By Bishop L. Jonathan Holston
“At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.”—Mark 1:9-14 (NIV)
“I come with joy to meet my Lord, forgiven, loved and free, in awe and wonder to recall his life laid down for me; his life laid down for me.”—United Methodist Hymnal, No. 617
At times, we speed through life—keeping busy, losing track of time, barely ever getting a second to rest—and we miss out on critical opportunities to check in with ourselves. Sometimes we purposely lose our focus, and other times we just kind of fall into preset traps, disguised ever so cleverly as something harmless.
Losing focus looks like falling short of the glory, being far too consumed with something in life that absorbs your time to the point where you’re distracted from God, or experiencing some type of unforeseen rejection that’s blown you off course just a bit. It’s in these moments we least expect that the enemy takes up residence. If we’re not careful, we’ll start to solely identify ourselves by our situation, see ourselves as our sin, or define ourselves by the opinions and thoughts of the idol in our life.
It is important to remember who you are, and yet it is equally important to remember whose you are. It is in these overwhelming moments when we have filled our days with the stuff of life, overlooked our health, compromised our integrity, forgotten how to really love, laid aside our own faith and become “overdue for maintenance” that John the Baptizer calls us into the wilderness to hear a message.
Several years ago my car taught me a life lesson on remembering when the maintenance light began to flash. I kept telling myself that I had plenty of time to have my car serviced, yet I became increasingly overwhelmed and distracted with responsibilities. All the while the maintenance light in the dash continued to flash. I kept going, filling my hours with the stuff of everyday life, until one day the flashing in the dash stopped. It was at that moment that I discovered my car had come to a breaking point—the light in the dash now glared at me, “overdue for maintenance.”
It was at a busy intersection at the height of rush-hour that my car quit. It stopped running. I could not accelerate. Due to the street’s incline, I had enough momentum to slowly creep through the intersection with a tremendous chorus of honking cars—horns from irritated drivers serenading me. I can tell you that my levels of anxiety, embarrassment, frustration, and impatience were off the charts, all the while in my dash these words glared brightly, “overdue for maintenance.”
John the Baptizer is calling us into a wilderness experience, to step away from the temptations and distractions of the day and turn our focus to receive the grace, mercy and love of Christ.
Baptism is God’s gift to us. Our response to God’s prevenient grace and loving action toward us is a life of discipleship.
Some of us were baptized as a child and don’t remember, yet our parents and home congregation made those baptismal commitments on our behalf until we could be confirmed in the faith. Some of us were baptized as adults, and the congregation committed themselves to support us in our Christian growth.
As with Jesus’ baptism, the real importance of our baptism is what happens afterwards. The life we live as baptized, believers and followers of Jesus is what we choose to make of ourselves every single day afterwards. So, this month, we come to remember our baptisms and be thankful.
As people of faith, who, profess to follow Jesus Christ, we know that our hope is to hear how God is calling us, especially when our ears become deaf to life’s contradictions. We need an opportunity to step away, and to refocus our hearts, minds and souls. It’s an indication that our lives are “overdue for maintenance.”
When you know your heart is unguarded, it seems everyone and everything is doing better than you. Before you know it, you start comparing yourself to someone who’s recently engaged, someone who’s married and expecting their first child, someone who just got a new car, someone who just got a huge raise or someone who just graduated with a second or third degree. Perception is skewed, and we’re tempted to lose sight of everything that’s going well in our own lives.
Your relationship with Christ is what’s threatening to that which personifies evil in the world. Remembering who you are and whose you are is having inner security.
Touré Roberts, in his book “Wholeness,” defines “inner security” as a state of unshakable confidence that comes from the foundational knowledge that we are truly loved by God.
It’s composed of an absolutely unconditional, irreversible love that affirms us, celebrates us, and accepts us.
Honing inner security is wholeness in Christ. When we know who we are and whose we are, nobody and nothing can ever redefine that for us. It’s our job to hold fast to that hard truth when everything else is slipping away.
As we cross the threshold between the numinous and the mundane, between the holidays and the everyday, between the world we hope for and the world we live in—let us touch our foreheads and remember that we have been baptized in Christ.
And as we move toward Baptism of the Lord Sunday, let us remember that Jesus was baptized too. He was baptized with us. He was baptized for us. And may the comfort that it gave through all of his trials give us even greater comfort, for we are those baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Let us pray: Gracious Lord, We thank you that at the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan, you revealed him as your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit. Grant that all of us who are baptized into his name may keep the covenant we have made and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God in glory, everlasting. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.