REMEMBERING OUR JOURNEY: When We Started to Become

WaterScripture Text:  Mark 1: 4-11

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 him 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 he 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 he 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.”

Looking back from our journey, we remember, we remember the day that we started to become.  At this point, we remember that day in the Jordan, all of Creation dripping from the sacred waters. And, yet, that whole idea of Jesus being baptized is sometimes odd for us.  After all, part of what we associate with baptism is forgiveness.  How can one who is supposed to be sinless be forgiven?  But the fact that Jesus was baptized only suggests that Jesus associated himself with the need to gather God’s people and to prepare for the Lord’s coming with a gesture of repentance, an entrusting of oneself wholly and completely to God. It also reminds us that Baptism is not about us. We cannot baptize ourselves. It is about God’s presence in our life.

I think the Baptism account from the Gospel According to Mark is my favorite.  Only in this version do we hear of the “heavens being torn apart”—not opened for a time as in Matthew and Luke—but torn apart. The Greek word for this means “schism” (which, interestingly enough, is similar to chaos, similar to what God’s Creation ordered.). It’s not the same as the word open. You open a door; you close a door; the door still looks the same. But torn—the ragged edges never go back in quite the same way again. At this point of Jesus’ baptism, God’s Spirit becomes present on earth in a new way. A brand new ordering of Creation has begun. The heavens have torn apart. They cannot go back. Nothing will ever be the same. Everything that we have known, everything that we have thought has been torn apart and that is the place where God comes through. And the heavens can never again close as tightly as before.  This is when we started to become.

This story of Jesus’ Baptism calls us to remember our own. It is more than being showered or sprinkled with remnants of God’s forgiveness.  It is our beginning, our very “becoming”, as the gift of God’s grace washes away those things that impede our relationship with God and gives us new birth, new life. Just as God swept over the waters when Creation came to be, God swept across the waters so that we would become.  And it calls us to do something with our life.  But I actually don’t remember the day of my baptism. It happened when I was a little over seven months old, on Palm Sunday, April 15, 1962. It was at First United Methodist Church, Brookshire, TX and Rev. Bert Condrey was the officiant. I had a special dress and lots of family present. That would be all I really know.  And yet we are reminded to “remember our baptism”. What does that mean for those of us who don’t? I think “remembering” is something bigger than a chronological recount of our own memories. It is bigger than remembering what we wore or where we stood or who the actual person was that touched our head with or even immersed us in water. It means remembering our very identity, our creation, what it is that made us, that collective memory that is part of our tradition, our liturgy, our family.  It means remembering not just how the journey began but that in its very beginning we became part of it.  And now this same journey takes us to the cross.

That is what “remembering” our baptism is. It’s not just remembering the moment that we felt that baptismal stream; it is remembering the story into which we entered. It is at that point that the Christian family became our own as we began to become who God intends us to be. And for each of us, whether or not we noticed it, the heavens tore apart, spilled out, and the Holy Spirit emerged. And we, too, were conferred with a title. “This is my child, my daughter or son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  You are part of something beyond yourself, beyond what you know, and beyond what you can remember. Rainer Maria Rilke once said that “the future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.” Your past now reaches far back before you were here and your future is being transformed and redeemed in you even as we speak.

After he was baptized, Jesus stood, dripping wet, to enter his ministry. The heavens tore apart and poured into the earth. All of humanity was there in that moment—those gone, those to come, you, me. So we remember now how we still stand, wet with those same waters, as we, too, are called into ministry in the name of Christ. It is up to us to further the story. This day and every day, remember your baptism, remember that you are a daughter or son of God with whom God is well pleased and be thankful. You are now part of the story, part of this ordering of chaos, part of light emerging from darkness, part of life born from death. You are part of God’s re-creation. And it is very, very good.  This is the journey for which we live; this is the journey for which we were created; this is the journey that gives us Life.  And, in this moment, we remember when we started to Become.

Your life is shaped by the end you live for.  You are made in the image of what you desire. (Thomas Merton)

On this Lenten journey, we continue to gather our past into our Lives and we remember what made us, remember when we became who we are, when we began this journey.  What does it mean to you to “Remember your Baptism”?  What does it mean to wade into the waters where God awaits?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

The Journey Beyond Ourselves

Water13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 17: 1-9)

I remember when John baptized him.  Jesus, dressed in white, got into the water and John pushed his head under.  As he emerged, the heavens seemed to open as if God was pleased.  It was special, sort of an affirmation of who he was, who I had known he was all along.  In that moment, I began to understand that his role was bigger than our family, bigger than my son, even bigger than these that he had gathered around him.  I knew that but in that moment I began to understand it.  I was here to walk with him as he prepared not only to be a rabbi, a teacher, but to take on the ministry to which God called him.  And in that moment in the waters of re-creation, his ministry began.  This is the moment when God claims this child of God as the One who God calls.  This was the becoming and the beginning that he needed.  I had to begin to let go of what I knew.

I thought back to that time in Jerusalem when we found him in the temple with the rabbis.  My first reaction was relief that he was found.  I wanted to take him and hold him and never let him loose again.  My next reaction was anger that he had worried us so.  But the scene of him sitting there listening to the rabbis, understanding more than most adults will ever understand, made up for it all.  I knew then that he was beyond me, that I was here only for a time to help lead him to what he was called to do.  I knew that he was meant to be something more even than what I had thought.

So many of us get so wrapped up in those things that we can control or those that make us at least feel in control.  We want to be safe and comfortable.  So in this Christmas season, we often tend to wrap ourselves in our shopping, our plans for meals, and our family gatherings, our traditions of the way we do things and the expectations that they will be like they’ve been before.  These memories remind us all that we are continuously called beyond ourselves.  God calls us to newness, even in the midst of the familiar traditions that are so much a part of us.  That is the way God transforms us.  That is the way God moves us beyond ourselves.  That is the way God loves us.

God travels wonderful paths with human beings; God does not arrange matters to suit our opinions and views, does not follow the path that humans would like to prescribe for God.  God’s path is free and original beyond all our ability to understand or to prove.   (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

FOR TODAY:  How is God moving you beyond yourself?  How is God bringing newness even to the traditions that you hold so closely?

Peace to you as we come closer to that holiest of nights,

Shelli

The Wilderness is Where We Found Who We Are

Diving into watersScripture Text:  Mark 1: 4-11

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He 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  sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

So Jesus was born in the wilderness.  So Jesus, even as a small child, was whisked off into the wilderness to surely save his life.  And now, Jesus goes into the wilderness and is baptized by John.  You see, Jesus wasn’t baptized at the beautiful marble or wood font that is in the front of your sanctuary.  Jesus wasn’t baptized surrounded by the comforts of air conditioning and pew cushions.  When Jesus knelt, there was no altar cushion beneath his knees.  There was no celebratory lunch after his baptism.  Jesus went into the wilderness and made his way into the cold water of the Jordan, feeling it first with his foot and then slowly, ever so slowly, making his way to the place where John stood.  And as he walked into the water, his clothes and his body were consumed by the waters and the chill overwhelmed him.  And then John, clothed in stinky wet camel’s hair with a sagging leather belt around his waist, gingerly took Jesus and pushed him beneath the swirling waters of the river.  “In the Name of God, I baptize you.”  And as Jesus rose out of the water, gasping for breath, he looked up and the heavens were torn apart, torn apart never to be put back in quite the same way again, never capable of going back to the way they were.  And from this gaping opening in the heavens, the Spirit seemed to descend like a dove.  And they all heard it.  “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

In that moment, there in the wilderness, Jesus found who he was.  There in the wilderness with the wild animals and the blowing sands and the swirling waters of the river Jesus found who he was.  There in the wilderness where life is wild and unpredictable, where the path is not as worn as the one we frequent in the city, where the dwelling place is open to the sky and not walled in, where nothing can be controlled and nothing can be held, Jesus found who he was.  It seems to me that Jesus keeps returning to the wilderness, keeps returning to the place where we don’t expect him to be.  Perhaps our cue is that we are called to do the same.  Perhaps the wilderness is where we find who we are.

You see, in the comforts of our homes, in the security of our lives, in the places where we close our doors and lock them off to the world, we are told what we should be.  We are told that we should pursue success and affirmation, that we should climb the ladder with our accomplishments and our resume’.  We are made to believe that if we mingle with the right people and show up in the right places and post cute little pictures and statements on social media, we will get somewhere.  But in the wilderness, where the pathway is unpredictable and not well-trodden, where we experience some discomfort and disillusionment with who we are, where we experience crises of identity and crises of faith, where we feel like we don’t fit and we don’t belong, where we feel, sometimes, like we can’t even connect with God there, there, we find who we are.  We are pushed down into the waters of unknowing and we emerge with a new perspective.  We are immersed in something that we do not control and cannot stop and find new ways to be.  And the heavens open and the very Spirit of God spills onto us.  And we hear it.  We hear who we are, a daughter or son of God, God’s Beloved, with whom God is well pleased.

Maybe we’re beginning to see a pattern here.  Jesus’ life was not exactly charmed in the worldly sense of the word.  It seems, rather, that the wilderness kept cropping up, somehow pulling him into its grip.  I don’t think it was a test.  I think it was God’s way of pulling us toward freedom, God’s way of releasing us from the expectation of others, from the assumptions that the world hands us of who we are supposed to be, that there is a certain path and a certain way that our life has laid out for us.  Jesus’s life was mostly about walking in the wilderness, walking the way that was not the expected, that was not the norm, walking the way that opened himself to being immersed so that, finally, he could find who he was.

Perhaps that’s the point of our Lenten journey.  It is not just a denying ourselves of something; it is not just doing something different, walking a different walk for a short season.  This Lenten journey forces us into the wilderness, with cold water and murky pathways and hands us a mirror so that we take a good hard look at our lives and finally, finally find who we are:  A daughter or son of God, God’s Beloved, with whom God is well pleased.  And knowing who we are, everything has changed.

It is in the act of offerings our hearts in faith that something in us transforms…proclaiming that we no longer stand on the sidelines but are leaping directly into the center of our lives, our truth, our full potential. (Sharon Salzberg)

FOR TODAY:  Let yourself go into the wilderness.  Immerse yourself.  Find who you are—a daughter or son of God, God’s Beloved, with whom God is well pleased.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Return to the Waters

man under waterfallScripture Text:  1 Peter 3: 18-22

18For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

21And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

In this season of returning, here the writer of this general letter known as First Peter dispenses with any talk of being “saved” as it relates to salvation.  Instead, the promise lies in our re-creation, our renewal, our resurrection (the “little r” one), our being made into a new Creation.  It is a reminder that in our baptism, in that moment when the waters covered our body, or covered our head, or when drops of the stuff clinging to another’s hand somehow, some way, landed on our head and brushed our forehead and became the sign of a cross, in THAT moment, we were made new.  It wasn’t just washing away of sin and it certainly wasn’t some sort of something that made us sin no more (although, let me tell you, that would have made this life thing a little easier!)  In that moment as the waters touched us, we were made new, suddenly swept into a new way of being, and our life in Christ began.

Now baptism is not some sort of magic potion that makes everything perfect.  After all, we are not robotic churchy beings.  We are human–messed up, sometimes sinful, sometimes without hope, sometimes without direction, sometimes overwhelmed, but always, always, Beloved children of God.  For those to whom this was written, the words were a reminder that whatever chaos and peril life now holds, it is not permanent, that beyond what we know, beyond what we can imagine, the God of all Creation is working on us even now, creating molecule after molecule, so that when the flood waters of life finally subside, we will remember who and whose we are, a Beloved Child of God with whom God is well pleased.  And no matter what we do, no matter how much we mess up this life that we’ve been given, no matter how much the world’s chaos swirls around us beyond our control, the promise is true.  God is always there beckoning us to return to the waters, to return to where we began and begin again.

This season of Lent is not a season that merely calls us to clean up the mire and muck of our lives.  It is not a season to finally become good and obedient boys and girls.  It is not a season that promises to get your life together (or organize yourself or lose weight or some other thing you think you need to do disguised as a Lenten discipline).  Lent is a season that calls us to return–to who we are called to be, to what gives us life, to God.  It is a season to return to the waters of your baptism, not just for 40 days, but forever.

Do you remember the old version of the Apostles’ Creed, where we proclaim that Jesus descended into hell?  Well, this is the passage from which that notion may have started.  It claims that Jesus proclaimed to those imprisoned spirits; in other words, Jesus entered hell and blew the gates off.  See, you can always begin again.  You can always return to the waters. You just have to be willing to try out some newness.

One cannot step twice in the same river, for fresh waters are forever flowing around us.  (Hereclitus of Ephesus, 535-475 BCE)

FOR TODAY:  Remember your baptism. Now begin again.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

When We Started to Become

WaterScripture Text:  Mark 1: 4-11

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 him 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 he 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 he 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.”

Looking back from our journey, we remember, we remember the day that we started to become.  At this point, we remember that day in the Jordan, all of Creation dripping from the sacred waters. And, yet, that whole idea of Jesus being baptized is sometimes odd for us.  After all, part of what we associate with baptism is forgiveness.  How can one who is supposed to be sinless be forgiven?  But the fact that Jesus was baptized only suggests that Jesus associated himself with the need to gather God’s people and to prepare for the Lord’s coming with a gesture of repentance, an entrusting of oneself wholly and completely to God. It also reminds us that Baptism is not about us. We cannot baptize ourselves. It is about God’s presence in our life.

I think the Baptism account from the Gospel According to Mark is my favorite.  Only in this version do we hear of the “heavens being torn apart”—not opened for a time as in Matthew and Luke—but torn apart. The Greek word for this means “schism” (which, interestingly enough, is similar to chaos, similar to what God’s Creation ordered.). It’s not the same as the word open. You open a door; you close a door; the door still looks the same. But torn—the ragged edges never go back in quite the same way again. At this point of Jesus’ baptism, God’s Spirit becomes present on earth in a new way. A brand new ordering of Creation has begun. The heavens have torn apart. They cannot go back. Nothing will ever be the same. Everything that we have known, everything that we have thought has been torn apart and that is the place where God comes through. And the heavens can never again close as tightly as before.  This is when we started to become.

This story of Jesus’ Baptism calls us to remember our own. It is more than being showered or sprinkled with remnants of God’s forgiveness.  It is our beginning, our very “becoming”, as the gift of God’s grace washes away those things that impede our relationship with God and gives us new birth, new life. Just as God swept over the waters when Creation came to be, God swept across the waters so that we would become.  And it calls us to do something with our life.  But I actually don’t remember the day of my baptism. It happened when I was a little over seven months old, on Palm Sunday, April 15, 1962. It was at First United Methodist Church, Brookshire, TX and Rev. Bert Condrey was the officiant. I had a special dress and lots of family present. That would be all I really know.  And yet we are reminded to “remember our baptism”. What does that mean for those of us who don’t? I think “remembering” is something bigger than a chronological recount of our own memories. It is bigger than remembering what we wore or where we stood or who the actual person was that touched our head with or even immersed us in water. It means remembering our very identity, our creation, what it is that made us, that collective memory that is part of our tradition, our liturgy, our family.  It means remembering not just how the journey began but that in its very beginning we became part of it.  And now this same journey takes us to the cross.

That is what “remembering” our baptism is. It’s not just remembering the moment that we felt that baptismal stream; it is remembering the story into which we entered. It is at that point that the Christian family became our own as we began to become who God intends us to be. And for each of us, whether or not we noticed it, the heavens tore apart, spilled out, and the Holy Spirit emerged. And we, too, were conferred with a title. “This is my child, my daughter or son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  You are part of something beyond yourself, beyond what you know, and beyond what you can remember. Rainer Maria Rilke once said that “the future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.” Your past now reaches far back before you were here and your future is being transformed and redeemed in you even as we speak.

After he was baptized, Jesus stood, dripping wet, to enter his ministry. The heavens tore apart and poured into the earth. All of humanity was there in that moment—those gone, those to come, you, me. So we remember now how we still stand, wet with those same waters, as we, too, are called into ministry in the name of Christ. It is up to us to further the story. This day and every day, remember your baptism, remember that you are a daughter or son of God with whom God is well pleased and be thankful. You are now part of the story, part of this ordering of chaos, part of light emerging from darkness, part of life born from death. You are part of God’s re-creation. And it is very, very good.  This is the journey for which we live; this is the journey for which we were created; this is the journey that gives us Life.  And, in this moment, we remember when we started to Become. 

Your life is shaped by the end you live for.  You are made in the image of what you desire. (Thomas Merton)

On this Lenten journey, we continue to gather our past into our Lives and we remember what made us, remember when we became who we are, when we began this journey.  What does it mean to you to “Remember your Baptism”?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli