A key learning from RenewalWorks has to do with reading the Bible. We've learned that as folks engage with scripture, as they make it part of their lives, then spiritual vitality deepens. As congregations embed scripture in all that they do, spiritual vitality increases. When I say such a thing, many folks assume we are pitching fundamentalism, something that feels foreign to the Episcopal world. Not so.
Shout out to a friend and teacher, the Rev. Gary Jones. He writes guides to help with reflection on the gospel passage read on Sundays. These reflections include insightful background info on the given passage, followed by a series of thoughtful questions. These guides are used by small groups in his church (St. Stephen's, Richmond, VA.) but with their availability online, they reach way beyond his parish bounds. They might just be a helpful resource for you in your own spiritual journey. Preachers, they might just help in preparing sermons for Sunday. Check them out:
I found his reflections for yesterday's readings to be particularly helpful. In case you missed it, yesterday in church we read the story of Jesus's baptism, a story appearing in each of the gospels, a tip-off that the story merits our attention. We read that story, in one version or another, every year on this Sunday. I'm not alone in wondering exactly why Jesus was baptized, a question commentators have struggled with for quite a while. In his invitation to reflect on this story, Gary quotes Will Willimon, teacher and preacher, who had this to say about baptism:
In baptism, the church is not saying that someone is not a child of God until he or she is baptized... The coronation of Queen Elizabeth did not "make" Elizabeth a queen. A coronation can only make someone a queen if that person is already royalty. The nation said publicly at the coronation, "This woman is royalty; put a crown on her head." At baptism the church says publicly, "This person is royalty; baptize her."
I'm wondering what your take might be on Willimon's take on baptism. I'm wondering how you think of baptism as related to coronation, regardless of what Harry or Meghan are up to, or how the royal summit proceeds later today. (Maybe we should all say a prayer for that meeting, but I digress.) Willimon's vision was, for me, quite interesting. It certainly does not cover all the traditions, symbols, images, interpretation of baptism that have evolved over centuries. But it does set Jesus's baptism in the context of grace, always a good place to land.
The story of Jesus's baptism, told in each of the four gospels, always includes a voice from heaven that speaks of Jesus's belovedness. That belovedness, that grace preceded Jesus's visit to John the Baptist at the muddy River Jordan. That belovedness was a statement of Jesus's timeless royalty. And as Henri Nouwen points out in his really awesome book, Life of the Beloved, that heavenly voice affirming belovedness comes not only to Jesus. It comes to us.
So this Monday morning, as you launch out on whatever your week will bring, think about the ways your life can be shaped by a heavenly voice saying that you are beloved. As you listen for that voice, allow it to animate your week. Relax in it. Enjoy it. Savor it. Give thanks for it, and then share that sense of belovedness with all the children of God you meet.
We live in a world where way too many people walk around feeling like they are not enough. Too many people cannot buy the fact that they are beloved. The gospel says that we are each and all royalty, because we are each and all embraced by God. Scripture tells us that, in a variety of ways. Dare we believe it? And if we believe it, how does it change that way we face this Monday?