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Matthew 3:13-17, Baptism of the Lord
January 9, 2005
Rev.’d Dr. Mike Michielin

We all want to be loved. It is fundamental to being human. This desire for love begins at our birth. A newborn child relishes the love and comfort she experiences near her mother’s breast. A young child’s heart warms when her father gives her a hug and kisses her on the cheek. A teenager feels great when she hears her mother and father say, “I love you”. A hug, a loving tap on the shoulder or a kiss brightens our day. Love is something that cannot be taken for granted. How many – and maybe you are one – have never heard their parents say to them, “I love you”? Our parents can act lovingly, but we still need to hear the words, “I love you”. My father was not one to express in words what he feels about me. It was hard for me growing up not hearing the words, “I love you”. On the night of my ordination, my father came up to me beaming with pride and said, “My son, I love you.” I will never forget that night.

Do you hunger to hear these words spoken to you? I know of a God who is speaking these words to you right now. When John baptized Jesus in the river Jordan, something special happened: Heaven was opened, and the Spirit descended like a dove onto Jesus. From heaven Jesus heard these words: This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Do you know that these words are meant for you and I! Since in Jesus all humankind is taken up into God’s presence, these words are meant for you and I. You are my children, who I love; with who I am well pleased. Ah but we’ve heard these words before, words that can be hallow and void of meaning. These words are not, I assure you. Let us take heed as to what they mean.

First, they mean that He for us not against us. The life of Jesus shows that God is for us, not against us. God’s words are filled out with action in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Remember that Jesus did not have to humble himself, come to this earth and become like one of us. He was not coerced to do it. Yet, he willing became like one of us. Why? Because it is in His very nature to be with us. In the birth of the God-man Jesus we learn that it is in God’s nature to be with us, not apart from us.

Furthermore, nothing can keep God from being for us and with us. Earthly powers, such as King Herod, can not tract down and kill the baby Jesus. Religious powers, such as the Pharisees, can not silence Jesus and prevent him from healing people and opening their hearts to the gospel. Humanity as a whole - represented by the Roman soldiers and the Jewish people – could not turn Christ away from us when it crucified Him on the Cross. Remember the words of Jesus on the Cross, Forgive them father for they know not what they are doing. Even as Jesus was being crucified by humankind, the words of God I love you were being acted out.

But, with all that we hear on the news these days, you might be thinking, How is God with us in tragedies such as the Tsunami disaster in South east Asia? How can you say that God with us when so many suffer in this world? You often hear, and you may be thinking the same thing, If God really loved us, or If there is truly a God, he would prevent all our suffering.
If we think back to creation story in Genesis, let us remember that it was God’s intent that we would not suffer. Adam and Eve once walked in the Garden of Eden where there was no suffering or pain. All they had to do was not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. You all know what they did. The significance that we often miss in this story is summarize in Genesis 3:22 where God says, This man and woman have become like one of us, knowing good and evil. What is important in this story is not whether there was an actually Adam and Eve, but what this story says about humanity. This story reminds us that, like Adam and Eve, we choose to be like God. There are consequences to being like God. It goes on Genesis to say, They must not eat of the tree of life and live forever - they must be banished from the Garden of Eden. Our striving to be like God means that we cannot be in the safe realms of God’s Eden. The suffering that we incur such as in the Tsunami is a painful reminder that we live in a fallen world, a world that choose to be like God and thus must exist apart from God’s protection.

But, why did God banish us from Eden? Why could he not have been merciful? Our banishment was an act of mercy. Do we want to live forever with the knowledge of good and evil? Do we want to live forever apart from God? Although it might be hard for us to comprehend, especially in light of the recent scenes we see on our TV sets, eternity without God is much worse than facing the relatively short time of pain and suffering in this world. Despite Adam, Eve and our rejection of God, God does not reject us. In an indirect way, the limitations we face in this life and its accompanying pain and suffering points to God’s mercy, not judgment. In the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are shown that for all eternity – although we do suffer on this earth for a short while – we are with God and will one day no longer suffer in the new Garden of Eden.

This words I love you, also impact our lives here and now. These words encounter us – if they be truly heard as the words of the Lord Jesus – with a claim. As Jesus was called my son, so our we called sons and daughters of God. As sons and daughters of God we are expected to act like God’s children. For Jesus became a man to show us – as His brothers and sisters - what it is like to be a child of God. The idea of being like a ‘child’ is not acceptable to our modern sensibilities. We fight against being dependent on God. We want to be our own god and do our own thing. We want to be free! If God truly loved us He would not demand anything of us.

But, is this true love? It would be true love if we could take care of ourselves and if we could find hope in a world that – without God – is hopeless. But, when you look at the evidence, it doesn’t look like we can take good care of ourselves – wars, genocides, crime, stealing. What about the small stuff – divorces, addictions, and so on. And can you say with any seriousness that there is hope for those who suffer from the Tsunami in Southeast Asia apart from God? True love does not leave a child to fend for herself even when the child is rebellious. God’s love is like the love of a parent for a child. A parent guides and teaches a child by word and example how to live, to take care for herself and how to live with others. God’s love is meant to shape us in the same way. As we read the Scriptures, say our prayers, worship together and gather at different times for study, the same Holy Spirit who descended upon Jesus at His baptism enters our lives to remind us of the eternal hope we have in Jesus and how to live as God’s children in the meantime.

The greatest stumbling block to God’s love is not God but ourselves. Our pride and our drive to be like God keeps God’s love at a distance. It is very easy to be stubborn like Adam and Eve and choose to be like God and eat from the tree of good and evil. But is it worth it? Can true love and hope be found without God? Do you remember what happen to Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings”? His desire to possess the Ring so he could be like God destroyed him. Yet, Frodo, the humble Hobbit – despite temptations - turned away from the Ring and experienced true love and hope. Let it be so in your life and in mine. Amen.