Defining Moments

Mark 1:4-11

Who’s seen the movie Finding Nemo? Well, if you haven’t, it’s a classic children’s movie about a father clownfish, named Marlin, whose searching, against all odds, for his lost son, Nemo.  And after a long and harrowing journey across the sea Marlin finds his son in the fish tank of a Sydney dentist. And with the help of the other fish in the tank, Nemo escapes and they all lived happily ever after. That’s a very quick synopsis of the movie.

My favorite scene, however, takes place at the very end, after the credits begin to roll. Even though the main story has ended, we soon discover that another story has just begun. You see, the fish who had helped Nemo escape from the tank had managed to free themselves, too. While their tank is being cleaned, they manage to roll the plastic bags they’re in along the counter, out the window, across the street, and into Sydney Harbor. When the last one finally reaches the water, there’s a collective cheer and sigh of relief. But then the reality of their situation begins to dawn upon them. Bobbing in the ocean, still encased in a thin layer of plastic, Bloat, the puffer fish, breaks the silence with the words: “Now what?”[i]

As we look at Mark’s account of the Baptism of Jesus today, I wonder if those who were baptized that day in the wilderness, had that same thought.  Now what? I mean, John seemed to know what to do.  He kept on doing his thing.  We can surmise from the larger context of Mark’s account that he kept on preaching repentance and forgiveness.  And that he wasn’t afraid to challenge the powers that be, which unfortunately, lead to his head on a platter.  And Jesus knew the score. Immediately, he was taken into the wilderness to face his own inner temptations and overcome them. Which, combined with the baptism kicked-off his earthly ministry.

So, the future of the main characters was pretty much set in stone.  But what about John’s followers; what happened to them?  Did they switch over and follow Jesus? Some probably did. Some probably became a part of “the crowds” we read about later in the gospel. But was that all of them? Did some of these folks leave the wilderness, go back home, only to have the fervor of the moment wear off as the struggles of life returned? Maybe. It stands to reason that the realities of life, planting crops, keeping food on the table, raising children, might obscure the memory of their wilderness experience. I don’t know.

But here’s the thing. We’re not told what happened to those dripping wet souls after the party broke up.  But I’d like to think that some of them took the words and experience of their Jordan cleansing to heart, and shared that experience with the folks back home. I’d like to think that it was a defining moment in their lives.

We know it was for Jesus.  The baptism in the Jordan was a defining moment for his mission and ministry.  It was the beginning of “something more.” And that something more was defined, moment by moment, in his life and teachings. Jesus lived and taught a way of justice and peace, of equality for all people regardless of social status, religion, or nationality. And he showed us that these ideals were the ideals of God. And it was this defining moment that charted the path of his life and ministry.

But what about our path? What about the times when we’re like those wet souls standing on the riverbank, when we’re bobbing on the sea of life in our plastic bags; what about the times when we find ourselves asking: “Now what?” I know from my own experience that the path sometimes seems unclear or obscure and that God’s ideals sometimes seem too lofty to attain. So, what do we do if that’s the case? What do we do if the way ahead it obstructed?

Well perhaps, it’s in our struggles, perhaps it’s in our wrestling with doubt, that we find these defining moments. Do you see what I’m getting at here?  A defining moment doesn’t always come to us as a voice from heaven, sometimes our defining moments are born out of the challenges we face in life. And it’s one’s response to these challenges that finally defines one’s character.  When we face our struggles with faith and grace we are changed.  We are changed, transformed, from the “inside/out.”

That’s what I think John was driving at as he spoke to the folks on the riverbank. He was saying that this baptism was about transformation.  It was and still is about changing the trajectory of our lives when needed.  It’s about putting aside the hurtful words and attitudes that may haunt our being or cross our tongue. Jesus’ baptism was, and is, about getting rid of those things in our lives, that do harm to others or ourselves. In other words, it boils down to loving God and others.

You know, Julian of Norwich, the 14th century Christian mystic once said, “…and thus I understood that any man or woman who deliberately chooses God in this life, out of love, may be sure that he or she is loved without end”[ii]

And that’s finally the crux of the matter.  As we reaffirm our covenant with God today, by remembering our baptism and by partaking in the Lord’s Supper, we do so with the understanding that we are all loved by God.  Because through these sacraments, these sacred acts, we are symbolically demonstrating that we “choose” God; that we choose to live, as best we are able, lives in service of God by reaching out to and loving all of God’s people.  May it be so this day and as we progress forward into a new year.

Amen

[i] Rev. Dr. Tim Boggess.  In the Hole He Goes.  (www.Day1.org) 2009

[ii] Quote found on www.ucc.org/samuel. 2018

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