Wednesday, November 20, 2013

In You I am Well Pleased, by Rev Steven R Mitchell, for Mountain View United, Aurora (baptismal celebration)

In You I am Well Pleased

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, Co 11-17-2013

Based on Matthew 3:16-17


        In you I am well pleased.” I think these words are words that each one of us wishes to hear at some point in our lives.  When we are children, we are given a lot of messages of what our parents expect of us.  One common expectation is in our behavior, of having good manners: be sure to say ‘thank you’ or ‘no thank you’, many of us were taught to address our elders with ‘Mr. or Mrs.’, we were not to fight with our siblings in public.  Achievements in academics and sports are often expectations by our parents. 

As parents work at developing these expectations, they are often perceived by their children as nagging.  Take the B+ on the report card scenario: “Now you know you can make an A if you just apply yourself a little more.”  What children don’t often hear from their parents is the “I am well pleased” with you phrase.

        When I was growing up, my dad had a set of expectations for me.  None of which I ever seemed to be able to achieve.  His two older brothers had sons who were very adapted to sports.  I was not so adapt in sports.  I was also 7 years younger than my two cousins, so by the time I was old enough to play sports in Jr and Sr High, I was competing against my dad’s memories of how his two nephews played.  I remember not being allowed to play in the sports that I wanted to play in, because they were not fitting my dad’s image of what sports boys were supposed to play.  By Jr High, I felt like a failure in my dad’s eyes.  It didn’t matter what I did, it was never good enough in his eyes.

        When I surprised my parents about wanting to go to college, they were not very eager about that idea either.  But if I was going off to college, then I was suppose to study something of substance; again I failed them when I chose Music Performance as my major.  Then one day, something very extraordinary occurred, my father showed up for one of my music performances unannounced.  Dad wanted to meet all of my classmates, making a huge production of his visit.  What I learned later from my mother was that dad didn’t tell her that he was driving the several hundred miles to come and watch me sing.  It was the first time that I could ever remember where I was receiving approval of my dad.  On that day, it was like the story of Jesus being baptized, and the dove coming down from Heaven landing on my head as my father bestowed his blessing upon me.

        As I grew older, I was able to understand my father’s behavior better.  Dad was an eighth grade drop-out, over time he developed a drinking problem that interfered with his goals in life, he never had the advantages that were provided to me in communication skills or parenting practice, he grew up in a time when children were seen but not heard. My father didn’t possess the skills that were needed to nurture his expectations for me in a positive manner, and it took all the courage that he could muster to show me in that simple act of showing up on campus unannounced that he not only loved me, but cared about the choices that I was making with my life, and that he was “well pleased” with his son.  In that one moment my father gave me the confidence that I would need to act upon my dreams to this very day.

        As we celebrate the act of baptism of Cruz this morning, I think about all of the potential that he has in his future.  Will he become President of the United States, or a famous brain surgeon, a teacher perhaps, or maybe a mortgage person, or have a career in marketing?  I am sure that Jon and Laura each have certain dreams and hopes for Cruz; as parents it’s a natural thing for us to have high expectations for our children.  Yet I have to remember what Njeri Kingangi said in a conversation one evening over dinner, that the hardest thing for her to do was to let her son live his own dreams and be proud in his achieving them.

        Our scripture talks about another parent God, who I am sure had expectations for his son.  I can just hear Jesus saying to his buddies, John, James, and Peter as they were sitting around their dorm room at the Academy of Jewish Law: “Yeah, my dad expects me to save the world.”  “He expects me to be a great preacher when I graduate from this place.  What do you suppose, God really expected of Jesus?  For that matter, what do you suppose God really expects of each one of us?  Does he expect us to ‘save’ the world?  I grew up hearing a lot of conversation around the idea of “God’s will” for our lives.  That suggests that God has expectations of us, and it is our job to figure out what that expectation is.  Most of us will never do anything in our lives that will particularly “set the world on fire.”  So does this mean that we are not living up to our potential?

        What was it that Jesus had done up to that point in his life when he was baptized that made God say, “…in you I am well pleased.”  Well, he must have had some schooling because he understood Hebrew Scripture to the point that it amazed his elders.  When he was  12 yrs old, he ran off and forgot to tell his parents where he was going, and there are stories in Gnostic writings that say Jesus as a child got really made at one of his playmates and struck him dead by just speaking.  As the oldest son, he leaves his widowed mother with young children still at home, to follow some crazy cousin preaching outside of Jerusalem.  Some of these behaviors don’t sound like things that a “good” son would particularly be praised for.   In fact, they sound a lot like things we as “ordinary” people would be found doing.

        The key is in the very first part of the statement, “you are my child…  What parent can argue with this point of view?  When a new child is born, it’s not just the parents, but the community that becomes filled with joy over the new birth.  We oohed and awed when Mackenzie was born a couple of years ago; we oohed and awed when Cruz was born, and we will once again owe and awe when the next infant is born around Christmas.  We do this because we see the new potential, new promise in new life and it fills us with joy.  We are again able to dream for these little ones, a life that will be filled with such achievements; in these new little lives we are given Hope for the future! 

        Yet, even if that life filled with new promise doesn’t exactly full fill our expectations, we still can say to them, “you are my child, my beloved, in you I am well pleased.”  We can do that, because they are our children.  God said this of Jesus, and God says it of us

        Yet, I wonder if we really believe God when he is telling us, “You are my child, my beloved; in you I am well pleased.  Do you believe this or are you feeling that somehow you are living your life short changed?  I think God just wants us to be who we are – nothing more, nothing less.  But I know for a fact that God loves you and is well pleased with you, because you are his child!  There isn’t any more that I can say on this fact, other than ask you if you really believe that God is well pleased with you?  You don’t have to do anything for that approval, but just be yourself.  Whether we have gone through a formal baptismal ceremony or not, the fact is, that we are all baptized in God’s love, we just have to understand how happy God is that each one of us is his child.  Amen