Galatians 3: 23-29 and Matthew 3:13-17
Will you pray with me: Glorious God, author of life, write your word on our heart this day, I pray — that we may dwell within your revelation. And may the words that I speak and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our rock and our redeemer, Amen.
Well – I’ve done it again. I told myself that this was going to be the year when I would finally do things differently. But nonetheless it has happened. I am so darn predictable, it kills me. Try as I might, it always end up the same way
You see this year, I resolved not to make New Year’s resolutions. I resolved not to fall into the trap of doing an inventory of all that I don’t like about myself or am not proud of in my life and then pledging that somehow this is the year that all of that is going to change.
This year, I resolved to resist, the “call to a better you” that is so ubiquitous this time of year. I resolved to resist making self-improvement plans across all dimensions of my life. I resolved not to get sucked into my Instagram feed that is full of “a fresh starts” and my inbox full of “helpful diet and exercise plans for a new me!”
But, I am sorry to say, it has nonetheless happened yet again. My resolve not to resolve has totally crumbled completely and I am sorry to say that I am totally right there with all the rest of the overly zealous gym goers and Whole30 devotees. I have so many resolutions for self improvement I am going to need a spreadsheet to keep track of them all.
Why do I do it? Why do I put myself through it?
Turns out we have been doing it for the last 4000 years. Turns out that this resolve to assess and improve goes back to the time of the Babylonians. . I find some comfort in that. According to my google search “Why do we make New Year’s resolutions?” The ancient Babylonians are said to have been the first people to make New Year’s resolutions, some 4,000 years ago. They would promise good behavior in the coming year, making sacrifices and asking the gods to bless them. The practice was carried forward in Roman times. And so it went through the ages. Maybe it is so hard to resist the impulse to make New Year’s resolutions because it is what we have been doing since practically the beginning of time.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for self –improvement and flourishing for sure. The desire to start again and move into a more evolved version of ourselves is laudable for sure. There is something within us that knows how we as individuals and as a species are missing the mark. There is a deep dis-ease in us that knows that something is not right. How many of us check and then re-checked thermometer this morning, can it really be 60 degrees in January?
We know things are not right and so we make resolutions. Trouble is while 43 % of the American population that will make a New Year’s resolution this year only 8% will actually follow through on them.
I was well aware of that statistic so on my trip out to see my mom after Christmas, when I could feel my resolve to not to make New Year’s resolutions starting to crumble, I decided to do some reading to see if I could find a way to make those inevitable resolutions stick this time, this year. And in my reading, I came across a book called “Atomic Habits” by James Clear.
“Atomic Habits” is chocked full of all sorts of interesting insights. Clear explains that when we want to make a change we often start by setting a goal for ourselves. I am going to go off of sugar completely for 30 days. I am going to train for a 10K in April. I am going to loose x% of body fat. Whatever it is we set goals to give us something to reach for. It works well until that time when we do reach our goal. After that, resolve tends to fade. We rallied to reach the goal – but not to sustain it. And so once that goal is met we tent to revert back to our old behaviors.
The second way that Clear says we commonly rely upon as we seek to change our behavior is to focus on our habits. I am going to take my vitamins every day! I’m going to take the stairs instead of the escalator. I’m going to wear my fit bit and when it prompts me to get up a move, I will do so. These habits are the building blocks of change that over time will lead us to our goals. But to keep them up takes a lot of intentionality, systems and environmental changes that are certainly possible but often not easy to implement or sustain.
But he says that there is a third aspect of behavior change that is the most effective but that is also the most over looked. This third aspect is not about goal setting. And it is not about cueing up new habits. Instead, about being clear about who we are. It is about the power that comes when we claim our identity. Clear says that we have the power to claim as our identity now the person that we one day hope to be. It is much more powerful to say, I am a runner than to say, I’m going to try running this year. Claiming the identity of a runner, it is then totally natural for me to put on my shoes and head out. It is just what I do because of who I am.
I do not know what time of year it was, but something in me thinks it must have been New Years. I think it must have been New Years when John, that Camel hair cloaked, lotus eating, visionary prophet started shouting out from the River bank of the Jordan — Repent! Change! Do it now!
It must have been New Year’s for people were ready. They came to John from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jorden. Crowds and crowds of people streaming to the river’s edge to be make a change in their lives. Down they went into the waters of chaos, and then lifted up through the waters of new birth. (Matt 3:5)
With the waters of the Jordan streaming from their faces, I can feel the new resolve in their hearts. I can feel their hope as they turned to walk the dusty roads that would take them back to their lives. And I can hear goals being set. I can feel their resolve as they named habits that they would surely now set into motion. And I can feel their hope that that this time, this time, the change they so desired would come and this time it would stick.
And then something catches their attention. A sound unlike anything they had heard before. They turned back towards the River. The rustling of a great wind? The renting of the heavens? They see him. This one called Jesus, whose name means, to deliver or to rescue. They see John lifting him up through the surface of the Jordan. They see water streaming down his face. They see his eyes full of delight and his smile as wide as the sky.
Then they hear it not just in their ears but in their hearts. A voice, reverberating in their very being. It says: “This is my son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased.” Beloved.
There is a lot of change that we want to see in our own lives and in the life of the world. Things are not as they ought to be. But what if the starting place of the changes we want to see is to return to what has been true all along. What if the starting place of the changes we want to see is what the ancient text of our faith have proclaimed well before there were experts writing about behavior change.
And that is to claim our essential identity – that before we do or change a thing we are beloved. Beloved. This is the epiphany the Gospel story proclaims. Beloved is not just who Jesus is but who we are as well. As our passage for Galatians today proclaims, in Christ Jesus we are all beloved children of God (Galatians 3: 23-29).
Close your eyes for a moment if you would. Imagine you are in the waters of the Jordan. Feel the release as you go under and then John’s strong arm under your back as you are lifted up. Feel the water running off your face. Feel a smile as wide as the sky open to you. Hear the voice claiming you, you, as beloved. . Take a moment to put yourself there for it is your birthright.
We want to improve and make changes and be more fully who God would have us be, that I am clear of and committed to. So, what change could knowing belovedness bring in our own lives and in the world?
Could the oppositional binaries that characterize so much of our life theses days start to fall away. Would the us. Vs. them fall away if we could see through the eyes of beloved?
Paul, the author of our first scripture passage was, (in his own words) a Pharisee among Pharisees, the best of the best. Educated, powerful, fierce opinionated. He had made a name for himself as one who was going to stamp out the fledging Jesus movement that was trying its best to carry on in the wake of Jesus crucifiction. Paul was about getting it right. Making it right. Cleaning it up. He was a man of resolve.
And then one day as he traveled to Damascus to find a community of Jesus followers there and turn them in to the authorities he has his own Jordan River moment. He falls to the ground realizing that this Jesus who he had been persecuting is now calling him to be who God created him to be. He is lifted up, carried forward and becomes the one who most clearly is able to articulate to those, who are confused and searching, what it is to live now as this new creation in Christ.
Paul knows beloved. He knows there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you, all of us, are one in Christ Jesus.
When I was pregnant I read every book I could get my hands on to learn how to be pregnant. When I was raising my kids, I read every book I could get my hands on to learn how to raise kids. As I seek to walk in faith, I tend to read every book I can get my hands to learn what the life of faith looks like.
But what if it has already been proclaimed. What if all I really need to know, all of the resolve I will ever really need was spoken that day as the one who came to show us the Way claimed his birthright as Beloved? What if the changes we seek are to be found through the doorway beloved?
Beloved. Beloved. This is who we are. — for in Christ Jesus we are all children of God (Galatians 3: 23-29). And that has the power, I believe, to change everything forever. May it be so. Amen.