Genesis 9:8-17; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15
February 26, 2012
I. Lauren Winner, who teaches at Duke Divinity School, writes in her book Still: Notes on a Mid-faith Crisis that for as long as she can remember anxiety has been her close companion. One year she gave up cheese for Lent. Last year she gave up anxiety. Before Lent she was sitting at the island in the kitchen of her friends Brandon and Lynette, complaining that she didn’t know what quasi-fast to take up for Lent. “Maybe I should give up gummi bears,” she said, popping a green one into her mouth. Lauren confessed she always passes up the small bowls of healthy things like almonds, sunflower seeds and dried cranberries Lynette keeps on her counter to go for the gummi bears: palest yellow, pineapple ones first, then the green ones. Brandon suggests, “Maybe you should give up anxiety.” Though Lauren thinks he’s probably joking, he seemed serious. It seemed exactly right. “Brandon,” she said, “you’re an angel. I’ll give up anxiety for Lent.” (Christian Century, February 8, 2012, p. 32)
A. What kind of anxiety could appropriately be surrendered for Lent? The mid-faith crisis that prompted her to write this book came from an awareness that the enthusiasms of her conversion had worn off. For whole stretches in the ten years since her baptism she said, “My belief has faltered, my sense of God’s closeness has grown strained, my efforts at living in accord with what I take to be the call of the gospel have come undone. Once upon a time, I thought I had arrived. Now I have arrived at a middle.” (Christianity Today.com, January 23, 2012)
B. If we are honest, all of us have experienced these spiritual doldrums, seasons when our enthusiasm for faith and our awareness of God’s presence has faded. Each year’s winter may be a metaphor for our anxiety. Advent anticipation and Christmas festivity are dim memories. Even a mild Texas winter seems an extended gray chill. Though we know Easter joy awaits, Lenten discipline does not stir the expectancy of Advent. Not only have we lost sight of God, we fear God may have lost sight of us.
C. Very early in the Church’s history, before the shape of the liturgical year took a shape we would recognize, long before the celebration of Christmas, new converts prepared for forty day to be baptized on Easter Sunday. Returning to our baptismal roots during Lent is deeply embedded in the rhythm of the Church’s year.
D. God remembers your baptism. This Lent reclaim, renew and refresh your baptism.
II. Just for Lent, we will include all three Scripture lessons from the lectionary in our worship: Hebrew Scripture, Epistle, Gospel. They are intricately interlinked. I hope you will be stimulated to keep exploring the insights of these connections through the week. I’ve also asked our worship leaders to put them in a somewhat more formal setting than we’re used to prompting your response at the end as a way to jolt our attention. This is just for five Sundays until the festive celebrations of Palm Sunday and Easter.
A. The Hebrew prophets are constantly reminding the people of Israel to remember their covenant with the Lord. But did you notice that in Genesis 9:15-16 God says that when God sees the rainbow, God will remember the covenant with all humanity and with all creation? Doesn’t that seem curious to you? It sounds like the rainbow is to remind God not to flood the earth again.
1. Most of the covenants God makes with people have conditions the people are expected to fulfill. We’ll see some of that in the Hebrew Scriptures we’ll be reading through Lent. But God puts no conditions on Noah and his descendants nor on the rest of creation. God is the only one with responsibility to keep this covenant, of which the rainbow is the sign.
2. Notice, too, that this is a universal covenant, not just for Abraham’s descendants, or for David’s heirs, or for the followers of Jesus. This covenant is not even limited to people; it is for all creation. Universal!
3. Of course, God isn’t the only one looking at rainbows. We never get tired of looking at them: complete arcs and circles, doubles, brilliant and pale. Beside the delicate beauty, I think part of our fascination is that rainbows assure us about our anxieties. Storms will pass. God will remember us!
B. The paragraphs of 1 Peter 3:18-22 are some of the most puzzling and difficult to interpret in all the New Testament. They illuminate the significance of Noah’s flood. They raise fascinating questions about when and what Jesus proclaimed to the spirits in prison, whoever they were. I won’t take time to examine all of that this morning, but those who are interested can pick up a paper I wrote about it on the shelf in the hallway.
This essay is posted in "Writing Workshop" at http://nstolpewriting.blogspot.com/2012/02/questions-about-puzzling-passage-1.html
1. Do notice that 1 Peter 3:20 compares baptism to God’s rescue of Noah through the water of the flood. We tend to think of baptism as something we do to confess our faith in Jesus. As true as that is, this connection to Noah tells us that baptism is something God does for us. It is God’s assurance that God remembers us, forgives our sin and saves us for the resurrection to eternal life through Jesus.
2. Baptism is an appeal to God for a good conscience. Like Noah’s rainbow, baptism is a sign God sees and remembers that we have been redeemed by Jesus’ death and resurrection.
C. The account of Jesus’ baptism in Mark 1:9-15 also sheds light on the significance of our baptisms. In a couple of places the New Testament distinguishes the baptism of John that Jesus received from Christian baptism in the name of Jesus. Nevertheless, the way Mark tells it connects with this idea that God the Father sees Jesus’ baptism and claims him as the Beloved Son.
In 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.” 12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
1. In contrast to Matthew where the voice of the Father from heaven is addressed to those witnessing Jesus’ baptism, Mark reports that the Father spoke directly to Jesus. “You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.” (v. 11)
2. Your baptism identifies you with Jesus, marks you as one of Jesus’ people. So when God sees your baptism, God remembers that you belong to Jesus, the Beloved Son.
III. Are you anxious about your spiritual doldrums – present, past or future? About a mid-faith crisis when enthusiasm for faith and awareness of God’s presence has faded? Are you anxious that not only have you lost sight of God but fear God may have lost sight of you?
A. Be at peace. God remembers your baptism. This Lent reclaim, renew and refresh your baptism. Let your baptism wash away your anxiety.
B. Like the Lord’s Supper, baptism is at once simple and profoundly expansive. We can receive it with joy, grasping the wonder of having our sin washed away, and we can invest a lifetime contemplating baptism without ever exhausting its meaning. So I will highlight only a couple of key aspects of baptism this morning.
1. Strictly speaking, baptism is not a personal or private act. It involves the whole Church. When you were baptized your identification with Jesus made you part of the community of the Beloved, and the community welcomed you as one of them.
2. Baptism is unrepeatable. You may feel that your faith or the faith of those around you at your baptism was deficient. You may feel you’ve been deficient since your baptism. Jesus is not deficient and claims you as his own. Rather than being baptized again, you only need to reclaim, renew and refresh your baptism at the Lord’s Table. Baptism is like being born. It happens once. Communion is like eating every day. You do it over and over again.
3. The tradition of baptizing new believers on Easter Sunday goes back to the earliest days of the Church. If you or someone in your family who has not been baptized is ready, please talk to me very soon so we can get ready to celebrate baptism on Easter Sunday, April 8. As the Church has done for almost 20 centuries, anyone who wants to be baptized can prepare during Lent.
IV. As baptismal candidates prepare and make their confessions of faith during Lent, the rest of us have the opportunity to reclaim, renew and refresh our own baptisms. Jesus’ words when he came to Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God are appropriate for us as well during this season. “The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.”
A. Forty is a special number in the Bible. Get a concordance or go to an on-line Bible and check it out. The forty days of Lent (not counting Sundays) are modeled after Jesus’ forty days being tested in the wilderness. Matthew and Luke write that Jesus was tempted by the devil, but Mark writes that he was tempted or tested by Satan. While referring to the same spiritual enemy, devil and Satan have different meanings. Satan is the adversary, the accuser. By using Satan, Mark is suggesting that Jesus’ temptation was not so much about trying to get Jesus to commit a sin, but testing and probing him to try to find a way to disqualify him from the redemptive mission on which the Father had sent him. With that in mind, our Lenten disciplines are not about establishing our spiritual stature but are about so fully identifying ourselves with Jesus that we know that we are God’s beloved children.
B. We tend to avoid repentance thinking that it means owning up to and regretting everything that might disqualify us from sharing in the community of God’s Beloved. But notice, Jesus did not say, “Repent and wallow in guilt and shame.” No! Jesus said, “Repent and believe in the Good News!” Jesus remembers your baptism and claims you as his own in the company of the beloved of the Father.
C. We reclaim, renew and refresh our baptisms together as a community. That is an essential function of sharing in the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. Sometimes in one of those seasons of doldrums when our faith is wavering, we hear the words of institution and taste the cup and the bread, assured that God has a grip on us, even when we feel far away. Our weekly confession of sin and our annual Lenten disciplines are an opportunity to embrace the Good News all over again.
D. I hope you know me well enough by now to know that I believe praying is the most important thing I do for you and that you can do for each other and for your church. Those who experienced Prayer Triads this winter had a great time. As your pastor I encourage you as strongly and positively as I know how to participate in a Prayer Triad as a Lenten discipline this year. We’re not going to have sign ups this time. Those who did it this winter and Elders are looking for people to form new Prayer Triads. Don’t wait to be asked. You ask someone to join you, and between you invite a third person in. Brief instructions are in this week’s newsletter, and I can give you complete directions. Just ask. While we can pray alone, something about praying together unleashes great spiritual power. I believe it is the key to the future of First Christian Church of Duncanville.
E. God remembers your baptism. This Lent reclaim, renew and refresh your baptism.