Sermons That Work

Wet and Washed, Lent 1 (C) – 2004

February 29, 2004

Wet and washed, Jesus walked out of the river, full of God, full of God’s Spirit. That Holy Spirit led him into the wild land west of the Jordan River. He headed for the wilderness out of which his cousin John had come, preaching and calling people to come to God and be cleansed in the waters of the Jordan. John had come with a promise that One more powerful than he would come full of the Breath of God and burn with Holy Fire. John found that promised One at the baptism of Jesus. There the surrounding waters stirred Jesus and as he surfaced from the Jordan, these words rang in his ears: “You are my beloved child. You are my delight. You are my love.” Witnesses to Jesus’ baptism watched a man fill with God’s Spirit, and they wondered what would come from this day.

Jesus, filled with God, awakened to a compelling, driving certainty that he must go into the wilderness where people often went to fast and pray. The wilderness provided the open, silent space needed for seeking direction and purpose. Tradition has it that Jesus climbed into a high cave of Mt. Quarantal, a place which is today the location of the Monastery of the Temptation. This high place in the wilderness west of the Jordan, less than a day’s walk from Jericho, for centuries attracted God’s seekers. In caves in the Quarantal, people would fast and pray, seeking needed answers. Jesus, now certain of being loved and touched by God, needed the answers that a forty-day discipline might bring.

In the cold, dark cave, Jesus waited and watched. Deprived of the comfort of water, food, and warmth, Jesus tested his spiritual muscles. Three times God’s Adversary came testing Jesus, tempting him to forget his baptismal identity and to use his new power for personal comfort and gain, political influence and glory, even free himself from suffering and death. Three times Jesus turned his back on the Adversary and embraced living a life of compassion as God’s servant.

Love revealed in Jesus, shaped and tested by the forty-day discipline, has for generations called us to our own vocations. While each person must discover (or uncover) specific meanings of God’s call, all share the baptismal certainties:

you are God’s child
you are God’s delight,
you are God’s love.

Yet we deny our identity. We forget our baptismal realities. We carelessly allow confusion to rule and let fears bargain for assurances inferior to what God promises or desires. We trade love for short-term profits. Misplaced identity brings confusion and disorientation that seeks from religion personal gain rather than wholeness and holiness. Success rather than transformation becomes our mission. Worldly wealth provides the measure of our worth, instead of allowing God’s grace to grant personal significance. Religion founded on fear and guilt chooses personal comfort over faithful living. We make compromises that weaken our resolve to stand firm in God’s blessed assurance. All this we do because, at all costs, we seek to avoid sacrifice, suffering, and death.

God surprises us by bringing transforming love through Christ’s incarnating presence. A surprising paradox reveals God’s continual presence using sacrifice, suffering, and even death as the media through which we find love, wholeness, and life. God uses that which we avoid to provide that which we most deeply desire. Four strong yearnings shape our hope:

We each yearn to belong.
We yearn to be loved and to love.
We yearn to make a difference, to contribute.
We yearn to continue, to endure, to last—even beyond death.

Each generation must rediscover God’s revealing presence that reaches into our intense longing. Augustine of Hippo walked from village to village teaching and preaching the good news that restless hearts will find peace in God. Centuries later, Francis of Assisi danced, sang, and loved his way through Europe, making Christ’s abundant love visible through the starkness of his self-imposed poverty. Spanish Christians defied the fear-driven Inquisitions, as they followed Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross into ever-deepening prayer that revealed that we humans are made of love, filled with love, and meant for love.

If we are love, then what brings such separation and destruction that runs so freely through our personal and social histories? Two fundamental reasons echo from generation to generation. Most recently they come in the words written by Gerald May: “First…we are asleep to the truth; we do not realize who we are and what we are for. The second reason is that we misplace our love; we become attached to things other than God” [1]

That is the bad news. The Good News is that God actively engages our lives, sending us wake up calls, one after another. Once we entertain the possibility that God dwells within each soul, then we can choose. We can choose to listen for love, seek love, and allow love to awaken within.

The season of Lent brings opportunities to awaken to God’s love. Notice throughout the days of Lent who speaks Love to you? Who reveals God’s heart to you? Who brings you knowledge that you belong to God, that you are love, and that your significance rests in compassionate giving?

Unless you show up for prayer, unless you participate in worship, you are likely to remain asleep to the truth. Dare to trust that you have God at the center of your being. Dare to risk praying. Dare to ask, seek, and find Love within. Pray. Pray—not with wordy, noisy, chattering instructions to God—but with the kind of praying that sits in quiet, expectant listening, watching and waiting for your awakening to love’s reality. Pray for 20 minutes each day. Pray with your soul’s ears, instead of your mind’s chatter. Learn through your personal experience that you have within you God’s still, small voice.

Let Teresa of Avila’s poem fortify you as you dare to risk listening for God and to God. Teresa wrote these words as her response to words she heard in prayer:

Soul, you must seek yourself in Me
And in yourself seek Me.
With such skill, soul Love
could portray you in Me.
That a painter well gifted
Could never show
So finely that image.

For love you were fashioned
Deep within me
Painted so beautiful, so fair;
If, my beloved, you are lost,
Soul seek yourself in Me. [2]

[1] The Dark Night of the Soul. Gerald May.HarperSanFrancisco.2004, p.51
[2] Ibid., p. 199

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Christopher Sikkema


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