Sermon for SMHP, Year B, Lent I, Feb. 18, 2018
9In 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. 13Jesus 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.”
So why a season devoted to thinking about peace?
Well, it is part of our name.
And it is part of our tradition…in a pretty complicated way. As Christians we inherit a tradition of Christian peacemaking that goes back to…anyone?
Jesus. Jesus taught us everything we need to know about living together in peace, and as his followers, we have inherited his teaching.
We have also inherited the Crusades. And the doctrine of “manifest destiny” which exterminated hundreds of thousands of Native Americans in the name of an imagined call for Christians to possess this land.
We have inherited the Holocaust, which killed six million Jews during World War II, again under the inspiration of false Christian doctrine and a selective reading of our own Martin Luther.
We inherit that Holocaust and our own American Holocaust. 1.5 million Americans have been killed by gun violence since 1968. Again this week, seventeen innocent lives were cut down by a troubled fellow with an AR-15 assault rifle which he purchased legally, despite having a clear history of violence and instability.
1.5 million people in the last fifty years. That’s more than the number killed in every war this nation has ever fought. As one pundit wrote, “we are at war with ourselves.” And we are losing, friends. It is too late to rewrite that history, so we will need to live with the shame. Perhaps we should get the ashes back out. And add a little sackcloth.
Anything. Anything to open or eyes to the destruction we have loosed on one another and our nation.
We don’t just need a season devoted to peace. We need a decade, a century, a millennium devoted to peace. So peace is on our minds this Lenten season, but it will remain on our minds beyond the season.
Still, we are taking the opportunity to delve deeply into the way of peace and the call to be peacemakers.
We begin this week at the beginning—the holy point of embarkation for Christian faith, which is…?
Baptism. It all begins with baptism. Baptism marks us for peace. Baptism washes away the difference and discord that leads to violence and war and makes us one people. Not by making difference disappear, but by teaching us that our differences make us beautiful. We are all beautiful creations of a God who made us to be unique and also to be the image of our Creator. In baptism we are joined to one another and to God, which is highlighted in the promises we make. When a child is baptized, the parents and sponsors promise to raise the child within the community of the faithful, and to introduce the child to scripture and the teachings of the church,
so that your child may learn to trust God,
proclaim Christ through word and deed,
care for others and the world God made,
and work for justice and peace.
We are baptized into peace. It is a promise we make on behalf of our children, and one which should stay with us forever. That is why the last words Jesus said to the disciples—at least according to Matthew—were “go therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
Jesus commanded the disciples to baptize the whole world in the river of peace!
How’d that work out?
Baptism is tricky business, isn’t it? If it becomes forced conversion, which it did, the moment Christianity became the empire’s religious and not the people’s religion—forced conversion doesn’t make the converted a member of an egalitarian religion of peace. It makes one a subject of paternalism.
Baptism is tricky business, which we should know, because of how that first Christian baptism turned out.
Each of the synoptic gospels tells the story of the baptism of Jesus—in slightly different places in the narrative, but the same. What follows each is exactly the same, except Mark adds the word “immediately,” because Mark does that.
12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
The baptismal pattern is the same throughout: Baptism leads to the wilderness.
When we are washed clean by God and joined into the one community of love, it doesn’t mean we are through with the devil. In fact, if the baptism of Jesus is any indicator—and it is—baptism is the doorway to the wilderness, and we are a people called to venture into the wilderness for the sake of conversion. Not conversion of others, but our own conversion.
What this world needs is some good old fashioned conversion…of the heart. What this world needs is to look the devil in the eye and say “No, devil, I will not heed to your temptation to hate my neighbor because of the color of his skin, because she wears a burka, because ze will not conform to antiquated gender norms.”
What we all need is to look the devil in the eye—any mirror will do—and realize that the peace into which we were baptized is in our hands. The peace into which we were baptized depends upon each of us, upon our ability to breathe peace into a world delighted by war…to breathe love into a world delighted by hate.
My friends, we have been baptized into the love of God and the peacemaking power of Jesus Christ. We have received that power in our bodies, which is good, because we will be spending some time in the wilderness. The wilderness has gotten dark and thick with evil, prejudice, hatred. But we shall make it through, because the power of baptism is the power of conversion—the power to convert closed minds and hardened hearts to the love of God.
We are set free in baptism. Free to love. Free to be loved. Free to make peace through love. Amen