A Dog-eared Photograph

A Dog-eared Photograph

I have a dog-eared photograph on my fridge door back home in Vancouver.

It’s a picture of me with my family taken on the occasion of my baptism.

In the snapshot, I’m all of three weeks old, dressed in a lovely white christening gown, and held lovingly in the arms of my Auntie Maggie.

Next to her in the picture is my mother and behind us are two important men in my life at the time-my Dad and my Uncle John.

It’s the only picture I have of the five of us together on the day of my baptism, the day of my entry into the Christian family.

Though it had been kicking around in a shoebox full of old photographs, it has found a place of some prominence on my fridge door about a year ago and sits there still.

Maybe you also have some similar pictures kicking around in old shoeboxes at home? If so, let’s talk about that!

The day of my baptism on the 11th of February, 1951 was the day I was given my Christian names, Elizabeth Ann, after my two grandmothers.

The day of my baptism was also the day my family celebrated my belovedness as a gift from God.

Who knew that this day, 67 years ago almost to the day would jump start me on such a long and winding road and a fulfilling faith journey?

Who knew that my prayerful reflection on our story from the gospel according to Mark would cause me to want to share my own here and now in this very moment?

This is, indeed, one of the blessings of ministry: To be able to share how our personal stories and our common shared life as people of the Way connects with our stories from scripture and how all of that finds its place in the grander scheme of God’s story.

I say ‘stories’ because this morning’s readings from Mark’s gospel actually consist of three different stories.

We might even call them ‘vignettes’ or ‘snapshots’ of Jesus’ inauguration into his humanity in the deepest and most meaningful of ways.

Bracketing these snapshots, we hear the echo of both John, the Baptist’s voice and Jesus’ own voice calling us to repent, or as translated from the Greek, ‘to go beyond the mind we have, to lift ourselves beyond culture and convention’ and to see how the kingdom of God has come near. [1]

But, before, I get ahead of myself, let’s re-visit the three snapshots- first of Jesus’ baptism by his cousin, John, at the river Jordan, then his temptation in the Wilderness, followed by the proclamation of his ministry back home in Galilee.

In Mark’s account, as in the good news stories found in Matthew, Luke, and John, we discover there’s something particularly unique about Jesus’ baptism.

In all of the gospel accounts, no sooner does Jesus emerge from the waters of the Jordan River than the heavens are torn apart, God’s Spirit descends and hovers over Jesus like a dove, and a voice from heaven declares “You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” [2]

While this morning’s passage does not elaborate on who actually witnessed this unique experience, the fact remains the same: These details are remarkably similar in all four of the synoptic gospels.

Regardless of who exactly witnessed what, and in keeping with the rapidly sparse pace of the gospel according to Mark, we learn that Jesus is immediately driven by God’s Spirit into the wilderness for 40 days.

There, we are told God’s claim on Jesus is sorely tested by God’s adversary, Satan.

However, unlike in the other gospel accounts, Mark wastes no time elaborating on the shape and form of Jesus’ testing.

That said, we gathered here, we have heard the story many times.

We, gathered here, daily live out our own Wilderness experiences of trials and temptations.

We, alone and together, we, daily live out our own experiences confronted by both by God and Satan, as well as a host of attendant wild beasts, and angels alike.

But we also know this:

Jesus’ encounters in the Wilderness were instructional in preparing him for his life’s purpose.

They prepared him well for the living out of his life as the embodiment of God’s grace and compassion and of God’s relentless pursuit of justice and peace.

They helped him to develop the much-needed attributes for inviting others into the call to leadership in a broken and ailing world.

The third and last snapshot of Jesus’ inauguration as God’s Beloved Son catapults us back to his home territory of Galilee.

Here, we learn that Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist’s prophetic voice has been snuffed out-silenced with his arrest by the powers at work in Greco-Roman culture.

Here, we also see Jesus, who some scholars think might have been mentored by his cousin, John, here we see Jesus assuming the weighty mantle of authority.

Taking up the banner of John’s proclamation, Jesus affirms for all who have ears to hear: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.” [3]

For our listening ears this morning, the author of the gospel of Mark has Jesus baptized, named, called, and commissioned into his full humanity, all this and more in only 7 verses!

In coming days we will hear tell more of how Jesus’ compelling leadership of those first ones called to lead the first attempts at what Marcus Borg describes as “God’s great clean-up of the world’ came to pass. [4]

But for today, we have enough to consider with the stories of Jesus’ baptism, commissioning, and inauguration.

How very fitting this morning’s reading seems to me in preparing Jesus for the pitfalls and challenges and his entry into the grand sweep of his 40 day journey from Nazareth in Galilee to the garden at Gethsemene in Jerusalem.

How very fitting this morning’s reading seems for us, as we, too, prepare to enter into our own 40 day Lenten journeys.

Jesus’ baptism, commissioning, and inauguration into his life’s purpose and how it is lived out in relationship in community richly inform our own relationships and lives in community.

The stories will especially do so as we move through the dark shadowy places anticipating the new life that comes with Easter.

Together we will re-discover what Jesus means when he affirms that “the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near”, and as we probe his call to repentance and belief in the good news.

Together our stories from scripture as seen through the lens of the gospels of both Mark and John will invite us to ponder many aspects of Jesus’ struggles with the powers and the principalities of his day.

Together, during the course of this Lenten period, we will traverse many paths with Jesus and his fledgling band of followers.

However, our work as faithful followers in the Way is to do more than just ponder these stories for their own sake.

Our work as followers in the Way is to see how these stories might inform our own struggles and our own actions in our own contexts, both local and global.

Our work as followers in the Way of Jesus, calls us not only to learn to ‘love more like Jesus’ as per our Trinity mission statement.

Further, our work as followers in the Way of Jesus calls us also to respond to the challenges and the blessings of God’s commission to be the church in this time and in this place.

To do and be Christ’s hands and feet in the world is no task for the faint hearted. Like Jesus’ journey in the Wilderness, we, too are continually called into being shaped and formed as bearers of grace and compassion, justice and peace.

God knows our hands and hearts and minds and bodies are badly needed to pull together as vessels and agents of healing and hope in our own broken and ailing world.

In our postmodern, post Christendom world, this is no easy task but then the marginalization of the church has been coming at us for a very long time.

In sharing my story with you about my dog-eared snapshot of my baptism as an infant, I deliberately did not mention that my parents’ grappling with their own faith journeys in those post World War II years in Scotland.

You see, my parents were among those people who tried to pick up their lives after the war and in that context, they had lost the will or the motivation to be about the work of practicing their faith in any church context.

You might say that they had decided it was okay to be spiritual rather than religious.   Sound familiar?

Despite that, I find myself wondering: What was it that led them to want to have me baptized?

Surely it was something more than just doing what was expected?

Sadly for me, I just have to live with the mystery of not knowing their motivation until we meet again in the great hereafter.

That said, I am noticing more and more in my experience of life in church leadership that infant baptism is becoming less and less ‘expected’ or the ‘done’ thing.

Or, when baptism is offered, it’s hard to follow up with families who do not attend church with any regularity.

This leads me to wonder if it’s not time to re-think the whole idea of infant baptism and to shift our focus from infant to adult baptism and or renewal of baptismal vows.

Such a shift would bring us full circle back to the origins of the season of Lent and its emphasis as our bulletin insert describes as a ‘preparatory’ time for Easter.

This is well worth thinking about further as we consider the story of Jesus’ own baptism as an adult offered here and now on the first Sunday in the season of Lent.

In most United Churches where I have been actively involved, there seems to be more clarity and energy for engaging in Christian practices around the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Easter, and even Pentecost than there is around the startup of the season of Lent.

We might say that the start up of Lent has become something of a poor relation to the other seasons of the church year.

Not so in all cases, but in many.

During the season of Lent, it’s also been my experience that folks are more comfortable talking about what they might give up or take up rather than intentionally committing to any particular practice.

What blocks that intention, I wonder?

As a ministry person covering off here in a supply capacity, it does feel as though we’ve missed an opportunity to get this conversation off the ground.

Still and all, we can begin with where we find ourselves in this present moment.

To paraphrase Marcus Borg, we might consider it timely ‘to go beyond the mind we have, to lift ourselves beyond culture and convention.’[5]

With all of that in mind, then, let’s turn our thoughts to a few possible examples of how we might be intentional about spiritual practices during the season of Lent.

What would it be like, I wonder, as was suggested last week by the Rev. Mark Malek in his sermon on the transfiguration, to deliberately place our bibles on the night stand by our beds? Just for the season of Lent?

Who knows what could happen?

Maybe we might find ourselves opening them up and setting aside time to read a verse or even a story or two!

Who knows what could happen if some of us in our various team ministry gatherings that happen weekly here at Trinity were deliberate about making a point of sharing with one another an intentional practice for the season?

It could be as simple as committing to re-visiting some old photographs and attendant memories and then sharing that experience or that moment of ‘aha’ with a church friend or two, as I did this morning at the start of the sermon.

It could be as deliberate as committing to attending one or all of the ecumenical church services happening each Wednesday afternoon at 2pm around the city of Vernon during the season of Lent this year.

Anything is possible when we make space for God in our lives.

The good news for today is that God is with us.

God is with us in our stories from Mark’s gospel and the story from Genesis.

God is with us in our singing and in our praying and in our longing for a new world a bornin’.

God is with us even when we are tempted by the demands of our everyday lives to put our spiritual lives on hold.

God is with us when we fall prey to the noisy demands of culture and convention rather than making space for that still, small calming voice within; that voice that knows us and loves us relentlessly.

God is with us when we are tempted to take the easy road.

In our world so thoroughly saturated with the ‘isms’ of patriarchal culture-racism, sexism, consumerism, intellectualism, cynicism, and individualism, God is with us even so.

Let us not forget during the season of Lent that God needs us to work with Jesus for the coming of God’s kingdom.

God needs us to offer our own lives in whatever large and small ways that we can so that God’s dream for the world will not be silenced.

Let us not lose sight of God’s dream that the grip of the ‘isms’ that plague our culture: racism, sexism, consumerism, intellectualism, cynicism, and individualism need countering this way: We are God’s beloved ones. God needs us and we need each other!

Let us pray:

Dear God, we give you thanks for these, our stories from scripture.

We give thanks for the sacrament of baptism (a deliberate intention we make to come close to you in the hopes that you will come close to us).

We give thanks for your faithful promise to walk with us as we re-visit the stories of our faith tradition as embodied in the person of Jesus, the Christ.

Be with us in all our experiences of confusion and misunderstanding, of doubting and questioning, and uncertainty.

Be with us in our fears of risking our most faithful, vulnerable, and authentic selves with you and with one another.

For the building up of your vision of Shalom here, now, in this very moment, give us courage, hope, and grace.

For all of this and more, we pray that we might be guided in all situations and all circumstances by your steadfast, faithful, and abiding Spirit. May it may be so. Amen and amen.

Rev. Elizabeth Bowyer reserves all rights © 2018.
You are welcome to use, copy, edit or reproduce this sermon with copyright attached. Publication is prohibited.

[1] Paraphrase, p. 31, from CONVERSATIONS WITH SCRIPTURE: THE GOSPEL OF MARK, Marcus Borg, Morehouse Publishing, HARRISBURG-NEW YORK, 2009, p. 31

[2] The Gospel According to Mark, Harper Collins Study Bible, New Standard Revised Version, p. 1918, Harper Collins Publisher, 1989

[3] The Gospel According to Mark, ibid

[4] THE LAST WEEK, What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’ Final Days in Jerusalem, Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan, HarperSan Francisco, 2006