Loving the Difficult

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Mark 1:9-11

I confess that there have been a few church members through the years that I would like to have picked up by the scruff of their neck and throttled or dropped from the top of the church steeple. In any community of people there are people whom we regard as difficult, people with whom we would rather not work. I may dream of waving goodbye to them, and then I remember today’s Scripture.

During the Advent season, we often read a passage from Isaiah 64 that begins, “O, that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” As the saying goes, be careful what you ask for. Here in the baptism of Jesus from the Gospel of Mark, God does exactly that. The heavens are, in fact, torn open, and God’s Spirit descends, like a dove, to signify that God has come down to be with us in the person of Jesus Christ.

Whenever we celebrate baptism in the Christian church, we act out this scene over again. Oh, perhaps we cannot see it quite as clearly as Mark saw at Jesus’ baptism, but we, too, believe that God’s Spirit descends upon the one being baptized and God is now present with them as they are made part of the Body of Christ, the church. And the one being baptized will henceforth be numbered among the beloved of God – not just a member, not just another name on the rolls, not imply someone I have to put up with in my church work, but someone who is cherished and celebrated by the all-powerful master of the universe. That “difficult” person is God’s beloved just as much as I am, and God calls me to love them with love as strong as God’s love, not call them out or vilify them. Because they are now bearing God’s image and accompanied by God’s Spirit, I can no longer treat them as if they don’t matter to me. I may not like it, but I must love them.

In the language of our United Methodist liturgy, through baptism we are “incorporated into the household of God” and joined to others as God’s children. This God has expectations of how we will behave toward our brother and sisters. And when we fail, which we will, God expects us to acknowledge our sin, to repent and to seek God’s help in overcoming that sin. Because on the day that difficult person was baptized, the heavens were torn open, God’s Spirit descended, and a voice whispered “This is my beloved child with whom I am well pleased.”

Prayer: Thank you, Father, for making me a part of your family. There are times when it is difficult for me to accept some of my brothers and sisters as you have accepted me. Change my heart and help me to receive others as you have received me. Give me patience, give me a forbearing attitude. Let me see the people around me through your eyes, and love them with the same love you have offered them. Remind me often that you came to find me and love me when I was far from the image of your beloved, Jesus Christ, through whom I pray. Amen.

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