Lent is framed by Baptism. On Ash Wednesday, we retraced the cross that marked us as Christ’s own forever at baptism, and we remembered who and whose we are. And today, we continue with this story of Jesus' baptism. Lent ends with our recommitment to our own baptismal promises at the Easter Vigil. In between, we have quite a journey with Jesus. With this story Mark shows us the true identity of Jesus. Jesus is the beloved son of God. During this journey of Lent, we also get a glimpse of our own true identity. We are beloved children of God. Jesus is who God says he is, so also we are who God says we are. In Christ we are beloved sons and daughters of God. All the rest of the gospel of Mark shows what that means and what that looks like.
You all know that I love to get you all wet when we reaffirm our baptismal promises. Encountering water has always been a very powerful experience. I have lived my life in and around water. When I was a little girl I would spend my summer days at the neighborhood pool, we swam and sunned and played. That’s where learned to swim, and eventually I taught others to swim there. I lifeguarded there and I coached swimming there. I swam on the synchronized swimming team in high school. Eventually I moved on to lifeguard at a Minneapolis lake, and I was waterfront director at a YMCA camp, where Rick and I met.
During our early married years, my dad had built a place on a beautiful lake in north central Minnesota. We would spend weekends there. By then my favorite water activity was to go out into the deep water and float, the quiet and calm of the water did much to renew my spirit. Tom and Willie learned to swim before they could walk. They would be by my side when I coached the swim team at the Y.
Water is powerful, it is intoxicating, and it can kill as well as thrill. Did you know that the human body is 60% water, and that too much water can kill you? The power of water can take away life as easily as it can give life. When we live here on this piece of land and we give thanks for every drop of water that falls from the sky, even if it is as snow. Did you know that water is a closed system. The rain drops that do fall on us are the very same rain drops that fell on Noah and his wife and children. The Power of Water is amazing. We spend the first nine months of our lives afloat, and the rest of our lives trying not to drown.
Water is this powerful symbol of baptism, the powerful symbol of life in Christ. This powerful symbol is capable of containing the meaning associated with life, death, and resurrection. That is why stories are told about water and it’s intoxicating influence.
In the story of Noah, water took away life, and in the story of Jesus’ baptism water gives life. It is quite appropriate that we begin our journey through Lent with Jesus in the water. The water washes us clean, and in the water we teeter on the brink of death, and in the water we hear with Jesus “with you I am well pleased.” At the beginning of our Lenten journey, we have an opportunity to look squarely at the power that is life and death, and choose to walk this road, equipped by our identity as baptized people, as people who have died with Christ and risen with Christ.
In the gospel of Mark, there is no time between Jesus' baptism and the time in the wilderness being tempted by Satan. No time to reflect on who he was or what he was doing. He didn't have time to figure out what a good person, a good teacher, a good friend, a good leader would say or do then try to say or do that. Maybe in the wilderness Jesus sought the living God and claimed his identity as the son of God. And then let his life, his words, his relationships and his love, even to giving of himself on the cross, flow from that identity as God’s beloved. Perhaps that’s what God is calling us to do this Lent; in this wilderness, to follow Jesus out of the water and into the desert to listen deeply for what God has to say to us through Baptism.
As we begin this Lent together, in the waters that are of Jesus’ baptism, and as we complete this Lent renewing our own baptismal promises, we remember who we are. We are God’s beloved. We are people who are beautifully and wonderfully created by God. We are people who are blessed by God. We are people who have a tendency to turn away from God to worship idols, we tend to hurt ourselves and each other, we tend to build up our own wealth instead of working for peace and justice for all. We tend to build up our walls so that we don't have to be honest with one another. But we are people who God calls back into relationship, God loves us so much that God is willing to be one of us to show us the way.
On Ash Wednesday I asked you to be intentional this Lent. I asked you what is it you must lay down, or let go of, so that you may take this journey with Jesus? Do you want to fast from something? Do you want to unattach yourself from something that holds your attention too strongly? And today I ask you, what gets in the way of living fully the creation that God has made you to be. What causes you to forget who you are? What must you put aside, so that you may be fully and completely who you are created to be? What must you die to, so that you can be free to live?
I think claiming our identity as God’s beloved and taking seriously our baptismal promises is what Lent is all about, it is about walking in the way of Jesus. If you haven't already taken a rock with a cross on it from the basket, or haven’t found your rock in the bottom of your purse or in your pocket, make sure you take one today, and keep it with you all during Lent, so that you may be reminded, “you are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.” We begin this journey with Jesus, the journey that shows us who we are, the journey with Jesus that goes through pain and suffering, the journey that puts us at the foot of the cross. The journey that eventually shows us new life, but we can’t get there from here, without going through the wilderness. Thankfully, we do that together with Jesus.
So as I stand here today, with my heart saddened at the violence that is pervasive in our culture, saddened at the ease by which lives are ended and families torn apart, I come back to these baptismal promises and this journey we take with Jesus. Because if our baptism and our relationship with Jesus doesn’t cause us to make change in the world, why even bother with all of this? We cannot continue to let our children die. We must have courage, be brave, and do hard things, do the hard work of the gospel. These questions I ask you are serious questions. What ideas, perceptions, do we hold to so strongly that they get in the way of striving for justice and peace and dignity? What is the change we can be so that we can live in a more just world?
I needed to take this out of what I said, but it is valuable.
Listen to these words.
Holy Spirit, Holy One, Creator Spirit, God of all....I lay aside my key ring, a sign of my car and house, of my main possession. I lay aside my cell phone, my means of communication. I lay aside my credit card, my source of finance and money. I lay aside my pen, my way of writing down my thoughts and intentions. I lay aside my glasses, my perspectives, my frames for seeing the world. I lay aside my watch, my timetables and timeframes. I lay aside my comb, my way of looking at myself. I take off my shoes, my method of transporting myself, the way I walk in the world. Then, stripped in this way of most of my securities and techniques for coping and functioning in the world, I try to simply acknowledge the presence of the One who made all things, in whom we live and move and have our being. I am seeking to be alone with the only true God, the one true reality behind and within everything, and making that quiet space. Then I pick up my key ring, praying, “Use my car and house, my main possessions, for your purposes”. I pick up my cell phone, praying, “Use my means of communication, to share messages of your goodness and grace”. I pick up my credit card, praying, “May I spend and be spent in the ways of righteousness and justice”. I pick up my pen, praying, “Guide me to write your thoughts". I pick up my glasses, praying, “Help me see the world through your eyes”. I strap on my watch, praying, “May I live in your time.” I pocket my comb, praying, “May I see your beauty around me”. I put on my shoes, praying, “May I walk in your ways ”.