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The Unconditional, Unchanging Truth: God Loves You Just As You Are
Mark 1:9-15       3-21-21

We’ve been hanging out in Mark chapter 1 for a couple of weeks now.

I chose to do that because, uniquely in Mark, in just 45 short verses we get an overview of Jesus’ ministry priorities.

So now that we see some of what Jesus did, let’s go back a little to where it all started.

Unlike the other gospels, in Mark we don’t know anything about Jesus before his appearance for baptism.

No genealogies or birth narratives as in Matthew and Luke, no cosmic history as in John.

In Mark, Jesus just walks into the River Jordan to be baptized and his life changes.

Human history changed at the end of the gospel with Jesus’ resurrection, but Jesus’ life changed at the beginning of the gospel with his baptism.

When God spoke from the Heavens at his baptism, God was speaking personally to Jesus – not corporately to the nation of Israel as the prophets had expected.

Mark 1:11 You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.

God spoke personally of his love for Jesus, just as he had for Isaac, Jacob and others.

Ours is a personal God; He knows you and He loves you.

Years ago, there was a long-time member of our church, an older, respectable woman who was always impeccably dressed.

Several times through the years she greeted me after the service and said something like,

“That was a lovely sermon,” and then lowering her voice she would add, “but someday I’m going to tell you my secret and then you tell me if God still loves me.”

I encouraged her to talk to me about her burdensome secret, but to her dying day she never dared confess what it was.

The ache in her words stays with me still because she needlessly went to her grave believing that she was only fooling everyone with her respectability – that actually she was deeply flawed and unloved by God.

How many people – and truth be told, how many of us – wonder the same?

This season of Lent is a special invitation for us to confess our sins and realize God’s forgiveness.

Jesus went to the cross as a sacrifice for our sins, so who are we to hold onto our guilt and shame?

Who are we to not forgive ourselves when God says we are forgiven?

No matter who you are, or where you’ve been, what you’ve done or not done, you are a loved child of God.

Our soul hungers for that blessing.

At the peak of his international fame, author Father Henri Nouwen left the speaking circuit and became a companion to a man living in The Arc, a care center in Toronto serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

His move away from academia troubled many because they thought that his teaching was having a profound, international impact.

But Nouwen insisted that love needs to be personal if it’s to have meaning.

He said he would learn more about love by caring directly for people and that, in the end, that would matter more than writing another book.

One of the residents at The Arc was a quite handicapped, wonderful lady named Janet.

One day at their little worship service she said, “Henri, can you bless me?”

He says, “I remember walking up to her and giving her a little cross on her forehead.

“She said, ‘Henri, it doesn’t work. No, that is not what I mean.’”

He continues, “I was embarrassed and said, ‘I gave you a blessing.’”

She persisted, “No, I want to be blessed.”

Nouwen was left wondering, “What does she mean?”

After the service, Janet walked up to him and again said, “I want to be blessed,” and then put her head against his chest.

Spontaneously he put his arms around her, held her, and looked right into her eyes and said, “Blessed are you, Janet. You know how much we love you. You know how important you are. You know what a good woman you are.”

She looked up and said, “Yes, yes, yes. I know.”

Nouwen remembers, “I suddenly saw all sorts of energy coming back to her.”

He continued, “She seemed to be relieved from the feeling of depression because suddenly she realized again that she was blessed.

“She went back to her room and immediately other people said, ‘I want that kind of blessing, too.’”

The people kept walking up to him and he suddenly found himself embracing person after person.

Then one of the assistants, a big muscular man, said, “Henri, can I have a blessing, too?”

Standing in front of everyone and dwarfed by this man, Nouwen put his hands on his shoulder and said, “John, you are blessed. You are a good person. God loves you. We love you. You are important.”

What a gift for Lent that could be for each of us.

Lent is about letting go – so how about letting go of all our doubts about our worthiness … how about quieting the critical voice inside us so we can actually hear, “You are blessed. You are a good person. God loves you. We love you. You are important.”

Whitney Houston tragically died when she was just 48-years-old – a beautiful, wealthy superstar.

Her memorial service was held at Newark’s New Hope Baptist Church, where she learned to sing as a child.

Kevin Costner was one of the speakers that day, but his comments were different than what you might expect.

Costner told about how he and Whitney Houston had shared childhood stories of being raised in Baptist churches that were the center of their families’ lives.

Then he recalled that, even as an international celebrity, Houston was plagued with personal doubts.

He remembered how uncertain she was of her own fame, and how frequently she would wonder, “Am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Do people like me?”

Costner said “It was the burden that made her great and the part that caused her to stumble in the end.”

That left me thinking: If someone who was so obviously talented, so obviously beautiful and so obviously celebrated could doubt their talent, beauty and fame, then how easily might we all be misled to devalue our own worth?

Where have you bought-in to the lie that you are not lovable or worthy?

Costner publicly wished for Whitney, “When you are standing before your heavenly Father, don’t worry. You’ll be good enough.”

Rosemary Brown was minister of a Methodist church in Nashville, Tennessee.

She says that they had a precocious but adorable little girl named Mickey in their congregation who had always wanted to sing in church.

When she was only four-years-old, Mickey came to Rev. Brown one Sunday morning and with great excitement asked, “Miss Rosemary Brown, can I sing a song this morning?”

Not wanting to be a stumbling block to a precious child, she said, “Of course,” and then announced to the congregation that they were to be blessed with a solo before their service.

She stood Mickey on the first pew and turned her toward a now expectant and smiling group of people.

She began, “Jesus wuvs me dis I know for da Bible tells me so….”

Then her little hands went up in the air and she announced in a triumphant voice, “And dat’s dat!” and sat down.

Well, really, what more do we need to know?

As Jesus would later teach, God’s love and concern for you are so personal and intimate, that He knows the number of hairs on your head.

Mark 1:11 You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.

What would have happened if after the Father spoke Jesus said, “Yeah, but.  Yeah, but I’ve been a total screw-up as a carpenter. Yeah, but if people really knew who I am they wouldn’t like me. Yeah, but I don’t think I’ll really ever amount to much.”

What if Jesus had denied his blessing?

And how come we so easily deny our own blessing?

Jesus did not get up from his baptism and just head into life pumped up as if this was a single pep talk.

No.

Remember when we talked about his wilderness experience that happened immediately after this blessing?

There he was tempted by Satan to disregard the blessing, but the angels were with him and cared for him.

The gospel isn’t a locker room pep talk for you.

The Creator of heaven and earth – your creator – says He loves you and has a purpose for your life.

But He doesn’t send you out into life alone … angels go with you, too.

May we know God’s love, may we forgive ourselves as much as God has forgiven us, and may we feel His angels’ presence with us whenever the forces of darkness say otherwise.