1st Sunday in Lent
February 18, 2018
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How many baptisms have you been to? A bunch, I’ll bet. Did you see the heavens torn open? Did you hear the voice of God? Did a dove come winging down from the rafters to light on the shoulder of the baptized? You may not have seen it, but we believe that it happens. It is in our baptism that God includes us in a Covenant that was made with God’s people in ancient times, and was made new in Jesus. It is a promise that we are God’s partners in renewing the world to make it the place of equity and justice for all people. It is a promise that we will always be part of God’s family. And it is a promise that is based on God’s faithfulness, not ours. Baptism is a Covenant made with us in water.
So today we have the story of God’s early Covenant made with water, God’s promise to Noah that the earth will never again be destroyed by water. So when you see a rainbow, you can remember that God’s promises often come with an earthly sign. And that those signs are meant to bring us hope, and remind us that God’s promises are forever.
I’ve been thinking and talking a lot about baptism lately. I talk about baptism at funerals. We’ve had a bunch of those recently. I talk about it then because I believe that it is good to remind a family, especially a Christian family, that the truest story about their beloved is the one that began in his or her baptism. It joins us to God in Christ in the midst of a faithful community, through sprinkling water, giving us our name, marking us as Jesus’ own.
I hauled out my baptism theology to talk to my sister, who was afraid that Jesus won’t recognize her when she gets to heaven. She is the best Christian I know, and I was floored. So I reminded her that God’s promises made to her in her baptism are forever, and based on God’s faithfulness to God’s promises, not dependent on what we’ve done or not done.
So a minute about Covenants: marriage is a covenant, promises between two people that make them partners forever. It’s a partnership between equals. Our Covenant with God is also a partnership, but it is not an equal one. When God made the covenant with Noah, God knew already that humans would not be able to keep their share of the bargain, to love God and to care for each other and the earth that God made for them. That was what the flood was all about. People had become so wicked that God couldn’t stand it anymore, and he decided to start over. But Noah’s family, faithful though they were, wasn’t any better than any other humans. So even God understands that our Covenant with God is based on God’s faithfulness to God’s promises, and not on our ability to keep our part of the bargain.
In the coming weeks we’ll look at God’s covenants with us through the ages, and side by side, we will see that God makes a new Covenant with us through Jesus, God with us, part of our history.
In the action-packed story we have before us from Mark’s Gospel we have the story of Jesus’ baptism. It is filled with apocalyptic images – the heavens being torn open, the Spirit descending and kicking Jesus out into the wilderness. God is breaking into the world and Jesus stands at the center of the drama. He wrestles with evil and is ministered to by angels and maybe even those beasts. Things are on the move, says the Evangelist, and Jesus’ baptism and temptation and call to vocation are all bound up in these 40 days before he bursts on the scene again, declaring that the Reign of God has begun, and that all people need to turn God-ward in trust.
What happens to us is not nearly as dramatic in its performance. But it is no less apocalyptic. At the time of our Covenant in water, we are welcomed into God’s life forever. We are called God’s Beloved. God’s Spirit joins us in our earthly journey, promising that we are never alone. The faith that is born in us grows into trust that we belong to God, and that we are God’s partners in creating the kind of world God imaged when it was created ‘very good.’ The heavens are torn open for us, too, already to welcome us home when our earthly life is over.
So even when life gets real; when we wonder how we will ever be able to cope with our sorrows, our crushing disappointments, our failures to live up to our own intentions, we can turn to our own apocalyptic moment, our baptism, and trust that God’s mercy is part of God’s promise. When we can’t summon up the energy to go on, and we can’t even remember to pray, we trust that God’s Spirit granted to us prays for us. When we rejoice, when we love, we see our lives as blessed by the God who partners with us to make life beautiful, as God intended. In baptism we are sealed God’s Covenant in Water, God’s promise of life forever – here or with God in eternity.