On Sunday, I shared from the story of Jesus’ baptism in Matthew and focused particular attention on the voice from heaven that proclaimed these words: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” These were words of affirmation for Jesus. They were a gift to him at the beginning of his public ministry. In fact, they may have just been the best gift that God gave to Jesus. Imagine how they must have landed on Jesus-how he must have heard them.
I shared with the congregation a practice I have when trying to understand the meaning of a Scripture passage. I imagine what the key characters may have experienced and, in this case, what Jesus may have heard. As I did so last week, I realized just how powerfully those words from heaven must have landed on him. Here is what I imagine Jesus heard:
You are my child. I love you deeply. I am so pleased with you.
According to Matthew, Jesus went right from his baptism into his time of temptation and then into his public ministry. I believe the words of affirmation he heard were a gift that gave him strength for all that lay ahead of him. Jesus knew that God loved him and was pleased with him even before his time of temptation…even before his insightful teaching…even before all of the healings…even before his miracles.
I wonder what we could do with our lives if we knew that we were loved unconditionally like Jesus knew he was loved. I wonder how deeply focussed we might be if we knew these things. I wonder how we could change the world if we truly felt this kind of deep love. I think the trick is to be open to this love from God, to listen to those same words of affirmation. I believe that the words are for us as well!
I read a devotional from a colleague of mine this week that talked about the importance of affirmation during times of transition in life. Since we are in a time of transition as I prepare to leave for Kauai next month for a new ministry, I hope that we will all be open to affirmation and also commit to affirming one another. I will begin by telling the members and friends of Island United Church some of my reflections over the past three years. Let me begin by thanking you for three of the most affirming years of my life. I have felt loved and supported by the people of IUC. From my first Sunday, you have made Palani and me feel so welcome and appreciated. When we first looked at some of our physical needs and mentioned the possibility of a capital campaign to address those needs, you jumped right in and raised more than our goal in commitments in just a few short months. When we found ourselves making important decisions, such as whether or not to continue providing a pancake breakfast for the community every year on the 4th of July, you expressed your opinions and desires; yet, when the decisions were made by the group, you supported the decisions.
I could go on and on about how pleased I am to be your pastor. I also believe that you have prepared me for whatever lies ahead for me in ministry. I am filled with gratitude for your sharing your lives with me and want you to know that I will always remember these past three years with great fondness and appreciation!
Sincerely and with gratitude,