When I was ordained into the preaching ministry of the United Methodist Church, a very dear friend sent me a gift and a card of congratulations. The card was one that made me feel as if I were accepted and the gift was a coffee mug and imprinted on the side were these words: "You are my beloved daughter in whom I am well pleased." Tears came to my eyes and a big lump to my throat. Never before had I felt so unworthy or so overwhelmed. Some Biblical scholars have suggested that at his baptism God ordained Jesus into his ministry of preaching and healing. I find great meaning in that affirmation of his relationship to God, "You are my beloved Son...." and great motivation in the idea that I am God's beloved daughter.
Listen now to Mark's sharing of this awesome moment in the life of Jesus. I'm reading from chapter 1, verses 9-15 from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible:
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." I begin everyday with the prayer, "O God, help me to please you this day." In the contemporary language translation called The Message by Eugene Peterson (1993) it reads: "You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life."
That touches me in a deep and tender way. I can still hear my father saying to each one of his three children: "You are the apple of my eye, my pride and joy." We were all marked by our parent's love.
The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible explains that the "apple of the eye" is an English idiom denoting the pupil of the eye and therefore a precious thing. In Hebrew, apple means literally "little man" and presumably refers to the reflected image of one's self which the beholder sees in the eye of another person.
The Psalmist prays in Psalm 17, verse 8: "Guard me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings."
And in Proverbs 7:2 God tells us to "keep my teachings as the apple of my eye."
We assume responsibility and God watches over us. It's always been a shared relationship. God guards us under the shadow of God's wings, but our responsibility is to keep God's teachings.
Jesus was the apple of God's eye and God was pleased with him. But have you ever wondered what he had done during those eighteen years of silence on the part of our Gospel writers that has so pleased God? Luke tells us about his birth, the visit of the shepherds, his presentation in the temple when he's eight days old, the journey to Nazareth, and twelve years pass with only this information given. He grows strong and wise and God blesses him. Only Matthew tells us about the visit of the Wise Men and the journey into Egypt to avoid Herod's death squad. But Luke does share one experience out of his adolescent years. His family goes to Jerusalem for the Passover when Jesus is twelve. When the festival is over, Mary and Joseph travel a full day's journey before they realize Jesus isn't among the extended family members of the village. They return to Jerusalem and search for three days before they find him in the temple. He's asking questions and dialoguing with the rabbis and astounding them with his insights.
I think Mary's a little angry and frustrated when she approaches him, "Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been worried, and we've been searching everywhere for you." Jesus answered, "Why did you have to look for me? Didn't you know that that I would be in my father's house?"
Twelve years had passed since this child, born of the Holy Spirit, had come into her life. Could it be that Mary had been so involved in being a mother to Jesus that she had pushed those memories back in her mind? She will ponder them from now on, Mark assures us. From a human perspective, perhaps she was preoccupied with the birth of her other children, with packing lunches for synagogue school, clothes to make and mend, being a wife to Joseph. Parents of today certainly relate to Mary's terrifying experience of the loss of a twelve-year old that keeps her from thinking logically from looking first in the temple.
When I was serving in a church out in Franklin, TN, I had a phone call one night that two of the little boys that went to our church were missing. They lived across the street from the church. It was already pitch black dark. Mother and Dad were in a panic. We searched and searched everywhere and we couldn't find them. And finally I opened the door to the church and was going to use the phone in my office to call for more help. As I passed through the darkened sanctuary, I heard somebody say, "Ssshhhhhhhh," and I looked down front and I could see the outline of two little heads. Those little boys were sitting down front in that darkened church and as I approached them, I said, "What are you doing here?" "We were waiting for the Holy Ghost," one of them said. We had been teaching them in Sunday School about the Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit, and there they were in their Father's house waiting for that Holy Ghost. Well, Jesus was in his Father's house and Mary had not thought to look for him there first.
Eighteen years go by from that day when he went home to Nazareth, was obedient to his parents and grew in wisdom and statue and in favor with God and others.
Luke alone tells us that he is about 30 years of age when he is baptized by John and affirmed by God. We are left to ponder about the events in his life as a teen-ager that had so pleased God. We can only imagine by looking at the young man he had become during those years. I speak often with teen-agers across this land, and I talk with them about the crucial years between adolescence and adulthood. I encourage them to think about Jesus as a teen-ager. Did he race around Nazareth on a fast donkey? Did he have a boyhood crush on a pretty dark-eyed girl? Did he have good grades on his report card from the rabbi? Did Joseph die and Jesus had to assume responsibility for Mary and his brothers and sisters as the eldest child? So many unanswered questions, but whatever he did as a youth, God was pleased with him. What a wonderful challenge this is to the youth of today. They're not waiting to be 30-something before they become God-pleasers. They can ask the question daily, "What would Jesus do?" and they can please God by becoming like Jesus, by learning from him how to please God. Parents of today will find guidance for raising "God-pleasers" if they will also ask, "What would Jesus do in their daily lives?"
We adults have a tendency to think that that's a youth thing, bracelets and t-shirts with WWJD on them, but statistics show that youth imitate their parents during adolescence more than they do their peers. We like to excuse ourselves by saying it's peer-group pressure and that this will affect our youth more than a deep-level relationship with their parents. But statistics tells us that isn't so, that when young people are affirmed daily as the pride and joy of their parents, as the apple of their eye, young people respond in a positive way to parents, parents who love them and give them attention and give them the guidance they need.
In order to receive my ordination as a pastor in the United Methodist Church, I returned to graduate school and earned a Master of Divinity degree. I was required to pass certain tests before I could receive my diploma. Let me draw an analogy if you will. God sends Jesus to graduate school to pass a symbolic test in preparation to be a minister. In verses 12 and 13 it says: "And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days tempted by Satan and he was with the wild beasts and the angels waited on him."
You'll have to read Matthew 4:1-11 or Luke 4:1-13 to get a full picture of his forty days in graduate school. I assure you that it will be worth your time to do that. But Mark is always in a hurry to move on with a story. He uses the word "immediately" 17 times in his gospel trying to move us along. Verses 14 and 15 help us to understand the urgency. Oh, one more thought before we rush to verse 14 however. God gave Jesus his graduation gift early. God gave him the Spirit as a gift. And it came in the form of a dove, a beautiful symbol of innocence and gentleness and, yes, sacrifice. Rabbi Jose in Beruch 3 of the Talmud said it this way: "I heard a divine voice cooing like a dove." Jesus did too and it was the graduation gift that gave him the strength to stand up to the temptations of his wilderness experience even as the Spirit will minister to us in our wilderness experiences. We must listen to God in order to survive the temptations of life.
Now for the urgency. John has been arrested. Jesus makes his move. John has prepared the way and now Jesus comes to Galilee proclaiming the Good News. "I am the Way," he said. "The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the Good News."
His first sermon--19 words long--but it is enough. I'm sure I have parishioners who often wish I could say it all in 19 words or less, and we could go home early.
We have a precocious, adorable little girl in our congregation who has always wanted to sing in church. When she was only four years old, she came to me one Sunday morning and with great excitement asked, "Miss Rosemary Brown, can I sing a song this morning?" Not wanting to be a stumbling block to a precious child, I said, "Of course," and I announced to the congregation that we were to be blessed with a solo as our Introit. I stood Mickey on the first pew and turned her toward a now expectant and smiling group of people. She began, "Jesus wuvs me dis I know for da Bible tells me so...." Then her little hands went up in the air and she announced in a triumph voice, "And dat's dat!" and she sat down. Well, what more do we need to know? Jesus loves us and that's that. And the kingdom is at hand. It's already here. Turn back to God and live in God's kingdom. In Luke 12:32 Jesus said, "It's your heavenly Father's good pleasure to give it to you, this kingdom, this heaven on earth. I think if Jesus were preaching on The Protestant Hour in this year of our Lord 2000, he might add, "It's your heavenly Father's pleasure to give you the gift of his Spirit because you are the apple of his eye.
We have a beautiful hymn written by Helen Lemmell that goes like this:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in his wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of his glory and grace.
Let me add another thought to Helen's song. While looking to Jesus, hear him say, "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father." Look closer now into the eyes of God, and you will see reflected there your own image. One of the greatest gifts given to human beings is the fact that we are created in the image of God. We are loved. We are the apple of God's eye, and God will be pleased with us if we come out of the wilderness and into the world where we are needed in ministry to others. You already have your graduation gift. It was given to you and to me at Pentecost: the Spirit descending on us like a dove, and as Mickey would say, "And that's that."
Let us pray.
O God, how you honor us by creating us in your image and giving us the gift of life. And now, Lord, we want to live in such a way that we will honor you in everything we do. We want to be like Jesus. We want to turn our eyes and see the reflection of Christ in the eyes of everyone who are participating in his kingdom on this earth. We want to be part of the gift, the gift of the Holy Spirit, that lives in each one of us and enables us to share, to share love, to share concern, to share service, to be disciples. Bless us on this day and every day that opens before us with the opportunity to be like Jesus, to make a difference in the world that you have shared with us. And, Lord, when we are in the wilderness, help us to experience your presence, help us to know that we too are attended by angels and that we can come out of the wilderness into the world and make a difference in his name. We pray this prayer with such gratitude, Lord, and we do pray it for our sakes. Amen.