Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Baptismal Identity Crisis

I love Mark. I write that pretty often during Year B, but this Sunday's gospel lesson is the perfect example of why I love Mark's gospel account so much. Instead of a showdown between Satan and Jesus in the wilderness, Mark shows us that Jesus comes up from the waters of baptism, sees the heavens torn apart and the Holy Spirit descending upon him, hears the voice of his Father, and then immediately is driven by the Spirit into the wilderness. Matthew and Luke also mention the Spirit's role in pushing Jesus out, but, because the narrative exchange between Jesus and Satan over turning rocks into loaves of bread and throwing one's self down off the pinnacle of the temple is so long, Year A and Year C do not make the clear baptismal link. Shame!

This Sunday, therefore, is our principal opportunity to make the statement that baptism is what sends Jesus (and us) out into the wilderness, where the Tempter awaits. Isn't that true in the daily grind of discipleship? Isn't Jesus' temptation, when so closely connected with his baptism, a reminder that our identity as the redeemed children of God is what opens us up to the assaults of the devil?

We are citizens of God's kingdom. We may not be able to see it all of the time. It's king may be invisible to us. The earthly powers that stand in opposition to God's kingdom may be a lot easier to perceive that the quiet, persistent reign of God, but we are baptized into the Body of Christ. That is our initiation into God's kingdom. As we proclaim in the proper preface for baptism, " Jesus Christ our Lord you have received us as your sons and daughters, made us citizens of your kingdom, and given us the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth." It is confirmation of Jesus' identity as the beloved child of God that propels him out into the wilderness where Satan tries his best to undermine that identity, and it is those moments when our baptismal identity is most profoundly internalized that we are most vulnerable to the devil's work.

This Sunday, once I put aside an Ash Wednesday sermon, I'll preach on that particular crisis of identity: it is hard to live as a baptized citizen of God's kingdom because the ways of the world and the ways of its prince stand in opposition to it. Like a clerical collar or cross necklace around one's neck, the Jesus fish or Episcopal shield on the back of the car makes it simultaneously easier and harder for us to display our true identity as Christians. But that is who we are. And we should expect temptation. We should prepare ourselves to be assaulted by the devil and all his powers. And we should cling to Christ and the promise he has made to be with us always.

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