I recently heard that the majority of people who make New Year’s resolutions will break them by six weeks into the new year. This year, that takes us to Ash Wednesday – the beginning of Lent. For those of you who gave up on that New Year’s Resolution long before February and need something else to commit to…it’s not uncommon for people to give up something for Lent. Christians of all persuasions – not just Catholics. What’s it going to be? Chocolate? Coffee? Wine, beer, soda? You name it… Some people sign off of social media for 6 weeks – no more Facebook or Snapchat. Not such a bad idea, if you ask me… Need a list?
As we begin this Lenten journey, our lessons this morning are filled with rich images of water. Baptismal images. Water that nurtures and sustains life. But there is such a thing as getting too little or too much water. We hear countless stories of the destructive power of water – and the absence resulting in drought causing devastation and hardship. Even so, water is an essential part of creation.
In Genesis, the world was overcome by the water in the days of Noah…and yet the writer of First Peter reminds us that God delivers Noah and his family from death…and connects the flood with baptism as a sign of deliverance. In our Gospel, after Jesus is baptized by John, the Holy Spirit descends on him and immediately he’s driven into the wilderness – to a place void of water, to the desert, for 40 days. But even in the desert, there is life.
In our travels to the Holy Land a few years ago, we visited the Jordan and in between the lush, green banks, the scenery was remarkably different. Highways surrounded by the desert – by dry, barren land – but with green and flowering plants scattering the landscape. There were dunes, hills, valleys and high mountains. It’s a visually remarkable place. The distance from city to desert is not that great – but the break from the noise and the pace – and the setting – is significant. The desert has long been a place of retreat, reflection and re-creation. It’s a place to physically and metaphorically escape to – and become better acquainted with ourselves – re-setting priorities and re-establishing relationships – particularly our relationship with God.
Lent is a time to take a look at where we are – and where God is in our lives. Our lives are cluttered with so many distractions – that we have a hard time – as they say “turning things off” and “tuning things out”. There’s a constant need to always be connected that we lose sight of engaging in the present – where we are and who we’re with.
Water is a potent symbol of change – the flood, the lack of water in the desert and in baptism. Jesus’s transformation following his baptism at the Jordan was affirmed for him in the desert. He heard God’s voice – and God’s words – call him his “beloved Son”… and it changed him. The words inform Jesus of what is to come as God’s servant – and he is then tested and forced to face temptation. In our own journey to the wilderness and back, it’s our baptism that changes and sustains us. Baptism enables us to live in a state of constant change – as we distance ourselves from uncertainty, then moving ahead – and we do so by trusting in God and with sure and certain hope of God’s presence with us, giving us strength as we leave behind our doubt.
But, instead of giving up something this Lent, how about we look at this time as giving something back. Remembering our baptisms – reminded of our promise – reminded of this faith journey that we’re on. Taking time to give more to God – nurturing relationships with God through prayer. Strengthening our bonds with one another – to the church. Stepping out of our comfort zone –signing up, volunteering for a new ministry. Standing up for justice – for a cause, for something or someone that you’re passionate about. Being an advocate for change, not just content with the status quo.
Our lessons today provide us the opportunity to consider how we turn away from God – perhaps in our own wilderness, our own desert. It’s a time for us to consider ways that we might live and be more faithful to Christ. It took Jesus 40 days in the desert alone with God – fasting and tempted by evil – before he realized the nearness of God’s kingdom. The good news is that even on our worst days – no matter how we might feel – we are never alone in this journey. God’s grace and his love are with us… in the kingdom right here in New Providence – and wherever Jesus leads us… Freed by the waters of baptism, it’s time to take that step, and to make that journey toward the cross, with Christ. Amen.