.” When I absorb who God is, I realize that Jesus
tells me I am also God’s beloved. When I can comprehend that
I am chosen and loved, I realize that promise is not for me alone,
but for all of us. That truth doesn’t sink in overnight. Every
time life challenges us that we aren’t good enough, we need
to be reminded that we are the chosen of God. Hearing and acknowledging
this three-part truth will change us.
Karl Barth, an outstanding theologian of modern times, was asked
to summarize the central overriding message contained in his 13-volume
set of Church Dogmatics. He thought a moment and then said, “Jesus
loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” I’m
convinced, too, that this is the most important message of the Bible.
Jesus is the beloved of God. I am the beloved of God. We are all
the beloved of God. May God’s voice of love be louder than
the negative voices that drag us down. Amen? Amen.
YouTube sermons by Henri Nouwen on his book, “Life of the
Beloved,” preached at Crystal Cathedral: