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St. Mark's United Church

Believe Belong Become

Sermon for April 11, 2021

Sermon for April 11, 2021 Second of Easter “Well I Declare”
Believing or the possibility of believing is a mysterious realm. I think there are a variety of ways to hold onto a belief. There is the belief in real possibility, the belief of possibility, belief in fact and belief just because it leads to further understanding and belief.
This Sunday, or the one after Easter has developed into what we delightfully call Holy Humour Sunday. Now I love humour, good jokes and a good laugh and the necessary good belly laugh but a comic I am not. I come up with good lines a day late, or start laughing before the punch line so give the timing up. There are times I like the quick one liner, and times when the narrative spans a story. Think here Terry Fallis’ ‘Best Laid Plans’ or Stuart MacLean’s why you should not drink 8, 8 ounce glasses of water. But I digress.
I do not wish to malign marketing and advertising folk for they do a service and the church uses advertising, but they also can lead us to believe what might not really be true. Long before Easter was over, advertising was onto Mother’s day and graduations. Right after Christmas and leading up to Easter we were encouraged be believe that white bunnies laid chocolate eggs and that purple, pink and yellow spotted bunnies laid coloured eggs, that the Easter Bunny hide eggs in yards and fields and that Easter is all about bright, delight, rainbows and butterfly kisses. For the most part and for many that is where the story ends and after a sugar high we wake up the next day to our routines and life.
I would suggest using what we view advertising as a spring board to the larger beliefs and ways of being that lasts longer, way longer than a sugar high. We are in a time and age that is vastly different than anything we have ever known, not just in terms of COVID but also in the life of the church. The church we all grew up in cannot be replicated in the 21st century and our experience of church will be different than that of those who follow us. What is essential for today is that we faithfully live out (in our personal life and public life) the teachings of Jesus.
If today, we need to start with bunnies and eggs to lead to the truths of resurrection and life then so be it. If the Velveteen Rabbit leads us to understand the truths of loving and life no matter the nature of the adventure…then great. If the scientific exploration of the tiniest particles helps us understand the nature of a delightfully creative God, then awesome. And if taking a closer look at Mars or the expansive views of the Hubble telescope give us understanding of the height, depth, breadth and width of God, then that is good too. Everyone has to start somewhere on their journey of faith. And everyone on a journey of faith has not yet arrived at the destination.
For Thomas it was in the asking of questions, of doubting the word of his friends who were telling him a fantastic story that defied human understanding. Unless I put my finger in his hand and my hand in his side, I cannot make that leap to belief. And Jesus says; here are my hands and my side, you believe now because you see and feel and experience, how blessed are those that come to believe and yet do not have the opportunity that you do this day.
Thomas opens the door for us to ask questions. To explore how we first came to believe, how that was nurtured and how it is lived out today. Thomas also gives us permission to keep asking questions that lead to deeper understanding. Jesus offered clarity to the questions by saying to Thomas and to all, that it is good to ask questions, it is good to probe. To the one with answers, I like to think he offers the teaching of patience. We may know how something works, math or science, art or language, faith and biblical knowledge may be easy for some but harder for others to grasp. So Jesus says to all the others, be patient in your teaching and always be on the lookout for new ways to explain old truths.
This hold true for the expert and the novice, for the well-practiced in faith and for the seeker. Whether we all know it or not, all earth’s inhabitants are on the same journey, share a common past and wonder about the future. Believing is a delightfully mysterious adventure and it begins with loving all that is into what was, what is and what will be. The one who so humanly demonstrated divine love beckons, follow me.

Sermon for March 28, 2021

Sermon for March 28, 2021               Palm Sunday              “Good Intentions”

Even more that 2000 years after the first palm parade, this day is filled with paradox and contrast. The King of Kings riding on a borrowed donkey colt, the King of Kings not on a red carpet but on quickly gathered palm branches and cloaks, the King of Kings with no army of soldiers, no angels and arch angels but a few men and women and the curious townsfolk.

What is interesting is that on both sides of the city there is a parade of the King of Kings. Jesus on one side and the Emperor on the other. Both claim the same thing. One has the might of army and government on his side the other meekness and obedience. The headlines in the paper the next day would read “who is the King of Kings?”.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves lets back up a bit. Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem and the challenging days that are to come. Along the way he instructs some of the disciples to go on ahead and bring the colt that is there. If there are any questions just say: ‘the master has need of it”. As Jesus begins the ride to Jerusalem the disciples get more excited, the crowd grows, the quiet voices raise in shout and chatter, the way is cleared and finally, so the disciples think, Jesus is going to do what they always had hoped for, overthrow the government and end oppression, form them and the people of God.

Liking a parade all depends on context. I recall years ago travelling across the country, arriving in a small city and being stopped by a parade. There was nothing I could do, there were cars ahead and behind so like everyone else I got out and watched a parade. At first I was annoyed, after all how dare these people interrupt my travel. But then I did watch the parade; was thrilled at the talent in the bands and amused at the local zaniness of some of the floats and in the end was pleased with the distraction and did thoroughly enjoy the local cuisine.

In the parade of Jesus some were there on purpose and some just had their day interrupted and still they waved and shouted and enjoyed the moment. And then went back to their day. Much the same is true today; some will spend the day and week preparing, some will, by accident see the parade, some will not know it is happening at all and some will be at a completely different event.

For me, I am in a place where I can encourage and nudge folks to take notice of what is happening but I cannot force anyone to believe exactly as I do. If I see you at Christmas and Easter I will rejoice and suggest there is more in-between. If I see you in-between I will also rejoice as you discover the depth and richness of faith and spirit.

For all those here and all those with other places to be this day, may we be reminded that God knows where we are, God will put in our way, paths that lead to faith or make the one we are on be the path that leads to God. Today, it is enough that God knows…tomorrow… we may know. The spirit of God works in mysterious ways that always and in all-ways lead to God.

Perhaps Palm Sunday is the moment when we hear a commotion and act on the thought ‘I wonder what is going on?’ and then ask questions, get interested and want to know more. Maybe this is a gateway moment for the elders in faith and the seekers to go deeper and ask “what am I doing or how did I get here?

As we enter Holy Week and we all hold our breath and voices, creation will speak. The parade will end, darkness will cover the earth, the sun will be darkened and the veil of the temple torn in two.

Now…we are required to wait…one of the hardest things humans can be asked to do.

As it is and should be on this day and every day: God’s will be done. Even if we are silent…God’s will be done.

Sermon for March 21, 2021

Sermon for March 21, 2021 Fifth in Lent “The Days Are Coming”
I would like to start with a story I heard told by Benjamin Zander. He recalls a conversation with a holocaust survivor ‘My brother and I were forced onto a train, I looked down and noticed he was not wearing his shoes, where are your shoes, why can’t you be more careful, do I have to do everything for you. Later that day she learned that her brother had died. She was horrified at his death and the deaths of her parents and thousands of others but she was disappointed at herself that the last words she spoke to her brother were angry words. She vowed that; “I will never say anything that couldn’t stand as the last words I ever say to someone”’
As we move into the last week of Lent and Holy Week, we are going to hear last words of Jesus. The Gospel lesson from John today starts to prepare the disciples and us to hear words that are difficult and ones we would just as soon not hear.
Unless a grain of wheat falls into ground and dies…
Those who love their life will lose it…
Now my soul is troubled…
Abba, save me from this hour…
An angel has spoken…
Now is the judgement of this world…
And as the weeks unfold and we move to Easter the last words become more focused and intense. The teaching from Jesus is both personally profound and a harsh word to empire and systems.
We are called to cultivate a style that supports life; the life of ourselves, others and creation. I wonder what would happen to our speech if we viewed each conversation as though it might be the last? I suspect that our words and by association our actions may be gentler and kinder.
Have you noticed this past year that the air is cleaner? I saw pictures that showed a dozen of the most polluted cities in the world, one was taken in January 2020 the other in December 2020, the difference was astounding. I know we miss cruise ships in Saint John but from a care of creation perspective one ship creates more air pollution in 5 hours that every car driving in SJ in a 24-hour period. We hear of systemic racism in many institutions and a huge reluctance to tackle the issue. We experience systems that promote aggression and oppression and call it progress.
When Jesus says “Now is the judgement of this world, now the ruler of this world will be driven out” he is talking about systems that oppress people or creation in any way. Indeed, when Jesus talks of a new kingdom he is referring to the heart and soul of humans but the next logical step is that as our hearts and souls are re-born with compassion and love that translates into every part of our life. It reminds us that we are followers of Jesus…Christian…every day. If you have been transformed by Jesus’ love then it matters not if you are artist or mason, plumber of politician, minister or collector of refuse what you do matters, how you treat others matters, the policy you make matters. Then, one person at a time, systems will begin to change.
For me Lent is that time of intentional, profound introspection, a time to look closely at me, to open myself to the gaze of Jesus and to notice where it is that I need some remodeling. It is my version of forty days in the wilderness and it will prepare me for the days to come. I and we are going to be forced to make a decision; will we run and hide, will we be caught up in the crowd shouting crucify him, will we stand and witness the agony of the cross. In Jesus day these decisions were fraught with danger and for the 21st century Christian they are no less dangerous.
We will hear the last words of Jesus in the coming weeks and many of them will be difficult to hear. We will, in any day say last words whether we know it or not. I like the commitment of the holocaust survivor who vowed to ‘never say anything that could not stand as the last word I ever spoke to someone’.

Sermon for March 14, 2021

Sermon for March 14, 2021 Fourth of Lent “Focusing our Gaze”
What’s for supper? I am sure we have heard that question over and over. Or we have asked ourselves the same question. What if the answer was quail and Manna? Not just on Monday but every day and for decades. It is not hard to imagine why the people of Israel complained. There were times when I sure they dreamed of a culinary and wine tour but for the time being the people were fleeing captivity, learning valuable lessons about God and creeping ever so closer to the promised land, all while wandering in the desert.
Without notice God sent poisonous serpents and when bitten you would die. It did not take long for the people to remember again the purpose of the trip. God asked Moses to fashion a bronze serpent and wrap it around a pole and hold it up so that whoever gazed upon it would live. All that was necessary is that the people of Israel focus their gaze on the serpent on a stick and they would be healed.
Whether from this story or ancient Greek mythology, the serpent on a stick is featured on the World Health Organization’s flag and is the center piece of the Star of Life that denotes ambulances. The Caduceus has two snakes often with wings and represents the medical professions. Nevertheless, when we see these symbols there is hope for healing and life. Certainly a shift in focus from the evil serpent we remember from the first garden. It is also a Segway from the wilderness travels of the people of Israel to Jesus, all within the purview of; ‘God so loved the world…’
John 3:16 is so well know, and so misunderstood, so clichéd that it is hard to crack open the nuances and great truths contained in this short text. Paul Shupe writes on this text;
“For God so loved the world…It is possible to read the whole of scripture, from the creation to the eschaton, as God’s love story for the world. It was, after all. Love that stirred God’s heart at the pleading of the slaves in Egypt, and love that offered them both the guidance of the law and the security of the promised land. Thereafter, whenever inequality or injustice threatened the welfare of the poor and the powerless (and therefore the whole people), God’s love raised up prophets who declared God’s desire for compassion-shown not just to insiders, but also to sojourners and foreigners within the boundaries of Israel. It was divine love, stronger than well-deserved judgement that carried Israel during the time of exile, and the love of God that was celebrated with the psalms of adoration in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. It was God’s love that sent Jesus, God’s Son, to be incarnate in the world, where he taught that love is not merely for those who look and think and believe like us, but even for our enemies and those who persecute us. I was love that stirred the first century church to open the doors of communion not only to Jews but also to Gentiles, whose very existence was troubling: the lame, the blind the eunuchs.”
God loves the world in this way, that as you cast your gaze to Jesus and open your heart to Jesus’ gaze, you will be in the realm of love and you will begin the long journey from how you are now toward being a new person in Jesus. This is challenging for the scholars and a stumbling block to the well-entrenched and Holy Mystery to everyone. How are we then to live into faith and grace? The answer has been debated, hotly debated, much ink has been put to paper and even in the 21st century we are really not much wiser. From Genesis to Revelation the relationship between God’s grace and human faith is one of mutual interaction. The precise character of the relationship is elusive, not because it is vague, but because it probes the core of the truth about God’s relationship with humankind. This Holy mystery is not to confound or confuse but rather an invitation, for the more we know the more we realize there is more to be known.
For God so loved the world (you, me, everyone and all creation) that God sent Jesus so that through him we might know the depth and breadth of God’s love. One way of looking at it is that, no matter where we look we see God and Jesus; in the good…calling us to better, in the ugly…calling us to loving action. Perhaps that is why Jesus keeps repeating; if you have eyes to see…see, and if you have ears to hear…hear. This way of being takes years/decades of practice so we start with smaller images, smaller prayers, smaller actions that focus our gaze. Then we can live into the big image where all are one in God and Jesus.

Sermon for March 7, 2021

Sermon for March 7, 2021 Third of Lent “An Opening Mind”
The year is 56 of the common era and for the most part the energetic and optimistic start to the Way of Jesus has all but faltered. There was great hope for the early church in Corinth but as the years passed and one generation gave way to the next things began to fall apart. The Gentile converts wanted to keep the teachings and idols that were important to them and the Jewish converts were no better as they dragged their history and bias with them.
As a cosmopolitan city on a major trade route, news arrived quickly and news of Corinth spread just as fast. It was also the home of many temples that seemed way more interesting than the church. The temple of Aphrodite (the goddess of love) is a prime example. After all, humans have always known that sex sells better and is more appealing than self-denial and charity.
It is into this milieu that Paul arrives with all his tools as an agent of Jesus’ teaching.
Carla Works is a professor at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. She writes that Paul “reminds the believers of the topsy-turvy nature of the cross. God chose the most shameful thing in the world, because the values with which the world operates — where some have privilege and status at the expense of others — look nothing like God’s reign.” She goes on to explain that our translation of the word for “foolish” is more polite than a literal translation. The Greek word for ‘fool’ sounds a lot like our English word for ‘moron.’ So Paul is saying that the pagan world considers belief in Christ to be ‘stupid.’
But Paul doesn’t let the Jewish believers off the hook, either. Remember that Corinth is a very cosmopolitan city. The young church there is made up of both Jews and Greeks, and the Jewish intellectuals are not living out their trust in Christ any more faithfully than the Gentile Christians are. “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? … For Jews demand signs, and Greeks desire wisdom …” Paul writes.
It’s easy for us to shake our heads at those foolish Corinthians. That is, until we read Paul’s question, “Where is the debater of this age?” And suddenly we remember all those arguments we’ve been following, or maybe even been part of on social media. Arguments about politics and moral issues, arguments about rights and rules, arguments about values and opinions – arguments that do not, in any way, point people to the saving grace of Christ.
And every time we engage in these arguments, even as silent observers, we fall into the same trap the Corinthian church did. We’ve let the ‘wisdom’ of the culture around us have more influence on our thinking than the realization that God loves us so much he redeems us. And yet, “has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”
Leap ahead a couple thousand years and here we are in a major city in New Brunswick, a hub of transportation, trade, commerce and delightfully varied entertainment and culture. The teachings of Jesus arrived at the same time as the first Europeans with their idea of what to do with the land (that they disregarded and discounted those already here is another long sad story). That teaching flourished, waned, had successes and failures along the way until we arrive at today.
We are invited into Jesus heart with the wisdom of children. For me that means opening our mind to wonder, curiosity and love. It also means there is plenty of clutter that needs clearing out to let the good flood in. We are on the edge of a new reformation and most in churches, all churches are clinging to dwindling power with all might. For centuries the church has told us that we are wretched sinners, that we are lower than dirt, that we need the church for redemption. I use that language intentionally because it has been the church’s need to control and have power over.
And yet Jesus teaches us that resurrection and grace are the pathways to life in abundance. Jesus reminds us in John that no matter what happens, even if the temple is destroyed, even if everything we know is taken away… in three days I will raise it up. The wisdom of children and the opening mind of adults know that what is being raised up is a community where love, respect, inclusion, justice and thanksgiving replace brick and mortar.
My colleague Beth shared this funny story of change and how challenging it can be: “Let’s talk about ketchup for a moment. Yes, that red stuff made from tomatoes, spices, sugar and vinegar! Do you remember ketchup in the 1980s? Up to that point, how many meals had you spent way too much time trying to get the ketchup out of the bottle, and ONTO your food. Shake the bottle! Shake the bottle again! Particularly if it was new. Tap the bottom of the bottle! Take a clean knife and see if that would help the thick rich condiment to find its way onto your burger and fries! Have spent more time getting the stuff out of the bottle than actually eating your fries! Well, an enterprising man named Paul Brown came to your rescue. He saw the problem and had a solution. Store the bottle upside down. But it would either tip over or leak! He tried to solve the leaking problem by inventing a leak proof valve that would dispense ketchup the instant you wanted it! AND after 111 failed attempts, he was successful. Soon it was on all the shelves. It was the same old ketchup but the bottle was close to revolutionary! I’m not sure at what point they also flipped the label but when they did everything was hunky-dory! The right amount of ketchup came out of the bottle with just a simple squeeze. The only challenge, I gather, was to get customers to reverse their habits – and teach them that putting your ketchup in the fridge upside down would not spell the end of civilization!”
Jesus teaching will turn lives upside down. The new reformation is coming and we are not sure what it will look like and that is scary and exciting, Jesus will do the rebuilding, and it will be about heart and spirit. In the time of Paul and today that may just be what is required. So I am wondering…do you store ketchup with the lid up?

Sermon for February 28, 2021

Sermon for February 28, 2021                    Second of Lent                  “You are Named”

It could have been a script from an episode of Saturday Night live, a 99-year-old being told he and his 90-year-old wife would have a child. It is not hard to imagine how this could get silly in a hurry. Even Abram in verse 17 ‘fell on his face and laughed”. And from inside the tent Sarai listening to all this, also laughed at the thought of bearing a child, not to mention what would need to happen to conceive this child. But God was not going to let a wee bit of laughing get in the way of a grand plan.

This covenant withAbram and Sarai is important to God as it shifts the covenant with Adam and Eve from one of property to one of family and people. One that is renewed with Noah and affirmed in Jesus and lives on in you and me.

This covenant with Abram and Sarai is confirmed by ‘naming’, as God announces the new names to be; Abraham and Sarah and then gives the promise of a child. God has never been bound by what we seem to regard as impossible.

I suspect that the capacity of the disciples to listen past “the Son of God must endure great suffering” was limited. So when Jesus got to the part “and be killed” they just could not hear anymore. The incredulity and even impossibility of what he was saying was just not possible. The anger and defensiveness welled up so fast that the part where Jesus said “and after three days’ rise again” just did not register.

Now I can fully understand the position of the disciples. If someone dear to me said someone or some group of people was going to cause them great harm even to death, I would be quick to respond with protective bravado. The point of the story is about preparation. Not with might and power and bigger guns, but with heart, soul and belief.  But then we humans have never been great with bad news.

I am prepared to cut the disciples some slack at this point, as Jesus is still early in his ministry and they as yet do not have the benefit of all the teaching, healing, casting out demons and restoring life. Jesus is also setting the stage for one of the most challenging teaching and that is; being a follower of Jesus is hard work, not for the faint of heart and will require life-long challenge. In all of this we find the cloak and mantel of Jesus’ love imbedded in us like we never imagined.

Jesus is teaching the disciples and all who follow that living into the Way of Jesus is going to be difficult, it will require us to shift from being ‘shaped by the world to be transformed by the Spirit’. There will be many times when we will need to think before we speak or act because the way we speak or act in this new way of being (translate Christian) is radically different than what we are used to. Following Jesus will require us to deny ourselves and ‘world’ held views and move toward a transformative self and world. We are at the end of a month dedicated to Black History, it has not been nor will it continue to be easy for White folk to come to terms with our shared history and moving forward it is going to be hard work to live as neighbours, equals and partners. We need to recall that God made humanity in God’s own image and called all humans ‘very good’. Perhaps the best image is that of a caterpillar and its transformation to butterfly. It is lots of necessary work, a complete change upon emerging and no going back.

For Abraham and Sarah there was no going back, Sarah did get pregnant and bear a son Isaac, Abraham did lead the people and is regarded as the one who birthed Judaism, Islam and Christianity. After being named beloved Jesus began a ministry that changed the world. We are named, chosen and redeemed for the hard and glorious work of being transformed and agents of transformation in our world. It is not a one-off kind of thing but a work that will take our lifetime.

Being a follower of Jesus means that we need to let go of our ego, the desire to do it our way or get our way. Denying self is a way of cleansing our inner self that allows space of Jesus, Spirit and God. Yes our ego may say it is a disastrous denial but the Spirit says it is a massive move toward wholeness and wholehearted living.

Jesus calls you to follow…the season of Lent is a time of preparation and decision and the next steps are entirely yours.

Sermon for February 20, 2021

Sermon for February 28, 2021                    Second of Lent                  “You are Named”

It could have been a script from an episode of Saturday Night live, a 99-year-old being told he and his 90-year-old wife would have a child. It is not hard to imagine how this could get silly in a hurry. Even Abram in verse 17 ‘fell on his face and laughed”. And from inside the tent Sarai listening to all this, also laughed at the thought of bearing a child, not to mention what would need to happen to conceive this child. But God was not going to let a wee bit of laughing get in the way of a grand plan.

This covenant withAbram and Sarai is important to God as it shifts the covenant with Adam and Eve from one of property to one of family and people. One that is renewed with Noah and affirmed in Jesus and lives on in you and me.

This covenant with Abram and Sarai is confirmed by ‘naming’, as God announces the new names to be; Abraham and Sarah and then gives the promise of a child. God has never been bound by what we seem to regard as impossible.

I suspect that the capacity of the disciples to listen past “the Son of God must endure great suffering” was limited. So when Jesus got to the part “and be killed” they just could not hear anymore. The incredulity and even impossibility of what he was saying was just not possible. The anger and defensiveness welled up so fast that the part where Jesus said “and after three days’ rise again” just did not register.

Now I can fully understand the position of the disciples. If someone dear to me said someone or some group of people was going to cause them great harm even to death, I would be quick to respond with protective bravado. The point of the story is about preparation. Not with might and power and bigger guns, but with heart, soul and belief.  But then we humans have never been great with bad news.

I am prepared to cut the disciples some slack at this point, as Jesus is still early in his ministry and they as yet do not have the benefit of all the teaching, healing, casting out demons and restoring life. Jesus is also setting the stage for one of the most challenging teaching and that is; being a follower of Jesus is hard work, not for the faint of heart and will require life-long challenge. In all of this we find the cloak and mantel of Jesus’ love imbedded in us like we never imagined.

Jesus is teaching the disciples and all who follow that living into the Way of Jesus is going to be difficult, it will require us to shift from being ‘shaped by the world to be transformed by the Spirit’. There will be many times when we will need to think before we speak or act because the way we speak or act in this new way of being (translate Christian) is radically different than what we are used to. Following Jesus will require us to deny ourselves and ‘world’ held views and move toward a transformative self and world. We are at the end of a month dedicated to Black History, it has not been nor will it continue to be easy for White folk to come to terms with our shared history and moving forward it is going to be hard work to live as neighbours, equals and partners. We need to recall that God made humanity in God’s own image and called all humans ‘very good’. Perhaps the best image is that of a caterpillar and its transformation to butterfly. It is lots of necessary work, a complete change upon emerging and no going back.

For Abraham and Sarah there was no going back, Sarah did get pregnant and bear a son Isaac, Abraham did lead the people and is regarded as the one who birthed Judaism, Islam and Christianity. After being named beloved Jesus began a ministry that changed the world. We are named, chosen and redeemed for the hard and glorious work of being transformed and agents of transformation in our world. It is not a one-off kind of thing but a work that will take our lifetime.

Being a follower of Jesus means that we need to let go of our ego, the desire to do it our way or get our way. Denying self is a way of cleansing our inner self that allows space of Jesus, Spirit and God. Yes our ego may say it is a disastrous denial but the Spirit says it is a massive move toward wholeness and wholehearted living.

Jesus calls you to follow…the season of Lent is a time of preparation and decision and the next steps are entirely yours.

Sermon for February 21, 2021 First in Lent

Sermon for February 21, 2021                    First in Lent                        “Water”

Water, for the most part it is a substance that we just assume will be there when we turn on the tap, go canoeing or boating or go to the beach. It is the most abundant substance on earth and is the only material that can exist in solid, liquid and gas states. It can be most soothing and most destructive, calming and alarming, it gives life and can take life, water…essential, necessary, deadly and life changing.

Rodney Hunter in his commentary writes: “Jesus’ baptism has all the signs of an upheaval and reorganization of a person’s inner world, a psychological event that realigns the individual into profound attunement with that which is highest and best in his account, Jesus alone experiences the heavens torn asunder and the Spirit descending and he alone hears the extraordinary life changing words ‘You are my beloved Son’. We might suppose that this dramatic formative event may have culminated a passionate spiritual search or quest for identity of some sort, thought the text gives no hint of it and Mark would certainly have rejected such a speculation. But whatever it was that moved Jesus to respond to John’s call to repent and be baptized, when he emerged from the waters of the Jordan, he had a vision in which he acquired a unique sense of God given identity and affirmation, followed by an overwhelming sense of the power of God driving him into the wilderness for an extended period of spiritual struggle. He emerged from this in due course a new man, by all appearances, with powers and a revolutionary spiritual message.”

The arguments about the necessity of Jesus’ baptism have raged for centuries and will continue. For me this is part of the story of Jesus, an un-intentional or intended act that changed the course and pattern of Jesus life and the life of humanity since. Out of the waters into the wilderness, emerging as teacher and healer and up-ender of lives, this Jesus still has the desire to stir our complacent hearts and minds and move us in the direction of Jesus’ vision of justice and kindness for all and creation.

This text is paired with the ending of the story of Noah and the flood. There is in both a call to repentance; one declined, one accepted, an immersion in water, a re-entry to a new life and a promise of God. In the context of time one story is old and the other ancient and yet both teach similar lessons for today.

We are constantly called to renew ourselves and the expectation would be for the better. This season of Lent is an intentional time to reflect on how we arrived ‘here’, is there something more?, to find stillness that gives way for God voice to be heard in the din and roar of life and to respond to that nudging voice.

A quick look at the historical practices of Lent show that it is a time of drastic self-denial (whether it be food or habit) or cruel self-beating, all so we can suffer the same way Jesus suffered. That was in a time when church held near complete control over people. In time and with developed knowledge of the teachings of Jesus, these strict rules have eased to a move loving, self-awareness mode.  For me Lent is a time to focus on one area that I feel needs attention. I know there are many but I choose one and focus on that as best I can.  Will I be perfect…no, absolutely no but I strive to be kind to God, others, creation and myself.

In the flood and baptism stories, the image of cleansing in preparation for a new start are real and lived. As Noah and his family stepped out of the ark onto the drying land, a rainbow was the seal and covenant of a new beginning. When Jesus emerged from the baptismal waters the voice of Abba affirmed that love was the bond and covenant.

Faith is the most abundant element for a Christians life. It is the solid foundation, the fluid that gives us the possibility for flexibility and in spirit form to link us all together. It can be the most soothing and most destructive, calming and alarming, it gives life and can take life…faith…essential, necessary, deadly and life changing.

As we emerge from the waters and open our eyes, hearts and life, my hope is that we see with newness, tinged by the grace of God, that which is required of us personally and as part of the family of faith. We each have our journey, things we need to let go and things we need to gather, opportunities to explore and practices to leave behind. The assurance from the Gospel teaching is that God will show us what is necessary, we need to prepare for this journey in a wilderness time and the one to follow.

In doing so… we too will hear and hear again the voice of God that states: you are my beloved.

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