Parkland and the Promises of Baptism
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in 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.”
Now the Spirit immediately drove Jesus 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.”
I heard one of the fathers who lost a daughter in the school shooting on Wednesday, cry his heart out on national television Friday morning. His name is Frank Guttenberg, and he was a broken man, beside himself with grief and anger and shock and regret. Grief, of course, because his little girl, Jaime, was gone, taken from him, 14 years-old, and murdered so savagely. Angry, of course, because it was all so senseless. Shocked, of course, because – no matter how prolific and popular these massacres have become in our country – we never, ever, ever think this will happen in our town, in our school, to our children. So… grief and anger and shock … of course.
But it was this father’s regret that broke him wide open and choked him up in a way that I can’t shake. His regret was that he couldn’t remember how or if he told his daughter he loved her before she left for school that morning. He acknowledged what so many of us know – that things are crazy so much of the time, that we get busy and distracted and behind schedule – and that that’s how Wednesday morning must have been for his family. So when Fred Guttenberg learned that Jaime had been shot and killed at school, it tortured him to not know for certain if he had told her what was true and more important than anything else he could have said that day – that he loved his little girl.
In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus shows up to be baptized by John, in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heaven’s torn apart, and the Spirit of God descending on him. And the voice of God – the Father – announced, not just for Jesus to hear, but for anyone listening, that Jesus was loved. “You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.” “You belong to me, you are mine and I love you.”
And then, just like every one of those parents in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday, and like so many of us do and have done – God, by way of the Holy Spirit, sent the Son … God’s own child … out into the wilderness where he was beset by temptations, by the devil, by wild beasts, and by angels, too. And I imagine Jesus’ ears must have been ringing with those words all along the way: “You are my son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” “You belong to me, you are mine, and I love you.”
And those words make all the difference, if we let them – they must have for Jesus, and I hope they do for each of us. “You are my child. You belong to me. You are mine, and I love you.”
Those words – those promises – don’t keep us out of the wilderness, or even safe in the wilderness enough of the time. They didn’t for Jesus and they don’t for us, always, either. But I believe those words – the promise of God’s everlasting love for us – are God’s gift precisely because of the wilderness God knows we live in so much of the time. And I believe the promise of God’s abiding love and eternal life are meant to give us comfort and courage; wisdom and understanding; counsel and might; grace and mercy and peace, in the midst of and in opposition to the wilderness as we go. They did for Jesus and I hope they will for us, just the same.
None of us is Jesus, of course. But each of us is a child of God. To me, that means we can’t do it as well or as faithfully as Jesus, the perfecter of our faith, would do. But as brothers and sisters in Christ, we are called and challenged – driven into the wilderness of it all – to try, nonetheless. So as we continue to debate what we would, could or should do in response to the violent, deadly wilderness in which we find ourselves in this country, I think we’re called to enter that debate and to make those decisions with the promises of God’s love for us, ringing in our ears, like they must have done for Jesus.
The promises of his baptism gave Jesus the power to choose forgiveness and to practice mercy. Can they do the same for us?
The promises of his baptism gave Jesus faith in the face of his fears. Can they do the same for us?
The promises of his baptism gave Jesus courage to speak truth to power. Can they do the same for us?
The promises of his baptism, gave Jesus courage to lay down his life, even, for the sake of the world. Can they do the same for us?
The promises of his baptism allowed Jesus to choose peace over power; humility over pride; love over hate; sacrifice over self-preservation. Can those promises do the same for you and me?
I’m so sad for the 17 lives lost in Florida on Wednesday. I’m sad for the young man who did the killing – that he wasn’t told or shown or convinced of God’s love for him, too. I’m sad for all of our kids who think about going to school differently than I ever would have imagined. I’m sad that weapons – for the sake of protection – have become so important to so many of us.
And I’m sad for Fred Guttenberg and for all the parents who wonder when or how or if they told their children they loved them before they died.
But I’m hopeful they’ll realize – and rest assured sooner, rather than later – that their children know now, not just of their earthly parents’ love for them, but that they know, too, of God’s loving, gracious claim on their life, in this world and for the next.
And I hope we’ll remember those promises every day that we live, too, until they move us to do what Jesus says to do in this morning’s Gospel: to repent… which is to turn… which is to change in some way, each and every one of us… and to believe in the Good News of God’s love for ourselves, for our enemies, and for the sake of the world, until it makes a difference.
I hope we will repent… that we will turn… that each and every one of us, informed and inspired by our faith in the ways of Jesus, will change something in some way;
…that the promises of our baptism will speak through us more loudly and clearly than the politics that surround us;
…that we will believe in the Good News of God’s love, until the wilderness of this world gives way to God’s kingdom of peace and blessing and love at every turn.