Sunday, March 10, 2019
First Sunday in Lent, Year C

The Baptism of Isabella Splitter

Prayer of the Day

O Lord God, you led your people through the wilderness and brought them to the promised land. Guide us now, so that, following your Son, we may walk safely through the wilderness of this world toward the life you alone can give, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Readings and Psalm

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Romans 10:8b-13 If you confess that Jesus is Lord, you will be saved
Luke 4:1-13 The temptation of Jesus in the wilderness for forty days

Sermon

Title:  A Welcomed Spoiler

Isabella, we rejoice with you today.  We thank you and your parents that you have come here to be baptized.  We give thanks to God for the saving waters of baptism that will deliver you and all of us, making us God’s children forever.

But before we behold this mystery and this wonderful display of God’s mercy and grace, I feel like we should give a big shout – SPOILER ALERT!!  For just as that is said when someone talks about a movie or a book and is about to share some information that will either give away a surprise or reveal the ending, so your baptism today, as we begin our Lenten pilgrimage, is offering a big reveal as to where our journey will end.

But please know, in this case, it is not a bad thing.  It is NOT like when someone told me the ending of Thelma and Louise.  (Notice, I’m not going to say what they drove off of.)  No need to plug your ears, close your eyes, or say Lalalalalala so as to drown out this spoiler.  In fact, I’m thinking this is a bit of a gift you are bringing us.  A Lenten gift.  Not a typical thing to receive, but hey, we do things a little differently around here.

Yes, Isabella, your baptism today, splashing us as we take our first steps towards that glorious celebration that is the culmination of our pilgrimage, could most certainly be seen as a gift.  For it is the journey of faith that relies on hope, it is the challenge to trust that is comforted with foretastes of the completeness that awaits us in the end.  After all, while on earth, Jesus tells his disciples that he has brought the kingdom of God to earth.  Not in its fulness, but enough so that we know what we are living for here and what awaits us beyond this life.

So, thank you, Isabella, for providing us with encouragement to go forward, for helping to set our path as we begin this pilgrimage, for challenging us to use this season of Lent to explore this gift of baptism that we will again witness today.  (In the early church it was during Lent that those wishing to be baptized and become part of the church went through instruction in preparation for an Easter Vigil baptism.  Perhaps Isabella gives us a good reason to dedicate our Lenten journey this year to renewing and increasing our understanding of baptism.)

This past Wednesday, the season of Lent began with Ash Wednesday.  A most solemn day when we are confronted with our own mortality.  We honestly faced our human legacy of sin and death and admitted to ourselves and to the world that we are dust and to dust we shall return.  And while we put ashes on our head, Isabella, today, we put water on your head.  That water reminds us that the ashes are not the end of the story.  Ash Wednesday was the beginning of the journey.  Your wet brow points us to the end of our journey.  God, through Jesus Christ, is turning our death into life.  New life.

Now, Isabella, don’t get too upset with the talk of death that you will hear.  Do not fear when you are encouraged to see your baptism as a drowning of the old self, so that a new creation in Christ might rise up out of the water.  We can die safely and securely (yes, that does sound strange) but we can die safely and securely, daily even, because God is sharing the new life of Christ with us.  And this is not for a future day.   By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are invited and encouraged, called even, to die and live this new life each and every day.

And perhaps this well known, yearly told story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness can bring some new light onto this gift of baptism.  After all, Jesus’ 40 days of retreat in the desert, this encounter with the devil, takes place right after Jesus himself has been baptized.  What is there here for us to learn?  (A footnote – the word devil can sound very archaic and medieval to some, it can conjure up outdated images and foreign belief systems.  For our purposes this morning, when you hear devil perhaps you can think of our own worst selves, those forces that seek to draw us away from God – whether within or without.)

And this devil, this force, this lesser angel, is doing its best to draw Jesus into the life that we are called to die to.  Meanwhile Jesus is staying focused on the new life that he is bringing into the world of dusty death and self-centered sin.

The devil begins by thinking that Jesus, like all humans, is anxious about things. About food, about belongings, about having enough, about finding comfort in the material.  You’re hungry,  it says.  Satisfy your desire and your hunger by any means necessary.  Even if it means misusing the power that you have.  Jesus responds by pointing to the one who satisfies our most essential needs.

Next this self-satisfying force tempts Jesus with all the power in the world if he will just set God to the side.  But Jesus knows that all earthly power is fleeting.  He knows that there is nothing to be gained by possessing the whole world, having our wildest dreams satisfied, if it means losing the life and love of the one who created us and all things.  It’s a colossal “be careful what you wish for” warning.  (But these days, you could just watch the news for that lesson.)

Finally, the force of self-importance encourages Jesus to make God prove God’s self to him.  But Jesus knows that we are called to trust, to live into the mystery, not always understanding the answers or the silence, not always liking the terrain or the process of our journey.  But trusting that God is present even when we feel alone.

Isabella, friends in Christ, this spoiler alert is nothing to ignore or plug our ears to.  In the water of the font see even just a glimpse of the life that God is freely giving us, as God claims us as God’s children.  See all our needs satisfied.  See the reign of God that seeks to fill the world with peace and joy.  See the presence of God that is worthy of our trust. See the cleansing flood of grace in Jesus wash away all the ashiness of our world and of our lives.  And know that the same waters are nourishing the seeds that the Holy Spirit is planting in us.

And then, come to the table for another spoiler as we are given a foretaste of the feast that is to come.  As we commune with the presence of our Lord and with all the baptized of every time and place. And know that one day, the fullness of the feast will also be ours forever.

These gifts of water and word, of bread and wine, of fellowship and community, are not just spoilers of what is to come.  They are here for us today.  They are encouragement, they are blessed assurance, they are hope.  And they are ours for the living of every day of this life long journey of faith.

Isabella, today you take your first steps on this journey.  Know the fulness of the ending, so that you might live with and into the sustaining promises that God is making to you today.

The Rev. Mark Erson,
Pastor

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