Sunday, February 18, 2018

Baptism and Blame

It seems odd, at the beginning of Lent to talk about the baptism of Jesus.  We usually spend Lent talking about repentance, reorienting our lives and faith, reflecting on the ways we’ve allowed the world to come between us and God.  Lent is a time to put in perspective those things which prevent us from doing God’s, being in ministry with and for Jesus Christ.
Lent is traditionally seen as a time of preparation for Baptism.  Many see Baptism as coming after we’ve repented of our sins after we make a commitment to follow Christ after we’ve made it through the wilderness and surrendered our lives to God. 
But, Mark in his succinct way puts baptism, wilderness, and ministry together in these 7 quick verses.  And while many people would order the process: wilderness, baptism, ministry Mark is clear this is not the proper order. 
Some seem to believe that once a person is baptized, the result is no more sin and temptation.  But Mark describes it differently.  This scripture is our introduction to Jesus.  Mark has nothing about him prior to this moment.  No manger scene, no wise men bringing gifts.  To Mark, it’s as if nothing mattered before this moment. 
The most important thing to know about Jesus are the words spoken to him by God as he came out of the waters of baptism:  “You are my son, the Beloved, with you, I am well pleased.”  It is such an important phrase Mark repeats it nearly verbatim at the transfiguration and again at the cross.

These are the words we all long to hear.  We want to hear them from God, parents, friends, and spouses.  We want to know we belong, we are special, beloved.  This is the message God has for Jesus but also the message intended for us to hear.  To God, we are beloved, we are loved before we do anything to earn it. It is just part of who we are. 
In Baptism, we are adopted into the family of God.  We become heirs, brothers and sisters in Christ.  This isn’t the moment that God offers this position to us- it is the moment we accept our place in the family.  God writes our adoption papers the day we’re born.  At baptism, we agree to participate in the family of God- we sign our own adoption papers. 
It isn’t that life before baptism doesn’t matter, or that God somehow loves us more when we are baptized.  Instead, it is a turning point, a life-changing moment when we accept in our hearts that God loves us as a parent loves a child.  It is when we acknowledge the presence of the Holy Spirit goes with us and shines through us. 
Baptism doesn’t mean life will be easy, without sin, or without temptation. 
Of course not.  If anything, our laying claim to God’s presence gives us strength, through the power of the Holy Spirit to face the world unafraid. 
The Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness and goes with him.  Jesus is tempted by Satan, surrounded by wild beasts and he survives because his baptism solidified who he is as the Son of God.  He survived because the Holy Spirit and the angels went with him. 

At my parent’s home, there is an old barn about 50 yards from the house.  I remember as a child being terrified to go to the barn after dark.  We had no street lights, no porch light to Illuminate that dark space.  But for some reason, I wasn’t afraid if Dad was with me.  Whatever wild animals, boogie man or unknown dangers were still there, but Dad’s presence gave me courage and eased my fears. 
Having a relationship with Jesus, having our Heavenly Father in our lives, doesn’t make the evil in our world disappear nor does it make us immune.  But when we take God into the dark and unknown places, when we clothe ourselves in the presence of the Holy Spirit, we know we can face whatever we fear with courage and strength. 
In the aftermath of another school shooting, there are debates on every side of who to blame, what to blame, who should fix it.  And while it is easy to blame government or NRA or school systems or parenting.  I wonder if in this time of Lent, especially since it occurred on Ash Wednesday, it isn’t time for the church to reflect on how we have fallen short. 
As people of faith, we often talk about how our relationship with God, our faith, the presence of the Holy Spirit got us through difficult times.  How we would have never survived depression, divorce, death, the loss of a job or home, whatever wildernesses we have experienced, without God and the church. 
We complain that Spiritual but not religious and None’s are quickly becoming more prevalent than people claiming the Christian faith. 

The church has spent so much time and energy focused on complaining about empty pews and the evils of the world that we forgot to share the Good news of Jesus Christ.  We forgot when we made it out of our wilderness that Like Jesus we were supposed to help others find their way out of theirs. 
Jesus leaves the wilderness and immediately begins to proclaim the Good News of the coming of God’s Kingdom. 
Church, we have failed.  This church and every church has failed.  The problem isn’t that people aren’t in church.  The problem is that the church has failed to introduce people to the Good News of Jesus Christ.  The church for too long has focused on whether people can follow the rules, who is included and who is excluded that we forgot that the words God spoke to us at our baptisms are the words every person longs to hear. 
Every person is a beloved child of God.  EVERY PERSON- whether you are from a broken home or a nuclear family, whether you are a straight-A student, or barely getting by, whether you are homeless or have multiple homes, whether you are in prison or free, whether you suffer from Mental Illness or not. Whether you’re married or single, straight, gay, bisexual, transgender, short, tall, brown, white, skinny, fat, legal or illegal.  EVERY Person is a beloved child of God. 
But we have withheld these words from people who we deemed unfit and so we see a world of people entering the wilderness, living among the wild beasts, facing the temptations of evil on their own. 
They don’t take God with them because they have never been told that God loves them and that they belong to a love bigger than they could ever imagine.  They have never been told that the Holy Spirit intercedes on their behalf, goes with them and will fight with them. 
Instead, they turn to drugs, guns, violence, and gangs, harming themselves and anyone who gets in their way in their search to belong to something, to be loved, admired, remembered. 
Friends, I don’t know what your wilderness is like.  I don’t know the inner struggles of your heart.  But know this.  You are loved.  You belong.  You matter.  You are a beloved child of God and God will give you the strength to face your demons.  Don’t shut God out.  Invite the Holy Spirit to fight with you.  God will bring you through to the other side. 
And, like Jesus time in the wilderness, we too will leave that place emboldened and strengthened for the journey ahead.  You may walk away bruised and scarred but God uses these so that we can help others through their wilderness.  It is our proof of God’s love and presence in our lives.  It is how we can proclaim with authenticity the Good News of God’s love to a world who desperately needs to hear them.
Thursday at the Lent Worship, Kevin McDaniel the Associate Pastor at First Baptist reminded us that we cannot just sit on our hands and wait for someone else to do what we have been gifted and called to do.  We cannot continue to point the finger of blame, wait it out, hope it gets better. 
There is ample opportunity to share that love with others and more opportunities to come.  And it isn’t hard.  Donate an hour of your week to read with kids, volunteer a few hours a month to mentor a child, tell the parent of the unruly kid in the store how hard it was raising your own kids and that they matter and are loved. 
Volunteer at the library, coach little league, help a scout group.  The opportunities are endless and I am more than happy to help you find your avenue to give back. 

We have been named and claimed by God.  We have been gifted through times of wilderness, trial and temptation and now it is our time.  God is calling us now to proclaim the Good news of God’s love to all people.  Don’t hope and pray that someone else will do what God has called us to do.