Claiming our Belovedness
By Rev. Julie Yarborough
July 23, 2006
Mark 1: 4-11 and Jeremiah 29: 10-14
(mp3, 5.8Mb) ]
start with a simple meditative exercise this morning: I’m going to ask you a question and have you meditate and listen for the answer for one minute. Sit up straight, place your feet flat on the floor, and rest your hands in your lap. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath… Who are you?
you. You may open your eyes.
Pastor Robert Fulghum has written an essay about that inevitable question that
is asked when you meet someone for the first time – “So, what do you do?” It’s a kind of ice-breaker, used to make
conversation, but it’s also a way to size people up, to evaluate who they are – it can also be a real conversation stopper.
pastor, I admit that I’m not always comfortable telling people what I do for a
living, especially when I sense that they are not religious types! Often the conversation goes like this:
“So, what do you do?”
“I’m a pastor.”
“Oh… It sure is hot this week, isn’t it?”
of answering the question in the usual way, Fulghum once told a seatmate on an
airplane that he was a janitor, hoping that she would allow him to read his
book in peace. Instead, she engaged him in an extended conversation. He was only to discover later, when he saw
her in the congregation, that she was a
member of the church in which he was scheduled to speak that Sunday, and she
had known who he was all along!
time, bumped into first class, Fulghum found himself sitting next to a
distinguished looking gentleman from India, whom he assumed to be a businessman.
“So, what is it that you do?”
The man asked him.
“I’m a neurosurgeon.” He
“Really!” said the man, “So
learned his lesson, the next time Fulghum flew, he told his seatmate these
stories and suggested that they each make up new occupations and pretend all
the way to their destination. His
seatmate was game and chose to be a spy. Fulghum told him that he was a
nun. They had great fun on that flight,
but the man sitting behind them had the last laugh when he passed Fulghum in
the concourse and said, “Have a nice day, Sister!”
this culture, we tend to define ourselves in three different ways: by what we
do, by what we have, and by what other people think or say about us. Yet, these definitions are incomplete. Instead of listening to these voices that
come from outside of us, we need to listen with our hearts. The prophet
Jeremiah tells us of God’s promise: “When you search for me you will find me,
if you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13) When we seek with our hearts, we find
love. When we listen with our hearts, we
find that we are not defined by what we do or what we have, or by what others
think of us. Our true identity, which we had long before all of these other
definitions, is that we are children of a loving God. And that loving God calls to each of us
saying, “You are my child, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”
voice that spoke to Jesus at his baptism is the same voice that speaks to each
of us. And yet, many of us, for whatever
reasons, have not been able to hear that voice. “God couldn’t possibly be speaking to me,” we say. “God couldn’t be pleased with me.” “I don’t deserve that kind of love, that kind
of praise.” “I’ve really screwed up my life and no one could be pleased with
me.” Do these voices sound familiar? In a human world of conditional love, where
praise is often based on performance, it’s no wonder that we have a difficult
time hearing the message of divine love that is not based on any conditions.
Richard Shindell illustrates this difficulty in his song, “Smiling.”
I had a place in the desert
Just a roof and four walls
Where I could wait for the rapture
Where I could ride out the fall
I was keeping a vigil
I was deep in a trance
I was holding a candle
To the palm of my hand
Then I saw you smiling. . . .
Like a fool I protested
I need time to prepare
You see I never expected
Something so simple and clear
So I tried to persuade you
That I was not what you thought
That I would only disappoint you
That I can’t be what I’m not
You just stood there smiling. . .
Shindell’s vision of God’s grace is a powerful one. God loves us with an
everlasting love, and there is nothing we can do that can ever separate us from
that love. Nothing! God’s love for us is
not conditional. That’s the amazing thing about grace! God doesn’t love us because of what we do or
what we have or what other people have said about us. In fact, there is nothing we can do to earn
God’s love. It’s a gift, a free
gift. And all we have to do is receive
it. In order to receive it, however, we
have to realize that the gift is being offered to us.
Toni Morrison’s prize-winning novel Beloved, Baby Suggs is a former
slave and an “unchurched preacher, one who visited pulpits and opened her great
heart to those who could use it.”
When warm weather came, Baby Suggs, holy, followed by
every black man, woman and child who could make it through, took her great
heart to the Clearing – a wide-open place cut deep in the woods nobody knew for
what at the end of a path known only to deer and whoever cleared the land in
the first place. In the heat of every
Saturday afternoon, she sat in the clearing while the people waited among the
situating herself on a huge flat-sided rock, Baby Suggs bowed her head and
prayed silently. The company watched her
from the trees. They knew she was ready
when she put her stick down. Then she
shouted, “Let the children come!” and they ran from the trees toward her.
your mothers hear you laugh,” she told them, and the woods rang. The adults
looked on and could not help smiling.
“let the grown men come,” she shouted. They stepped out one by one from among the ringing trees.
your wives and your children see you dance,” she told them, and groundlife
shuddered under their feet.
Finally she called the women to her. “Cry,” she
told them. “For the living and the
dead. Just cry.” And without covering their eyes the women let
started that way: laughing children, dancing men, crying women and then it got
mixed up. Women stopped crying and
danced; men sat down and cried; children danced, women laughed, children cried
until exhausted and riven, all and each lay about the Clearing damp and gasping
for breath. In the silence that
followed, Baby Suggs, holy, offered up to them her great big heart.
did not tell them to clean up their lives or to go and sin no more. She did not tell them they were the blessed
of the earth, its inheriting meek or its glorybound pure.
told them that the only grace they could have was the grace they could
imagine. That if they could not see it,
they would not have it.
The only grace we
can have is the grace we can imagine. If
we cannot see it, we cannot have it. In
other words, if we do not realize that the gift is being offered to us, we cannot
receive it. Can you imagine that God is
smiling and speaking to you in love? Can you imagine that the source of all
being is saying, “You are my Beloved, in whom I am well pleased”? On the days when it is hard to believe that
we are loved, perhaps we need only imagine the possibility.
I was the Associate
Pastor of Nichols United Methodist Church in Trumbull, Connecticut when I met my husband, Jeff, who was living in Madison, New Jersey and finishing his M.Div. at Drew. When we decided to get married, we also
decided that we would live here in New Jersey, where Jeff was the newly appointed Pastor of the
Springfield Emanuel UMC. Planning a long
distance wedding in four months, tying up loose ends and saying my good-byes at
Nichols did not leave me time to look for another church ministry position.
Instead, I found a job as an assistant manager at Borders Book Shop in the Mall
at Short Hills.
Now I love books, and
I worked in a bookstore during college, so in many ways I was right in my
element. In other ways, however, I felt lost. After being surrounded by
people” for so long, the corporate/business culture was alien to me. None of the people I worked with attended
church or synagogue on a regular basis. Only a few of them were interested in
spiritual matters at all. Working in retail again was a real culture shock for
me. To top it off, I was the manager for human relations, and in charge of
hiring and firing. Some days, my job was just not fun. One day, when I was feeling particularly low,
Jeff came to meet me for lunch. Later
that afternoon, I was delighted to find a note from him on my desk. My husband,
ever the romantic and ever the pastor had written: “Has anyone told you today
that you are the Beloved? You are.”
That message was one
that I desperately needed to hear. I had forgotten that my true identity was
not defined by what I did, or by what others thought of me. My true identity
comes from inside, from my heart-knowledge that I am a beloved child of
God. That message has become a vital
part of our relationship, and a reminder that we give each other and our
children daily. A few years ago, I told
a Christ Church member that story and she asked me to repeat the
phrase so that she could write it down and post it on her refrigerator where
she could read it each day. I wrote it
down for her: “Has anyone told you today that you are the Beloved? You
are.” Maybe if we read it each day, or
hear it often enough, or even imagine that it’s true, we’ll start to believe
that we are Beloved children of a loving God. And when we begin to believe in
our hearts that we are the Beloved, our lives will be transformed forever.
Robert Fulghum closes
his essay with these words: “I and you – we are infinite, rich, large,
contradictory, living, breathing miracles – free human beings, children of God
and the everlasting universe. That’s
what we do.”
And, I would add, that’s who we are.
Close your eyes
again. Ask yourself the question, “Who
am I?” Now listen to the answer that comes from the voice of a smiling God:
“You are my child, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”
Robert Fulghum, It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It, (New York:Villard
Books, 1989,) pp. 63-66.
Richard Shindell and Larry Campbell, “Smiling,” from the CD Reunion Hill,
#8027, Shanachie Entertainment Corp., 1997.
Toni Morrison, Beloved, (New York: Penguin Books USA Inc., 1988), pp.
Robert Fulghum, It Was on Fire when I Lay Down on It, (New York:Villard Books, 1989,) p.70.
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