2/26/12, First Sunday of Lent

Perhaps you’ve seen the little containers of water at the door of every Catholic church or even in a Catholic home and wondered what this hocus-pocus was about.  It’s an invitation to baptismal remembrance.    Each time a person enters the door of their church, they are invited to mark themselves with the sign of the cross to remember their identity as prophet, priest and king.   During each Sunday of the Easter season, a priest sprinkles water over the congregation to remind the people that after the dying time of Lent, they are resurrected to newness of life in Christ.

 Perhaps  remembering your baptism throughout the season of Lent would be a fitting Lenten discipline for you. Tangible reminders of our faith journey can be helpful, so as we go today, I offer you the opportunity to remember your baptism.   (As Pastor James takes time to bless those of your who would like to received a blessing, I invite you to )  Make use of the water in this font to bless yourself with the sign of the cross. Take with you one of the stones immersed in the water and carry it in your pocket or purse, asking yourself if there is a new way that you can live into your baptismal calling as prophet, priest and king.

We are called to act with justice- we are called to love tenderly- we are called to serve one another- to walk humbly with God. 

 

 

Thank you for your warm welcome!  Having been raised in a Protestant tradition, I feel very much at home here amongst your hearty singing and warmhearted prayers.   No one is more surprised than me to find myself having been called out of that Protestant tradition into ordination as a RCWP. Perhaps  you are more curious about that story than you are about the lessons of scripture that are set before us today.  But as a good Calvinist girl with deep roots in the Bible, conscience requires me to preach just a little, so bear with me. We’ll talk later…

The Old and New Testament lectionary scriptures that are offered on this first Sunday of Lent all have to do with images of baptism. Jesus, who before this day in his life was apparently a fairly conventional Jewish man, submits to a baptismal immersion in the Jordan River. “As he came up out of the water, a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son.  You bring me Great Joy. The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan for forty days.”  

Baptism is theologically considered the sacramental door into a particular faith tradition and community.  It is symbolic undergoing of death to an old way of being and committing to a new identity.   As the gospels tell it, for Jesus baptism acknowledged a call to take on a definite mission in life.  Whatever his physical occupation had been before, he would henceforth give himself over to becoming a living, breathing manifestation of God on earth.  His life purpose would be to show human beings what it means to give themselves over to full expression of the image of God in which they are created.

Why do you suppose we are initiated into the Lenten scriptures with this image of baptism?  What are we being asked to consider? The sacrament of baptism as celebrated in Christian community life only happens once in our lifetimes.  However, the liturgical cycle of the church gives us the chance every year to repeat our experience of dying to old ways of being and choosing to be renewed in the process of becoming all that God intends us to be.  This annual opportunity for death and rebirth is the season of Lent.

So this first week of Lent, then, is an invitation to each of us to remember our baptisms.  We engage this 40-day period as a time to quiet ourselves and examine life’s call to us.  Jesus was taken directly from his baptismal experience into 40 days of wilderness testing.  He had to make choices about the kind of identity he would henceforth exhibit in his life.  Would he trust God for provision?  Would he yield the human desire for personal power? Would he take on the roles that would allow him to demonstrate for human beings what God expected of citizens in the Kingdom of God?

Remember that Jesus was the product of Jewish faith tradition.  That tradition held three important images of spiritual personhood: prophet, priest and king.  We clearly see emphasis on these three roles in Old Testament scriptures.  The prophet was a person who spoke for and to God.  The priest was the one who offered sacrifices of praise and worship.  The king was one who was commissioned to steward the treasures God had given the kingdom for its sustenance and growth.

 Jesus’  baptism called him to be the messianic fulfillment of these three roles.  He was a prophet in the sense of speaking forth God’s truth.  He was a priest in the sense of gratefully offering the gift of his entire life to the redemptive purposes of God.  And he was a king in the sense of serving people with the ultimate purpose of bringing God’s kingdom to the fullness of love, justice and peace.

When we were baptized, we too were called into a new identity.  Yielding to water symbolized not only our cleansing from sin but death to self-centered pursuits of power and possessions.  As Paul teaches in Romans 6, we die to self and rise to newness of life in Christ.  We literally take on Christ’s identity as prophet, priest and king.   How can this be?

As priestly people, we are called to present the events of our days, simple or profound, as an offering to God in thanksgiving for all that he has given us. We share in Jesus’ prophetic ministry by living as witnesses to the Gospel message in what we say and what we do. Called to be stewards of creation’s resources, we have a royal mandate to cultivate the kingdom of God by pursuing justice and peace. We take care of human and material resources so that the world may someday be transformed into wholeness.

Catholic liturgical tradition emphasizes use of material things of life to remember spiritual realities.  Using water not only as an initial sacrament of baptism but as a constant reminder of our identity in Christ is a very powerful one.


By Sandi DeMaster