'And just as he was coming up out of the water he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven,you are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.'
The story as Mark tells it is a very personal one. There are no onlookers, no one trying to interpret the thunder, no conversation between Jesus and John. Just Jesus' own experience of encountering the Divine and knowing in that moment 'just as he was coming out of the water', who he truly was. It was for Jesus Himself a moment of epiphany- a moment of revelation - and it is for us too
In its simplicity I think it speaks powerfully to our own experience of encounter with God; to our own moments of revelation and of vocation. Sometimes we assume that revelation only happens to very important people. Sometimes we think only great and holy people experience a sense of vocation, of being called by God. Yet the reality is very different. God is seeking to reveal Godself to us all the time, in the ordinary and the everyday as well as in the big moments. And God is calling to us all the time - calling us out beyond our narrow understandings of ourselves and our world, to become who we truly are, sons and daughters of God and inheritors of the Kingdom of heaven...
I invite you in a quiet moment over the next week to think about the sunburst moments of your own walk with God, especially in the last year. When have you understood, perhaps for the first or fiftieth or the five hundreth time, that God loves you? That you are Beloved, no matter what you have done, or how little attention you have paid, or what a mess you have made of things - that you are Beloved and that is all that matters. Everything else in life flows from that truth which is so simple, and yet so hard to accept. We would so much rather earn our way by our own effort and keep it all within our own control. But God bursts in on that, like a ray of sunlight, and says, 'you are beloved'.
Now of course the heat of the sun is fiery and we rightly shield ourselves from its heat. No wonder that when this story is told in Matthew’s gospel, John speaks of how the one who comes after him will baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The fire of God’s intense love for us threatens to burn and sometimes we shy away – anxious to protect our little ego selves – the selves that believe that who we are depends on our accomplishments, our competence, our generosity and good character. Of course when we rely on those kind of things we soon discover that we are living in a state of constant anxiety – for any one of them can and will be taken from us by sickness, frailty or other change of circumstance. Many people live a constant state of fear that this will occur. As baptised people, as those who follow in the path of Jesus, we are invited to live differently. We are invited to live as those who know deeply the love and approval of God which nothing can ever take away.
So then what? If we take that identity seriously we open ourselves to all kinds of new possibilities day by day, which add up to what is sometimes called vocation. In the church vocation has often been too narrowly defined - as though the only way God ever invited us to inhabit our true nature as children of God was as priests or religious, or maybe doctors or teachers or missionaries. In reality God calls to each and every one of us, and invites us constantly to enter into the fullness of who we are as human beings.
Archbishop Rowan Williams puts it like this, “it is only when I am conscious of being called by God to be myself in Christ that I can find what specific work he asks of me in passing on that discovery and that hope to others.” Our vocation is to be ourselves in Christ. Just as Jesus was. He was as completely Himself, as completely Jesus as it was possible to be. And we are to be as completely Penny, or Jon or Joan or Rob as we can be.
Now how do we get better at that? How do we little by little let go of the smaller selves that rely on the approval of others, and open ourselves to our true Christ like self more and more? Well of course there is no one answer to that – if there were we would all be alike. Rather God is at work secretly by the Holy Spirit in each of us, shaping us through the things that happen to us in life, the choices we make, the relationships we foster. The only thing we can do is to express our willingness to allow God to work in us; to allow the baptismal water of life to flow through us and gradually shape us as water shapes rock. We do that by our life of prayer, by our receiving of the sacraments, by the time that we choose to spend in just allowing God to love us and seeking to respond to that love with our whole being. For this is our calling, to live out the great epiphany, the revelation that we are in Christ the beloved children of God. In whose name, Amen