Scripture: Mark 4: 1-11
Happy New Year to you! In my spin class at the YMCA in December, lots of bikes were open to ride. Lots of space! This Friday, not a single bike was open. My instructor named this crowded phenomenon as New Year’s resolutions meeting 15 degree temperatures outside.
Lots of people make resolutions around fitness and/or diet. It’s great to make healthy changes in your life. Yet, I wonder if the problem with keeping New Year’s resolutions lies in the rootedness of many of them in self-rejection. Negative voices, some inner and perhaps some outer, that shout “not good enough. Worthless. Nobody.” The trap of these voices dooms any resolution to failure.
Perhaps rather than resolutions, the church liturgical year points us in a different direction. The church’s new year, after all, began on the first Sunday of Advent. Now into the season of Epiphany, the church year urges us to celebrate today Jesus’s baptism, and to remember our own.
Baptism of our Lord Sunday according to the gospel of Mark isn’t tame or orderly. We are plopped into the middle of the desert wilderness. The heavens rip apart before our very eyes. An all-encompassing voice speaks forth words of grace.  “This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well-pleased.”
What an amazing grace-filled word. Beloved. It means esteemed, dear, worthy of love. Beloved occurs over 62 times in the New Testament. It’s used to describe Jesus over and over again.
That Beloved Son then tells us later in Mark (chapter 10) that in baptism we die and are raised to new life. God keeps God’s baptismal promise to Jesus, for when he seemed most abandoned in death, God worked to bring resurrection. Baptism isn’t a tame rite of passage for babies. Baptism is about a new life and resurrection. We die to our old, false, broken ways of being, and are raised to new life in Christ. In the United Methodist Church, we believe baptism is a sacrament, a practice that connects us to the mystery of God’s grace. In baptism, grace is freely offered to us before we are even aware of it, which is why it’s fine to baptize babies. Baptism also serves as our welcome to the family of Christ, the church.
Being the Beloved
Our baptisms are so important to remember because baptism reminds us that we are loved and accepted by the God who raised Jesus from the dead, and raises us, too. When we have a hard time loving and accepting ourselves as we are, like at the beginning of a new calendar year, baptism reminds us that we are covered in grace. When voices of self-rejection, of not enough, of not good surround us, God says to us through our baptism, “you are my Beloved.”
In fact, scripture uses Beloved not only to refer to Jesus, but to refer to God’s love for all disciples (see in Romans, 1 Thessalonians, Colossians). Theologian Henri Nouwen, in his beautiful book Life of the Beloved ( I could quote the whole thing) says that “self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the Beloved. Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence. All I want to say to you is ‘you are the Beloved.’ I hope that you can hear these words as spoken to you with all the tenderness and force that love can hold. My only desire is to make these words reverberate in every corner of your being—you are the Beloved.”
How much we need to hear this, over and over again “You are Beloved.” In this new 2018, simply decide to do away with resolutions, and instead live into being fully loved. Then, when the church calendar rolls over to Lent, which it will do soon (Feb. 14th), perhaps God will lead you to a discipline or commitment for Lent—that comes out of love. You’ll be in a better place to then share the spirit of being beloved with others. This is actually the third use of the word Beloved in Scripture—to refer to the way that Christians, loved by God, are to share that love with others. First though, live into the grace of the true voice that says to you “ You are Beloved.”
 Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular Age, 33.
 Karoline Lewis, workingpreacher.com, 2015.
 “By Water and the Spirit: A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism”
 Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular Age, 33, 30.
For this class, we did lots of vinyassa flow, to emulate the sense of the flow of water in baptism. Vinyassa can refer to a specific sequence of poses (Plank to Chaturanga (push up) to Upward-Facing Dog to Downward-Facing Dog) or to a whole style of a class that synchronizes breath with movement. For this baptism class, we did lots of plank to chaturanga to upward facing dog to down dog. The pictures below show the vinyassa flow poses in their order. Move through these four poses, inhaling on plank, exhaling on chaturanga, inhaling on upward-facing dog, and exhaling on downward facing dog. Moving in this flow, combining breath with postures, helps to place us in the grace filled spirit of being Beloved.