Beginning…Baptized….Beloved

First Sunday in Lent

  • Genesis 9:8-17 God’s rainbow sign & covenant
  • Psalm 25:1-10 To you, O God, I lift up my soul…
  • 1 Peter 3: 18-22 Christ also suffered for sins…
  • Mark 1:91-15 You are my beloved…The time is fulfilled…

Always We Begin Again

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T. S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding” in “The Four Quartets”

T. S. Elliot gives us those four lines in the fourth of his “Four Quartets” poem. It is a good reminder of where we are with Jesus on this first Sunday in Lent – a beginning we have known before and yet is ever new.

The title of a small booklet on The Rule of Benedict is, Always We Begin Again . The Benedictine way of living as disciples of Jesus together brings monastics back to Jesus.

Lent brings us to the place where we started to begin again with Jesus. I believe this to be true here at SMC not only because we begin Lent again but because I believe God is doing a new thing among us.

We know that the Bible begins with a beginning – a creative act of God. “In the beginning God created heaven and earth” the first words of the first book of the Bible (Genesis 1:1).

God created and loved people. We who are human fail to live into God’s love. God set forth a new beginning with the flood that destroyed all….except Noah and his family and the creatures in the ark. With this new beginning, God made a covenant sealed with the rainbow sign promising never to do that again.

Again humans failed to live God’s image and love. So God offered a new beginning again. God came to be with us. God became human — entered the world of human life. God began again in Jesus, returning us – humans created in God’s image — to the beginning so that we may know it for the first time.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Mark — Mark 1: 1-15

Mark’s Gospel plunges Jesus and us into this beginning again. Listen to God’s beginning again in the Gospel.

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness,
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
And people from the whole Judean countryside
and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him,
and were baptized by John in the river Jordan,
confessing their sins.

Now John was clothed with camel’s hair,
with a leather belt around his waist,
and he ate locusts and wild honey.
He proclaimed,
   “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me;
    I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.
   I have baptized you with water;
   but [the Coming One] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee
and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
And just as Jesus was coming up out of the water,
he saw the heavens torn apart
and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.
And a voice came from heaven,
“You are my Son, the Beloved ; with you I am well pleased.”

And the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness.

He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan;
and he was with the wild beasts ;
and the angels waited on him.
Now after John was arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying,
“The time is fulfilled,
and the kingdom of God has come near;
repent, and believe in the good news.” This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Baptized and Beloved

This new beginning that God is working in Jesus is captured in two B words: Baptized and Beloved . Let’s listen to these two B words.

Baptized

John’s primary act to prepare the way for Jesus was to baptize those who repented, confessed their sin. John’s identity was in the name he was given: John the Baptizer — John the Baptist.

The very first thing Jesus does – or the first thing done to Jesus — is to be baptized. John thrusts Jesus down into the waters of baptism.

How many of you have been baptized? When and why were you baptized? [Testimony…..faith story…..witness…..martyr-witness….baptized and reborn]

Baptism is a birthing a new beginning and being born into a body, a community, a church. Every time someone is baptized in the church, it is a new beginning, a birthing. The Church becomes new having baptized – that is birthed a new member. Baptism is never in isolation or individual. It is a body-act, a communal happening. We are as a body brought to the place where we started so that we know it again for the first time.

We are baptized into Christ and Christ’s body not only by water but by Spirit and fire. It doesn’t end here with water baptism. It is a new beginning as it was for Jesus.

Beloved

There is a second part to Jesus’ baptism, a second “act.” What is it? Who acts?

This actor and act are fulfilled in one word, another B word: Beloved.

Teach Jesus’ baptism responsively.
 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee
 and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
And immediately as Jesus was coming up out of the water,
he saw the heavens torn apart
and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.
And a voice came from heaven,
“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

The third vital B word, after beginning and baptism is beloved .

Jesus became human by being born of Mary. But more than that Jesus became human by being baptized and beloved. To be baptized and beloved is an act of God. It is also a human act.

We too are baptized and beloved by God. We are called “Beloved” not because we are not God’s beloved until we are baptized. But in baptism we know God calls us beloved in a profoundly new way. Baptism is not a hoop the church makes you jump through to qualify as a member. Baptism is a blessed and celebrated entry into God’s beloved community – now Jesus’ community of Beloved disciples.

A little more than a century ago, Francis Thompson wrote a poem called the “Hound of heaven.” The opening lines, in his language, are:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
Of my mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him…..

It is a long poem about our tendency to run from God who seeks us and calls us beloved.

God calls Jesus beloved. God calls you beloved. God calls us beloved.
But it doesn’t end there. It begins there.

Once we are baptized and beloved we are beginning again, beginning a new life with God. Life as God’s baptized and beloved is always to be thrust into real life.

Beasts

When Jesus was baptized and beloved, what happens next?

Remember, Jesus is our model and Gospel is the story to show us how to live this way

Mennonite biblical scholar, Willard Swartley wrote a book on Mark’s Gospel as “The Way” of Jesus.

Stanley Hauerwas spoke at Seattle University last Thursday evening. He was speaking about what it means to be a Christian University. One theme running through his lecture was that to be a Christian university has a lot to do with being the Church in the world. His plea was that every church and Christian school would have over its door the words: “Let anyone coming here be shaped by the purposes and practices of Jesus.”

In order to live into these purposes and practices something very important happened to Jesus. Jesus was led by the Spirit – or as Mark tells it, Jesus was “the Spirit drove into the wilderness and tempted for forty days by Satan.” This is a baptism by Spirit.

But there is still more to the story. Even though Mark uses a vivid economy of words, this wasn’t all there was to Jesus’ wilderness experience.

What else happened? Wild beasts were with Jesus. What are these “beasts?”

“Beasts” is another vital B word in this beginning Gospel journey for Jesus. While confronted by beasts, “angels came and ministered to Jesus.”

Jesus is led into the wilderness to be led into the world. Now Jesus is ready to live out this life of God-become-human in the world. And he follows it unto death. Precisely the journey of Lent with Jesus. Jesus is baptized by water and Spirit in order to receive the baptism of blood. This is Jesus’ journey. This is our journey with Jesus. It is a Lenten journey with Jesus as we begin again.

We too are beginning again as always to be sent into the wilderness and the world by the spirit to face the beasts that confront us. We live it together as God’s baptized and beloved people beginning again.

As T. S. Elliot says:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

That prepares us as it did Jesus for hearing Jesus and living this life with Jesus. Jesus’ first words are the center and summary of his life and meaning.

Jesus proclaimed:
The time is fulfilled,
and the kingdom of God has come near;
repent, and believe in the good news.”