We walk through this life, many of us, perhaps all of us in a way, wounded. Whether imagined or real, we all feel that need of approval, we all want to prove ourselves, if not to our parents, or others, then to ourselves. But somehow, our accomplishments, however grand, do not seem to fill the need. We are not good enough, so we put our efforts into tearing others down, thinking that somehow, in their demeaning that we are elevated. We are not good enough, so we spend our lives trying to please others, hoping they will give us a scrap of approval that we devour like hungry dogs. We are not good enough, so we struggle to get some little position of power through which we can wield our will over others. We are not good enough, and so we let others have their way with us, and we accept the consequences as deserved. All of this is as readily seen on the schoolyard as it is at the high school prom; it is as common in the home as it is in the board room; it is evident in church fellowship and in a political debate. We desperately seek approval, and we are never sure if we have found it.
The Christian story begins with a man of Nazareth, standing in the brown waters of the Jordan with a prophet named John. As he is baptized we are told that he saw the heavens ripped apart, the veil between heaven and earth thrown back, and the Spirit of God descending like a bird to alight on him. And then, a voice: You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.
Now, I don’t presume to know all that this means, so I would like to keep it simple. At the least, it means what it says, God speaks directly to him and tells him that he is well pleased with this One he calls his Son, the Beloved. This man of Nazareth is given the approval of the Living God, is blessed to know that he is approved and accepted and empowered to be all that that might mean. There is much to say about what that might mean, but the essence of Christianity is that this man becomes God’s gift to us…all of us. This Son is God’s gift who lives out the approval and acceptance of God among all of us who desperately seek acceptance, who live out our fear in a million destructive ways. It is just this fear that caused us to crucify him, and yet, even that does not diminish the gift… it compounds and completes it, for he accepts our rejection of himself and of the God who marks him as his own, and prays for our forgiveness, even as his death is the final sign of the depths to which he will go to show us the truth, to live out God’s love for us all.
It is not an exaggeration to say that faith, that believing, might well begin and end with trusting that God’s great desire, God’s great plan, God’s great intention, is that we should hear the Father’s Voice say those same words to us; that we should put our names right there in the declaration of God. You, (your name here) _____ are my son, my daughter, my child, the beloved; with you I am well pleased. I do not say this in order that you ponder it, that you try to understand it, but that you see it and hear it as the gift of God to you, and let it change you.
All you can do to negate its power is to reject it, to fail to hear it, to let it go as if it were just words, but if it is just words, then Christ is of no real meaning. To all who believe, that is, to all who will hear the Voice and let that word of acceptance take root, to them the word the Voice speaks is the truth of all truths. You do not need to prove yourself to God. You do not need to perform. You do not need to go running around this world in which he has placed you proving your worth to yourself, nor others. You can be at rest, comfortable, yourself, and so can I. This is the good news.
It is for this reason that Jesus said, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. We need not go out looking for it. Repent. Look at yourself and all the ways you deny the gift of God’s acceptance of you, his love for you, his intention for you. Turn back and run toward that Voice, for you are his child, beloved. Believe the good news.
Tupper Garden is the Senior Pastor at Raleigh Court Presbyterian Church. Visit them on the web at rcpres.org