Saturday Sermons from the Sidelines: “Delighted!”

Baptism of Our Lord, 2021, Mark 1:4-11

How often have you longed to hear it? “I am delighted with you.” Some of us crave that affirmation from parents and rarely receive it. Some of us search for that approval from a spouse and end up disappointed. Some of us hope for that applause at work or at school, on a team or in a friendship. And we walk away still wanting it. Some of us look for that adulation in the public praise of elections and editorials. And we’re left sadder and wiser.

Delight these days is in short supply.

Sometimes a person important to us bestows the blessing. When that happens, it’s like being wrapped in a favorite blanket. It’s like sitting in the warm sun on a cold winter afternoon. It’s like being held in the arms of another and seeing the smile. The gift of delight makes me feel bigger, better, more alive, more…well, more “me”!

Is it any wonder we are desperate for someone, anyone, to be delighted with us?

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Some would say this is a foolish wish. Others would say it is a childish need. Still others would say it is a sign of pathetic weakness. Get real. Grow up. Sprout a pair – as the crude and popular talk would have it. No one is paid to notice you, appreciate you, make you feel better about yourself. Delight is what happens in fairy tales, not in the real world. Delight in yourself if you must, but don’t expect it from anyone else.

In the face of that bleak barrier to blessing, we pull into ourselves. We get protective, defensive, and distant. We grow hard shells and thick skins. We armor up and hunker down. We stiffen our spines and our upper lips. We go it alone rather than risk rejection.

I’m not talking merely about personal and individual feelings, although that matters a lot. The number one mental health issue in our country is loneliness. The Pandemic has made a bad problem that much worse. But I’m also talking about life in the grocery store, on a Zoom meeting, in a political campaign and the halls of government. We live in a first-strike culture where the strategy is reject before you get rejected.

Delight these days is in short supply wherever you go.

I wonder if God’s baptismal words to Jesus catch your attention the way they do mine. “You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well-pleased.” The translation is too tame by half. God sees Jesus passing through the waters of the Jordan from the wilderness to the land of promise. And God says to Jesus, “I am delighted with you.”

God, I wonder, could you be delighted with me too? Even in the asking I feel bigger, better, more alive, more…me. But, no, it doesn’t last. I know me all too well. There’s far too much in me, in my past, in my heart, in my head – far too much that is anything but delightful.

I get the first part of the gospel reading much better than the second. People streamed out to the Jordan to confess their sins. They had to come clean before they got clean. They had to repent before they could repair. Maybe they felt better for a while, but they went home. And I imagine they found themselves in the same muck and mess as before.

Not much reason to delight in that.

A small girl had recently learned how to dress herself.  One day her mother found her crying on the edge of her bed. “What’s wrong, dear?” the mother asked.  “Do you feel sick?” The little girl shook her head.  “Do you know,” she wailed, “that I have to put my clothes on every day for the rest of my life?”  She fell back on the bed in tears.

That little girl had seen the lifetime of shirts and skirts, of dresses and pants, of socks and shoes.  The enormity of it all was more than she could bear. When I confess, and even when I repent, I find the enormity of it all more than I can bear. Someone may call me delightful, but I have a hard time hearing it.

I had a seminary professor who began every class the same way. “Beloved in Christ,” he would say, “God knows you better than you know yourself and loves you anyway!” Most days I have trouble remembering that. Perhaps you do too. But that’s part of what I hope we can hear today.

God delights in you! All evidence and experience to the contrary, God delights in you! I can’t make you believe it or accept it, but there it is. God delights in you!

I know this because God delights in Jesus. Jesus comes up out of the waters of the Jordan, and the sky is torn open. What seems like an impossible barrier between us and God is removed. The loving Spirit of God comes and rests on Jesus like a favorite blanket, like the warm sun on a cold winter afternoon, like the arms of a loving parent, like a peaceful dove.

Jesus’ baptism reminds us that God’s delight is not Plan B. It’s not some detour or deviation. In the beginning God created all things. And God called everything that God had made “very good.” The Hebrew of Genesis 1 and 2 is far more expressive. When God was done making it all, God clapped God’s metaphorical hands and said, “Very good!”

God delights in Creation. Jesus comes to restore that delightful relationship, no matter what it takes. That includes you. Beloved in Christ, God knows you better than you know yourself and loves you anyway!

God delights in you!

But there’s all that stuff we talked about in the beginning of this conversation. My life doesn’t feel very delightful most of the time. What about that?

God’s delight is not just talk. Love is much more than a feeling. God’s love is action, the action of taking on the pain and problems, the vanity and violence, the despair and death that are so much a part of our lives. God focuses all that killing power into one point in cosmic time and space. That one point is the cross.

With that cross God absorbs in Jesus the worst that sin, death, and evil can dish out. On the other side is delight without end. We Christians call that Resurrection. We Christians call that the New Creation. We Christians call that life in Christ for all.

God delights in you…and you…and you…and you! It would seem that God delights in difference.

Just look at Creation. How many different kinds of bugs are really necessary on this planet? In fact, we don’t know precisely how many bug species there are, because scientists keep discovering more of them.

Whether all these bugs are necessary or not is beside the point. God the Creator finds them delightful in their buzzing and clicking, hopping and crawling, flying and swimming diversity.

God delights in you…and you…and you… and you! God delights in difference! Do we?

If we are telling the truth about ourselves as Christian churches, the answer must be no. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., described 11 a.m. on Sundays as the most segregated hour of the week in American society. King was talking about the time Christians spent in worship. That time was rarely spent worshipping with people of another race.

King offered his critique nearly sixty years ago. It’s still the case today. Before we get too far along, we must acknowledge that our congregations simply reflect how we live our lives. It’s not that if we could just make Christian churches more diverse, then our lives would be more diverse as well. That’s backwards. If we are unwilling to take delight in diversity Monday through Saturday, we won’t find it delightful on Sundays either.

You are made in God’s image. God delights in you. All human beings are made in God’s image. God delights in all of us. “God’s fingerprints rest upon every single person without restriction,” Jemar Tisby writes in How to Fight Racism. “The image of God extends to Black and white people, men and women, rich and poor, incarcerated and free, queer and straight, documented and undocumented, nondisabled and disabled, powerful and oppressed. All people equally bear the likeness of God,” Tisby concludes, “and thus possess incalculable and inviolable value” (pages 28-29).

God is delighted to death with you…and you…and you…and you! “God does not mistake unity for uniformity,” Tisby writes. “God celebrates diversity” (page 29). If we are going to live out the image of God renewed in us through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, we will celebrate diversity too.

That’s what love looks like, and love is an action – not just a feeling. Delighting in diversity is hard work for white Christians. It costs us to make it real. Our white privilege, position and power will have to die. Our white supremacy and white centrism and white fragility will have to die. Like the people who came to the Jordan, we have come clean before we can get clean. We have to repent before we can repair and reconcile. But we have to start somewhere.

God delights in us, and longs for us to be bigger, better, more alive, more…well, more “us”! So, we’re not in this on our own, thank God! Next week, we’ll talk some more about how we can grow out of our despair and into God’s delight. Amen.