Lent 1: Coming up out of the water

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, "As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." (Genesis 9:8-11)

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And 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. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news." (Mark 1:9-15)

It was a beautiful North Carolina evening, and the high schoolers were all milling about on the beach, walking barefoot in the sand after dinner, waiting for the sun to set. Erik grabbed a stick and started drawing in the sand, creating stick-figure portraits of everyone who was on this high school summer trip. Ryan and Kevin and Jensine and Allie and Sam and Sarah stood at the edge of the water, facing the ocean, watching the sunset and and feeling the sand and the sea under their bare feet as they waited for waves to creep up and touch their waiting toes.

And then there was Danny. It was Danny’s first time at the ocean, and there was no way that he was going to be content with simply sticking his toes in the water. The waves were too exciting and the ocean was too enticing.

And so Danny climbed into the ocean as if it were a bathtub. Fully clothed, he sat right down in waist-deep water, getting knocked over and pushed around by every wave, and his only care in the world was making sure he didn’t lose his baseball cap. The pounding waves, the salt, the sand – none of it bothered him. He sat there and laughed, and fell over, and got smacked in the face by waves, and even though he thought he was just trying to be goofy, there was something serious in all of it.

He came up out of the water reluctantly, dripping wet and looking more than a little tousled by the waves. His teeth were chattering. Sand stuck to his legs. His t-shirt hung from his shoulders, heavy and lopsided. His hair was full of salt and his hat was soaked. He looked like he had just done battle with the ocean and lost. But he was happy. And he was changed.

He came up out of the water to face the rest of a week of service and mission, working alongside his peers, learning about God, taking care of his neighbors, and leaning on his new high school group friends during the week’s moments of frustration and joy. And none of his amazing experiences from the rest of that trip could have happened if he hadn’t come up out of the water.

All of today’s readings have to do with coming up out of the water.

Our Genesis reading today begins at the end of the flood, when Noah and his family and an ark-full of animals have passed through the waters and emerged safely on the other side. They have come up out of the water, and here, on the far side of the flood, they receive God’s blessing and promise.

And our gospel reading tells the familiar story of Jesus’ own baptism. Notice that for Jesus, everything important starts happening once he rises from the water of baptism. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ baptism is the beginning of the story. It is the beginning of his identity as Son of God, it is the beginning of his ministry, and it is the beginning of God’s good news.

Jesus comes up from the water and the heavens open. “You are my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus comes up from the water, and the Spirit first descends upon him like a dove…and then hurls him out into the wilderness to do battle with the tempter. Jesus comes up out of the water, is possessed by the Spirit of God, and returns from the wilderness to pick up where John left off saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news."

Mark makes the case, in just a few short verses, that baptism is about something more than being called God’s beloved. It is about being called and sent into the world.

Pastor Danielle Shroyer reflects on Jesus’ baptism saying,
The baptism story is as much about Jesus being sent as it is about Jesus being affirmed and claimed….What happens in baptism doesn’t stay in baptism. Or, at least, it shouldn’t….[In baptism we hear] the proclamation that beloved-ness has been given to us…and, dare I say, that the power of this beloved-ness allows us to face Evil Incarnate and wild hungry beasts and come out on the other side telling the good news.
You don’t have to be Danny to know that hanging out in the water is fun. It is fun, and comforting, and comfortable to splash around in our baptismal waters. What do I mean by this? I mean that we so often want to cling to the inside of the font, the inside of the church, the inside of the community of faith, the inside of our church building. Getting out of the water means getting out there in the world. And if we take Mark’s gospel at face value, then we know that getting out the in the world might mean that we, too, are cast into the wilderness, into places where our faith is tested, and into places where the wild beasts of our world challenge our beliefs, our patience, and our graciousness.

But Mark’s gospel encourages us to get out of the water nonetheless. Because for us, just like for Jesus, baptism is not only about being affirmed and blessed. Baptism is about being sent out, even into the wilderness, to “proclaim Christ through word and deed, [to] care for others and the world God made, and [to] work for justice and peace” (quoted from ELW baptism rite). And no matter what happens to us when we come up out of the water, we can face it and see God’s good news because we too are God’s beloved children, whom he loves. Our beloved-ness sticks to us like sand in our hair when we emerge from those baptismal water, and it blesses us to go out and bring resurrection to the world.

A few days later in our week together in North Carolina, we all had the opportunity to jump into the ocean and to try our hand at surfing. We paddled out into deep waters and rested on our boards while we waited for perfect waves. And it is the curious nature of surfing that after doing all the hard work of paddling to deeper waters, you wait for a wave to come and spit you back out toward shore. Over and over again, we paddled to the deep waters of the flood in order that we could ride a wave back to the sand. Surfing, it turns out, is all about coming up out of the water.

Isn’t this exactly what baptism is all about? Paddling into the depths of the font so that we can be spit out onto the shore? Isn’t this what remembering our baptisms is all about? Returning again and again to the water in the font for a new chance to be carried off by the waves to new shores, new wildernesses, new places to share a word of resurrection?

If you haven’t adopted a Lenten discipline yet, or even if you have, you might consider taking these next weeks to challenge yourself to ride the wave of your baptism all the wy to shore, and to bring resurrection into wilderness areas around you. Lent is a great time to test out new ways of coming up out of the water.

You might decide to stand on the shore of forgiveness and pray for your enemies every day from now until Easter. Or you might ride a current of gratitude, telling one person a day that you are thankful for their presence in your life. Maybe you ride a wave of contemplation during this Lenten season, spending five minutes in silence every day at noon, looking out your window to notice something beautiful. And maybe you share your joy by telling the next person you see about the “something beautiful” that you just observed. Perhaps you test the waters of justice and peace, writing a letter a day to a politician, advocating for the poor, the hungry, or the oppressed.

Or what about something even more absurd and wonderful? There’s a woman out in Oregon who spent a year baking one pie a day to give away to friends, neighbors, and people in the community. 365 pies for 365 people. What if the waves of baptism pushed you toward a Lenten discipline of generosity, sending you out of the water to bake a pie a day during Lent for people in your life, or to make a sack lunch a day for a hungry or homeless person you see on your way to work, or to cook a casserole a day to give to new moms or families who need a little sign of compassion?

Whatever you choose to do to observe these next weeks of Lent, I challenge you to come up out of the water and to step out of the ocean, teeth chattering, salt in your hair, sand sticking to your bare feet. I challenge you to find a way each day of Lent to live out resurrection, love, grace, and mercy. Because there is no better time than the waiting days of Lent to let the waters of baptism rush in us and through us, carrying us along on currents of God’s love and mercy into sandy wilderness places to share with the world the good news that all creation is beloved by God.

All we have to do is to come up out of the water.

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