Do you have any songs stuck in your head right now?
There’s actually a name for that phenomenon, the songs that get stuck in our heads. They’re called Ear Worms. And most of us catch an Ear Worm from time to time. They can happen without any warning. We’re sitting innocently at work and suddenly we can't stop singing, "It's a small world after all...it's a smaaalll, small world..."
There is an Ear Worm in Scripture too, or at least one that's meant to be. Over and over and over again from Genesis to Revelation, we hear,
You are beloved, beloved, beloved of God.
It plays over in the Bible like a broken record; it’s the meta-narrative that’s playing in the background of every scene. And it's made to stick.
The trouble is that other Ear Worms are playing all around us, other messages that get stuck in our brains too.
Did God really say...? How do you know...? Are you really who God says you are...? All this could be yours if you just bow down...
We have other messages everywhere, constantly running through our brains, and they can distract us from God’s Ear Worm, the only one that’s intended to stick: You are beloved of God.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, the moment when God tells Jesus he’s beloved. At this point in the story, Jesus is being prepared. He’s being called into his vocation. As far as we know, Jesus hasn’t healed any lepers or cast out any demons or preached any good news to the poor. He hasn’t planted any successful churches or pioneered any dynamic children’s programs. Jesus hasn’t even called his disciples yet.
At this point in the story, Jesus hasn’t done anything to make God so delighted with him.
God simply is delighted with him.
And it’s at this point in this story, before Jesus has done anything to earn it, that his main identity and his first call, the Ear Worm of God, are heard most clearly without distractions: “You are my beloved son, and with you, I am well-pleased.”
It’s interesting what God doesn’t do, isn’t it, as Jesus is being prepared to go out into the world...God doesn’t give him a list of things to do in ministry or countries to visit or phone numbers of people to proselytize. God doesn’t draw him the blueprints for a new hipster church. Before anything else in the story, God simply reminds him of who he is:
You are beloved of God. That’s it. That’s it.
In Christ, we too, are given our identities. When God looks at us, God sees us through the lens of Jesus, and adopts us into that identity too.
“You are my beloved, and with you, I am well-pleased.”
That call, that identity, that Ear Worm, is given to you right now. It’s given to you whether or not you read your Bible every day, whether or not you volunteer in KidsRock or host a Neighborhood Group, whether or not you’ve ever set foot on the mission field, whether or not you’ve introduced any neighbors to Christ. Good works for God are wonderful and important; they are what we were made to do, they can demonstrate our priorities, our faith commitment, and allow us to use our giftedness in Christ’s call and mission in the world.
But. Your first identity has nothing to do with what you have done or will do or can do. You simply are, without any of it, beloved of God. You are loved and valued, not because of how hard you work or how much you do, but simply because God has declared that you are. You are loved and valued, regardless of how many times you've failed or missed the mark, but simply because God has declared that you are. There is nothing you can do to earn that and nothing you can do to lose it.
Have you heard that enough?
Can you hear that enough?
Because at church, it might feel like a broken record. But sometimes it just doesn’t stick. We allow the sticky words of affirmation or the sticky words of condemnation to give us our identities, to tell us who we are. So we hide from our true identities, we create masks to protect ourselves, we live into how we’re perceived, for better and for worse, the names those around us give us, instead of how we’re actually called. Beloved.
And so it’s no surprise that when Jesus meets the devil in the next chapter, the devil goes straight for that Ear Worm, straight for Jesus’ identity, and tries to pick away at it.
One pastor named Tom Long said this:
“The deepest temptation is not the temptation to misbehave, but rather to compromise our identity, to be who are we not called to be.”
The temptation story in Matthew, found just after Jesus' baptism, isn’t as much about what Jesus is tempted to do but who Jesus is tempted to be. He’s tempted to try on a different identity. It would be one thing if the devil were pressuring Jesus to play a mean joke on Simon Peter or shoot spit wads at James and John. This is a more profound temptation because the devil is tempting Jesus to compromise his very identity, to let a different tune distract him from God’s message to him: You are beloved of God.
We see this in that key word that comes up several times from the mouth of the devil: IF. If you really are the Son of God, if you’re really who you claim you are...prove it.
Jesus was hungry. No doubt, his defenses were down.
Yet he resists the temptations because at his core, he knows who he is. Beloved of God. Nothing could entice him away from that identity, no words of praise or condemnation, no notes of false identity, false importance, or false unworthiness. He simply knew, knew it by heart, that he was Beloved of God.
Pastor Brynn Harrington
How about you? What Ear Worms get stuck in your head these days? Are any names you've been called, any words of affirmation or words of condemnation distracting you from the name God gives you?
Holy Spirit, give me an awareness of my own narratives this day. Help me quickly discover what is true and of you and what is a lie and from the enemy. Fill me with the strong confidence of your presence and give me ears to hear the accolades that you sing over me right now because of my Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen
Today is Friday. For many centuries, Fridays during Lent have traditionally been days of fasting. I invite you to consider fasting today in a way that is medically and/or professionally responsible. There are many options: Fast from processed sugars. Fast from meat. Fast from dairy or fatty foods. Fast from music or entertainment technology such as Facebook, TV, etc. Pick something where you will notice its absence.
Pastor Aaron Engler
- I’m thankful for my spiritual director, Sue Currie, who pointed out a number of these insights to me.
- Gn. 3:1.
- Mt. 4:6.
- Mt. 4:9.
- Gal. 4:1-7.
- Long, Thomas. Whispering the Lyrics.