A Christian Curriculum Vitae
Words for the Baptism of Christ – 10 January 2021 – A cyber sermon from the Vicarage
Text: And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ (Mark 1v11)
God give you peace my Sisters and Brothers.
Clergy in the Church of England, once they have completed their curacy, should not be over-familiar with the angst that many people have in compiling a Curriculum Vitae to hand out to prospective employers. Presuming they are not prone to public peccadilloes, they are in possession of a much fabled Job for Life are they not? After all, how does one describe a vocation on two sheets of A4 paper? Yes, as applications are made for different posts experience is taken into account but surely the qualification for the job is the call and not a collection of certificates?
Well that is the theory… I personally do not keep a formal CV however, along with my colleagues, there is kept in the Bishop’s Office a Register of Ministers which goes into fairly forensic details from my earliest qualifications of attaining 8 GCE ‘O’ Levels (Summer 1972) to the latest training course I have attended, (a teaching day by our bishops on the Gospel of Mark in Advent 2020).
Yes, vocation is paramount but somehow we still need a piece of paper with official wording on it to demonstrate our competence and proficiency. Why is this so? Surely it is more important to ‘be’ than to ‘do’? Today’s words from Mark’s Gospel give us some idea as to what is really needed to complete a Christian Curriculum Vitae.
Mark’s Gospel is unique in that it has no prologue to the ministry of Jesus. No angelic visitations to the elderly childless and the anxious young. No young Jesus quizzing teachers of the faith in the Temple. No profound theological statement proclaiming Word and Light as the manifestation of the Love and Life of God. Simply a young man standing before his cousin seeking to come closer to God.
He stands on the river bank water-drenched and Spirit-filled and hears this Divine Approval, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
‘Well pleased?’ Well pleased with what? What has this stranger from Nazareth done to win the approval of the Lord God Almighty?
Has he walked on water or does he just get wet like the rest of us?
Can he feed a multitude or does he hunger for bread as other humans do. (Spoiler alert: watch this space to discover with what the devil tempts Him in the Wilderness).
Can he heal the sick and the world weary or does he need sleep and rest just as you and I do?
What are his qualifications to please God? What is it on his CV that causes God to speak from heaven, give Him a mystical slap on the back and exclaim, ‘This is my boy!’?
The clue to the answering the question is found in the words from the heavens, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved.’ Nothing else is needed to gain the approval of God, to be chosen by God other than to be born as a child of God.
This is a simple yet profound statement. God loves us not because of what we have done but because of who we are. To please God all that is needed is that we be born. I am immensely thankful for those who taught me about the faith when I was in short trousers. They filled me with dreams of heaven and a passion to serve and praise God. Sadly this also came with an unhealthy fear of God. (Perhaps this had its roots in a view of earthly Fathers as those who smiled when we were good and took the strap to us when we were not).
I spent many anxious years and spilt many tears trying to somehow ‘please’ or even ‘appease’ God. It was only as I was at the beginning of this marvellous journey of hope that is a vocation that I knew that it was not so much about my pleasing God but that God looked on me and was pleased with me.
One of my most vivid memories is sitting on a retreat in the Convent of the Schoenstatt Sisters in one of the areas of Cape Town reserved for so-called ‘Coloured’ people. During the Confession at the Eucharist I realised what a particularly displeasing sort of Christian I was and was close to tears. I felt a gentle presence stand behind and around me moving to embracing me and whispering gently into my left ear, ‘Andrew, you are mine!’ The tears flowed more freely after that but no longer for not making some sort of Christian CV but for the sheer joy of knowing that obedient or disobedient to God’s desires for me, near or far from God’s presence, God saw something in me to which I was blind. I was then, and I am now a beloved child of God who is pleased with me, warts and all.
And so is every one of us. If we but stop to listen and look we will, with Jesus, also see the heavens open and the voice that spoke Creation into existence speak to us and say, ‘You are my child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
It does not matter to where we have wandered – God seeks us out.
It does not matter how much we have failed – God smiles on us.
It does not matter how much we feel unworthy – God is well pleased with us.
When I am at my lowest that embrace from faraway Cape Town returns and whispers to me again. Singinf a comforting lullaby to me the words of which I learnt in a Sunday School chorus but do not sing anywhere near enough;
Jesus loves me when I’m good,
When I do the things I should.
Jesus loves me when I’m bad,
Though it makes him very sad.
Yes! Jesus loves me.
Yes! Jesus loves me.
The Bible tells me so.
Knowing that God is well-pleased with us, even though we have nothing to claim that place or privilege, is a message that should bring us joy and hope and help us live lives overflowing with love for our fellow sisters and brothers – of our faith or of no faith – with whom God is also well-pleased.
This message gives hope for the helpless.
Hope to all those who feel their offering to God is too small, or imperfect, or insignificant. God loves you because of who you are not because of what you have achieved. Our Beloved loves all those who feel they have never matched up to the standards set by others or even by themselves.
This message gives hope for the hapless.
Hope to all those who, like the Penitent Publican feel they are unworthy not just because they don’t measure up but because they have gone in the wrong direction completely. Our Beloved loves all those whom everyone else condemns. God does indeed ‘Love us when we’re bad’, and in loving provides a living hope for those who have even given up hope on themselves.
This message gives hope for those hankering for redemption.
All those who are hag-ridden by righteous acts and deeds. Those who are so anxious about performing their acts of devotion precisely or their deeds of charity scrupulously that their faith has been robbed of any joy. Yes, ‘Jesus loves us when we’re good, when we do the things we should,’ but no amount of doing good can increase a love that loved us to death and beyond to the life after life.
We must learn to praise God’s name and serve God’s children not out of a compulsion to curry Divine favour nor out of fear of punishment but in the sure and certain knowledge that the One Who Loves us Best looks on each one of us, smiles, and says, ‘You are my child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
[This blog ‘A Christian Curriculum Vitae’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2021 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged]