Rector’s Annual Report
“With you I am well-pleased”
Today, as we celebrate the historic baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan by his cousin John, we are reminded of our own baptisms. In Holy Baptism, Jesus invites us to be one with him, to share his life, and mostly importantly to share his relationship with the Holy One of Israel, the One he called Abba, Father. The name Abba implies intimacy, love and devotion with God, and that is what Jesus hopes to share with all those who claim him as Lord, Savior and brother. Likewise, the words spoken from heaven are meant for us: “You are my Son; You are my daughter, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Wait. One. Minute. This smells like a theological trap! Sure, almighty God is well pleased with Jesus. Why wouldn’t God be pleased with Jesus? He is God’s Son after all, and the Bible clearly affirms that Jesus is like us in all things but sin. BUT SIN. See, it’s easy to be pleased with Jesus. Me and you, not so much! For crying out loud, I am not even pleased with myself, so how can God be “well pleased” with me?
And there’s the theological trap: we so easily misunderstand the language of grace. God shows the divine favor and heavenly pleasure, not based on merit or deserving, but as gift. God’s favor is gratuitous and always unmerited. But, get this, God’s favor is never without purpose! The Lord God chose Abraham and Sarah to build a great Family; they weren’t special in their own right though. God then chose their descendants, the Hebrew slaves to be God’s People, God’s chosen People. Again, they weren’t “elected” due to any great virtue or achievement; the Hebrew slaves were chosen with a purpose and gifted with the Torah. As God’s Chosen People, Israel was a showcase to the nations of the world. Living by Torah, they were chosen to model God’s justice and mercy, and thereby draw the nations to the Holy One of Israel. Likewise, Mary of Nazareth was “highly favored” (or “full of grace” depending on your preferred translation), and she was graced/favored with purpose: to be the Mother of Jesus.
The language of grace and election is not suspended even in the case of Jesus. At his Baptism, the Holy Spirit manifests Jesus’ true identity and purpose. In Luke’s account, there is a public nature to this revelation, but for Mark and Mathew, the Baptism scene is more of a private event. In other words, the voice from heaven is primarily for Jesus’ benefit and only secondarily for us. In turn, Jesus then retreats to the desert for 40 days as he explores and tests his true identity in conflict with Satan.
And so, we return to the River Jordan, and we are invited to hear the voice from heaven: “You are my Daughter; you are my Son, the Beloved; with you, I am well pleased.” We are loved; we are chosen without judgement and without merit but certainly with purpose. Sharing Christ’s life, our purpose is to enflesh God’s love, to reflect God’s mercy and justice, so that others may likewise experience a relationship with God.
That is our purpose both as individual disciples AND as God’s gathered people here at St John’s, Winthrop. That purpose requires presence, an incarnational presence – a flesh and blood, bricks and mortar presence that cannot be replaced by a website, social media or even good intentions. During 2018 we have attended to that presence by replacing our failing steam heat system with a hyper-heat ductless system in the church. Greg is diligently tracking the electric bills to ensure that the promised efficiency is real. At the very least, we no longer have to worry about the steam boiler being flooded out. Our combined efforts continue to make a concrete difference in our immediate community and beyond, from our Food Pantry to the several outreach projects. Of particular mention, we donated half the cost ($3,600) of a new home through our in-pew collection for Food for the Poor.
St John’s is the locus of many ministries, seen and unseen, praised and unsung. These ministries, and future ones, depend on our concrete, incarnational presence in the community. So, Beloved of God, let us soak in God’s favor, and renew commitment and purpose to serve the Lord in this place so that others, especially future generations, may know God’s presence.
The Rev. Walter Connelly, Rector