Dear Child of God

St. Philip Lutheran Church
8 January 2023 + Baptism of Our Lord
Matthew 3.13-17
Rev. Josh Evans




It started off as an assignment from his therapist: a letter to himself.

Dear Evan Hansen,
Today is going to be an amazing day. Because today all you have to do is just be yourself.

But for Evan, in the Broadway musical that takes its title from the opening words of his letter, therein lies the problem: being himself. Evan, who struggles with social anxiety and depression, wants nothing more than to fit in, to be seen, to be found.

Dear Evan Hansen,
he types in a revised version of his letter in the school library,
It turns out this wasn’t an amazing day after all… I wish everything was different. I wish that I was a part of…something. I wish that anything I said…mattered, to anyone.

When the final version of that letter, far less optimistic than it started out, winds up in the hands of his classmate Connor Murphy, what happens next no one could have imagined. The plot of the show morphs into a wild and poignant snowball effect of events.

That day in the library, as Evan is finishing his letter, in walks Connor, himself a bit of a loner, struggling to fit in, desperate for connection, and he offers to be the first (and only) person to sign the cast on Evan’s arm.

But Connor’s uncharacteristic friendliness quickly turns into enraged resentment once he reads the letter and becomes furious, seemingly without reason, at a mention of his sister, for whom Evan has an unrequited love.

Then, sometime later, Evan is called into the school office, greeted unexpectedly by Connor’s parents. Tragically, they tell him, Connor has taken his own life … and they found Evan’s note in their son’s pocket, mistaking it for evidence that their loner son maybe wasn’t so alone after all, that he and Evan had somehow been friends.

After fumbling – and failing – to explain the truth, Evan starts to play into their misperceptions. He gives Connor’s parents the story they want to hear and invents an alternate history in which he and Connor were best friends.

Evan never could’ve imagined how out of hand it would get.

He certainly never could’ve imagined being on stage at a school assembly, at the center of the newly-formed “Connor Project,” giving a speech in Connor’s memory, as he sings in the show’s most well-known number:

Even when the dark comes crashing through,
When you need a friend to carry you,
And when you’re broken on the ground,
You will be found.

It’s as much a reminder for the assembly grieving and remembering Connor as it is for Evan himself: You are not alone.

No matter how isolated you feel,
no matter how lost in the wilderness,
no matter how desperate for connection:

You are not alone.
You will be seen.
You will be found.

***

Isolated, and in the wilderness.

That’s where we encounter Jesus immediately after this dramatic scene of his baptism, when the heavens are opened, and the Spirit of God swoops down like a dove.

And then, in an instant, all of that is gone in the very next verse. The same Spirit that alights on him moments before leads him in the next into the wilderness, to be tested by the devil.

Alone and hungry and fearful, Jesus’s wilderness journey lasts not just one afternoon, but for forty days and nights.

It had to feel like a lifetime, like the wilderness would never end.

But … there’s more to today’s story.

Before the wilderness, there is a blessing: This is my Son, the Beloved.

Or as Mark, the earliest gospel to be written down, puts it: You are my Son, the Beloved.

This blessing, this belovedness, goes with Jesus into the wilderness.

As if to say:
You are not alone.
You will be found.

This is the blessing that Jesus takes with him into the wilderness and that gives him the strength he needs to see it through.

***

Sometimes the wilderness still finds ways to break in, to make us question that blessing, to make us doubt: Maybe I really am alone. Maybe I’m not beloved.

In the second act of the show, Evan’s story of a made-up friendship with Connor catches up with him. The longer the fabricated story gets, the more complex – and conflicting – some of the details become … until Evan can’t take it anymore and confesses everything, now finding himself more alone than ever.

It had started out, innocently enough, as an attempt to comfort a grieving family … and it soon became a way for Evan to create a happier reality for himself that he never thought he had or deserved.

Truthfully, it had all been an attempt to cover up his own brokenness, how broken and alone and afraid he felt …

… until, in what is arguably the show’s most grace-filled moment, Evan confesses to his mom:

If you knew who I am, how broken I am… his words trail off…

I already know you, she responds, and I love you.

***

This is the blessing in the wilderness, the blessing that is ours in the waters of baptism:

God knows us – all of us (even the broken parts and the parts we’re ashamed of) – and loves us all the same.

This blessing doesn’t claim to take the wilderness away, as if to pluck us up by miraculous divine intervention and place us somewhere else.

Instead, this blessing brings the belovedness to us in the wilderness.

This blessing is the promise of Christmas: not “us-with-God” … but “God-with-us.” Whoever we are, wherever we are, however alone or afraid we feel.

This blessing is the letter God writes to each one of us, new every morning:

Dear Child of God,
Today is going to be a good day, and here’s why. Because today, today at least, you’re you. And that’s enough.

You are my child.

I know you, and I love you.

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