BELOVED AND BEAUTIFUL - SERMON BY THE REV. JOSEPH ALSAY - ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH, OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA
A Sermon Delivered by
the Reverend Joseph C. Alsay
The Feast of the Baptism of our Lord
January 9th, 2022
Saint Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
“Beloved and Beautiful”
The older I get the more I realize that you can never assume what songs everyone knows. Especially if the crowd is a lot younger than you.
But, I remember in college going to some of the Baptist churches in the area and listening to the choir sing these “mash-up.” The choral director would combine songs like “Nearer My God to Thee” and “When I Fall in Love.” Or have on the program “You Are So Beautiful” at the Christmas concert. Now, I’m was caught off guard and intrigued by these “mash-ups.” Are they hinting that God is singing “You are So Beautiful” to us? Or human love infused with divine love?
At Jesus’ baptism, a mysterious voice from heaven thunders this love-filled line: you are my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.
We may be told that we are loved, but it’s another thing to really believe it, right? How many of us have struggled with self-image and whether we are truly good enough, worthy enough, loveable enough, smart enough, rich enough, attractive enough. Then the rough times come and it’s even harder to remain centered. In baptism God declares us beloved children of God, but it takes a lifetime to take in this awesome news- to let it sink deep in our bones- to trust that we are truly precious, that we have all we need, that we are OK just the way God made us.
Our baptism is about our identity, but it is also about our vocation and calling.
It is one thing to proclaim to all that you are beloved of God. It’s another to live that title and calling out in the world. That’s where you need the power of the Spirit.
That same Spirit blows wherever she wills, and as with the wind, we have no control. All we can do is see where the Spirit has been.
It’s strange that Christians often want to control who thinks the right thoughts about God and control what those right thoughts about God are, when the primary way the Triune God lives and moves in the world is through the Holy Spirit, who can’t be controlled, or predicted, or stopped.
The Spirit of God moved over the waters at creation, and since then has been moving, inspiring, changing lives and changing the world.
Today, we see the Holy Spirit come upon the Son of God, and the voice of the Father speak words of praise and love.
Little wonder the early Church, as we see today in Acts 8, always laid hands on those who had just been baptized and prayed that the Holy Spirit would come upon them, too. Claimed in baptism as beloved children, just like Jesus, now the apostles prayed that, just like Jesus, the Holy Spirit would fill these newly baptized.
In Acts, after Pentecost, the early Church watched for the coming of the Spirit, they named where they saw the Spirit, and they lived with confident expectation that the Spirit would continue to bless the Church, and individual believers.
Today, we cling to that astonishing promise that the Spirit who moves like the wind will come upon us as we become God’s Christ, God’s anointed for the world, to be part of God’s healing, just like Jesus.
We claim that the Holy Spirit blows where she wills, but today we say, “here, too, in this place.” And a voice thunders forth from heaven and calls us each by name and says that we too are beloved of God.
That’s why today and throughout Epiphanytide we will offer to all who desire it the opportunity to have hands laid on their heads, and be told that you are a beloved child of God. You are so beautiful, to me. You are so beautiful, to me. Can't you see. You're everything I hoped for, you're everything I need. You are so beautiful, to me.
What might it mean for you to hear these words over your head? To be told: the Holy Spirit is in you. And then to live your life, like the early Church, watching for signs of the Spirit’s moving in your life. Confidently expecting wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and fear of God, and joy in God’s presence.
Desmond Tutu--“I’m counting on you.”
Well, hear them now: Washed in God’s waters and given forgiveness and life, God has called you by name, and you are God’s beloved child; God is well pleased with you. And now God’s Spirit lives, and moves, and breathes, and loves in you. Name that. Watch for it, and confidently expect that you will see great wonders. Amen.
Various Clergy and members of St. Augustine contribute to authoring the blog on a variety of topics.