God’s Beloved at WorkBlog / Produced by The High Calling
Last year, Time photographer Anthony Suau caught a picture of a well-dressed man in a business suit standing in the middle of Wall Street. He was in front of the New York Stock Exchange on October 10, 2008, throwing his hands into the heavens in dismay as stock prices melted down. The picture vividly captured the anxiety and uncertainty of people during a difficult time in America. An accompanying article spoke of "the signs of trouble" everywhere, from For Sale and Foreclosure signs on the lawns of suburban homes to losses of jobs, savings, and retirement. The article read, "The dark mood grew darker as the months ticked by and the credit crunch driving the U.S. economy's slow-motion topple accelerated into a full-blown crash."
We all experience life like that at one time or another. For any number of personal reasons (health, stress, aging, grief, loss) we all stand like that man, looking up, our hands lifted to the heavens. We all experience pain, loss, vulnerability, the uncertainty of the future. These are difficult and painful realities of human life as we experience them.
The Beloved: Who Jesus Is and Who We Are
In Mark's Gospel, the story of Jesus' baptism can help us address these painful experiences. When Jesus comes to the Jordan River to be baptized, a heavenly voice says, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." From the very beginning of the story, Mark wants us to know who Jesus is: Son of God and Servant of all.
The primary thrust of the baptism story is Christological—to reveal Jesus' identity as the Beloved of God. In his baptism, we see who Jesus is, but we also begin to learn who we are as followers of Jesus. In our baptism that same voice comes to us and says, "You are my Beloved." When we rise from the waters of baptism, we are named God's beloved sons and daughters. In a world filled with all kinds of other voices, in our baptism God gives us a new name, a new identity, as sheer gift. Our new identity has profound implications for the way we understand our lives.
(See Henri Nouwen's Life of the Beloved as one example of the development of this theme.)
The Gift of God's Power and Spirit
Mark says that Jesus saw "the Holy Spirit descending like a dove on him." As Jesus is given the gift of God's Spirit in baptism, so in our baptism God gives us the gift of the Spirit—the promise of God's enabling and empowering presence in our lives. For example, the Holy Spirit is the sustaining presence and the animating power of God at work in the life of the church and the individual. The Spirit gives us guidance and the unique gifts (charisma) we need to conduct our daily lives and work.
So in those times in our lives when we stand with our arms lifted to the heavens, looking up in fear, pain, grief, or uncertainty (the man on Wall Street), there is always that Voice saying to us, whether we can hear it or not: "You are my Beloved—my son, my daughter. I have put my Spirit upon you. I am with you always."
We Are Sent Daily to Live Our Calling
Blessed with our identity as "the Beloved," and given the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are sent to do God's work in the world. The rest of Mark's Gospel describes how Jesus fulfilled the mission given to him by God. We also are sent daily to live out the callings God has given us. Martin Luther said that our baptism is the sign of God's call to live out our faith in our daily work, our families, and relationships. In baptism, we are called to a common vocation—to serve God by loving and serving our neighbor. Luther said it this way:
"Only look at your tools, your needle, your thimble, your beer barrel, your articles of trade, your scales, your measures, and you will read this saying written on them. . . . 'My dear, use me toward your neighbor as you would want him to act toward you with that which is his'" (quoted in Barbara Brown Taylor, The Preaching Life, Cowley 1993, p. 29).
In other words, our everyday work is God's work. In baptism we are set apart as God's people to share Christ's ministry in the world. Each of us has a calling from God. Barbara Brown Taylor goes on to describe every Christian's divine vocation "to see the hand of God at work in the world and to see one's own hands as necessary to that work. Whether those hands are diapering an infant, assembling an automobile, or balancing a corporate account, they are God's hands, claimed by God at baptism for the accomplishment of God's will on earth."
The Voice Is Always There
When life becomes difficult and the way grows dark. When we hurt and fail one another, or lose someone we love. When faith grows dim. When our work grows wearisome. When we face an uncertain future. When we lift our hands to the heavens in fear or pain—like the man on Wall Street—the Voice is always there: "You are my Beloved, gifted by my Spirit, called and sent to join me at work in the world. Do not fear, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine. You are precious in my sight and honored, and I love you. Do not fear, for I am with you" (Isa. 43:1-5). "Beloved" is our name. And that makes all the difference!
Questions for Reflection:
- Read the story of Jesus' baptism in Mark 1:9-11. What does this teach us about the identity of Jesus? Who do you believe Jesus is?
- Have you been baptized? If so, remember the experience. How can you act more like God's beloved child this week?