A Sermon by Rev. Robin Bartlett
preached on February 11, 2018
at First Church in Sterling, MA
On the day you were born, God said, “This Little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”
Last year, I was all set to say grace at the First Church Treasures of the Community auction before we ate our meal. Apparently, the organizing team didn’t like my prayer the year before, so they were attempting to micromanage my grace a bit.
“You can talk for a little longer than you did last year. Can you not sing this time? Can you say a couple of funny things, but not too funny? Can you call them all beloved, like you call us? We want them to like you.”
There are lots of folks who go to the auction who don’t come to our church. I think the auction planners figured that a couple glasses of wine, a few jokes, and a sweet nickname might make people happier to part with their money.
But I don’t call you “Beloved” to endear you to the church, or to me. I call you that because your status as Beloved by God is what matters here. I remind you that Beloved is your true name because where else are you going to hear that so explicitly? That’s the only way I can serve you the way you deserve to be served. You are God’s son, God’s daughter the beloved. In you, God is well pleased.
From The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen:
“Home is the center of my being where I can hear the voice that says: “You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests”—the same voice that gave life to the first Adam and spoke to Jesus, (the second Adam); the same voice that speaks to all the children of God and sets them free to live in the midst of a dark world while remaining in the light...it is the never- interrupted voice of love speaking from eternity and giving life and love whenever it is heard.”
We all need to find that home at the center of our being that reminds us of our belovedness, we need to quiet the voices of hate and fear so that we can hear that never-interrupted voice of love speaking from eternity.
Now I don’t know, but I imagine the morning Ryan Blaquiere was born—February 28, 2017--was a day like any other for many of us. While we were slowly waking up, trudging to the shower, dragging a brush through our hair, waiting in the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru for the person in front of us to put in a large sandwich order with multiple coffees (why don’t they just go inside?!), fighting traffic on the highway, turning on our computers and mindlessly scrolling through our newsfeeds…while we were going about the every day-ness of our our day….God said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” and a light was born anew in the form of Ryan Lee Blaquiere.
The glory of God shone on his face, and the world would never be the same.
Especially for Lauren and Dave.
That day, Lauren and Dave gazed upon Ryan, smelling the newness of his head, drinking in his soft baby skin, lying him down on their bare chests, gingerly handing him out to others to hold, and immediately missing the weight of him in their arms as if he had always been there…
And it was very quiet, as rooms with newborn babies often are—there is a hush of awe. In the quiet, the voice of God whispered in their ears and flooded into their hearts:
“This is my Son, the beloved. Listen to him.”
Eventually, the nurses and doctors said they could bring Ryan home from the hospital, and Lauren and Dave couldn’t believe that the medical professionals were trusting them with this monumental task they certainly weren’t ready for. Like every new set of parents, they probably drove about 15 miles per hour all the way home.
Listening to Ryan, the Beloved, was their new task. It was going to take practice and time and every bit of love they had to give.
And so Lauren and Dave set about to listen, their hearts leaping at his every cry. They listened to him with bleary-eyed frustration in the middle of the night wondering desperately what he was asking for: to be fed or changed, to be held or rocked to sleep. They listened to his new language as the months went on: coos, and squeals and burps and diaper blow outs, and their baby’s first laugh, which is like a thousand angels singing.
They whispered in his ear, planted kisses on his brow, “You are my son, the beloved. I will always listen to you.”
“This Little Light of Mine, I’m gonna let him shine.”
You were all loved like this once. And this is how God loves you still. This love’s for keeps.
The only way to love a baby is largely without a lot of words. You love a baby by touching, feeding, rocking, holding, healing, listening. Responding.
Being loved and loving others in this way has the power to transform us into a far more beautiful version of who we could have been. It keeps us alive, and turns us human.
This kind of Love has the power to alight darkness, to change us into new beings.
Today is transfiguration Sunday. Happy Transfiguration Sunday! Most Christians probably don’t even realize that this is a “thing”…that this Transfiguration story gets told every year on the Sunday before Lent in Christian churches across America. No one at Walmart even wishes you a “Happy Transfiguration Sunday,” and Starbucks cups do not have a Transfigured Jesus as a logo at this time of year…they are just plain white and green. I call it the War on Transfiguration.
Anyway, this Sunday comes every year.
In the transfiguration story we heard today from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus goes up a mountain to pray, bringing his friends with him. While he is up there, a white light surrounds him, the appearance of his face changes, and his clothes become dazzling white. We see Moses next to him, the representative of the Law, and we see Elijah next to him, the representative of the prophets.
Now you may think that transfiguration sounds like some sort of miraculous event that can’t be real. But those of us who have sat at a death bed with a loved one who is dying know that the closer we are to God, the more our appearance changes.
Jesus’ friends were terrified when they see him transfigure, and amazed. These three disciples have been following Jesus around for quite awhile, and he’s given them lots of detailed instructions about what they are supposed to do to manifest God’s love in the world.
Right before their mountaintop moment, in fact, Jesus told them that anyone who wants to save their lives will deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him.
Loving your enemies, healing the sick, visiting the prisoner, and giving away your possessions is not quite as thrilling as being bathed in a warm white light on the top of a mountain.
So when Peter hears the very voice of God Himself telling him that this newly transformed, radiant Jesus right in front of him is the real thing, the only response he can manage is “I like all this Glory, God! Let’s build three places for all of you to live, and camp out here with God forever and ever! This place rocks!”
But the lesson for Peter is that if God can transform, so can he.
So the voice of God says this:
“This is my son, the beloved. Listen to him.”
Listen to him. That’s kind of a bummer for the disciples, because they know that listening to him means following him. Following him means they must go back down that glorious mountain, and give up their wants, privileges, securities, and power. Following him means turning love into an action.
Following him means to listen and respond: with touch, and feeding and holding and rocking and healing. Loving others, especially when it’s hardest to love.
And listening for his voice means quieting our own, seeing each person’s beauty, hearing each person’s need, feeling each person’s feelings.
So let us be quiet and imagine what Baby Ryan might be saying to us with his eyes and his smile and his little squeals and his not-yet grown-ness.
Imagine Ryan a beacon, a lighthouse planted in the middle of the desert as we poise on the brink of Lent.
Imagine Ryan, closer to the heart of God than any of us, “insisting on being seen” the way Jesus insists on being seen on the day of his transfiguration. Imagine God breaking into a pleased grin upon seeing Ryan, the way God gazes with delight upon Jesus on the mountain. Take delight in Ryan, as God does.
“This is my son, the beloved. Listen to him,”
Imagine following Ryan to build a world in which the light of God is allowed to be uncovered…a world where God’s light cannot be contained.
“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”
Let these be his words to you.
Listen to me.
Listen to me each time I cry to be fed. Respond with nourishment for my body and soul. Listen to me, even when you are angry with me. Respond with love each time I express emotion, no matter how uncomfortable my emotions are to you: my fear and rage, my grief and joy. Do not try and shame me out of my feelings.
Listen to me when I fail, or fall short. Respond by saying that I am forgiven despite my mistakes. I wasn’t made to be perfect, I was made to be loved.
Listen to me each time I cry out in thirst. Respond with living water.
Listen for me when I am lost, and bring me home again. Remind me often that I am to live my life as a gift to this broken and beautiful world.
Listen to me when my inevitable heartbreak and despair overcome my sense of joy in living. When you listen to me, it helps me to see the beauty of the world more clearly, and shows me ways to transform a little of life’s brutality into something I can use to grow.
Listen to me: to my small and tender call to build together a world worthy of my promise.
Respond by showing me I am not simply a consumer of goods, I am a part of the kingdom of God, no less and no more important than any other human being.
Imagine if we gazed upon every adult and child the way we gazed upon Ryan today; the way God gazed upon Jesus. My son, the beloved. We would no longer define ourselves by what tribe we belonged to, but as beloved children of God. Listen.
That kind of listening would demand we come down the mountain, ready to follow Jesus into the forgotten places of the empire to illuminate the darkness with our light.
If we are quiet and listen, the never- interrupted voice of love speaking from eternity can be heard.
When you were born, God said, “This Little light of Mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”
Let your light shine. Amen.
Reverend Robin Bartlett is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, with dual standing in the United Church of Christ. She is the Senior Pastor at The First Church in Sterling, Massachusetts.