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Affirmed by Love

Luke 3:15-17
Isaiah 43:17

Each one of us can no doubt point to moments that have defined our lives; crossroads, when our choices or events changed our direction. A choice to marry…or to end a marriage… a choice to retire…the birth of a child…a choice to have that child baptized… a death…a choice to follow God’s way…the decision to come out as a gay or lesbian person….a choice of career…a choice to change countries… a choice to break silence about abuse … a choice to live in a way that is not self-betraying.

Today we read about a defining moment in Jesus’ life as he chose to be baptized and to begin his public ministry. Last week we were still reading stories about Jesus’ birth and wise vistors from the East, We read about his narrow escape into Egypt where Jesus, and his parents became political refugees. Many who have fled violence and persecution identify with this part of the Jesus story. On Herod’s death the family returned to Nazareth, where Jesus grew up in a childhood we know next to nothing about. Today the adult Jesus bursts on the scene at a turning point in his life; at the beginning of his public ministry. He’s not in Nazareth, but in the wilderness beside the sacred Jordan river where followers of John the Baptist had gathered.

The Jordan River was a dangerous place for Jesus to be. Simply by being identified with John, Jesus was taking a risk. I wonder if those whom Jesus later calls as disciples were also out in this crowd gathered around John. In fact soon after this, John is arrested and put in prison, and this news seems to have spurred Jesus into action with his own ministry. I wonder what was stirring in Jesus to make him want to go to this place where danger lurked, where resistance was gathering.

John had created a strong following of people on the margins. People searching for a new way; people unhappy with the status quo, people looking for more integrity for their personal living, and for their culture. John’s message is both abrasive and attractive. John told them them that the in breaking Reign of God is very near, and that it would require radical transformation of individuals and of culture –repentance- a whole paradigm shift! Life had to change right to the very core! Cosmetic changes to the surface were not enough. We have to change our way of thinking and acting.

Sounds like the calls for peaceful solutions in the Gaza horror from those who hold a vision of an end to violence between Arab and Israeli…. We have to change our way of thinking and acting. Sounds like the messages we are hearing from those who call for conversion of our thinking and acting around climate change, We have to change our way of thinking and acting. But, there is much resistance to the radical requirements of the new thinking…. Just as there was in Jesus’ day.

To symbolize the turnabout required in peoples’ lives, the dying to the old and the rising to the new, John practiced a ritual of baptism. It symbolized a new beginning, a commitment to be part of turning the world around, beginning with one’s own life. Baptism was not an end in itself, but rather the beginning of a process of a choice for life attuned to God.

Jesus chooses to be baptized as well. Baptism for Jesus did not just happen. It was a radical choice. Jesus chose to leave familiar places to go out into the wilderness. He chose to offer himself to this movement of transformation that John preached. After his baptism Jesus experienced the Spirit symbolized as a dove hovering over the water,and God’s creating Words of affirmation “This is my beloved in whom I delight”

Imagine how those words must have nurtured and supported Jesus through the difficult times of his ministry. Imagine what it would be like to live your life out of the deep knowing that you were God’s beloved; God’s delight. It’s reminiscent of the words of God through Isaiah to those suffering the desolation of exile. “ I have called you by name, you are mine. Don’t be afraid. When you pass through the rivers they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire, you shall not be burned…you are precious in my sight. I love you.” Words that when received in the heart could change a person’s life forever.

But baptism was just the beginning. Jesus’ life from then on was certainly not a roadmap all laid out, a plan in which Jesus just had to follow the dots. It was not a beginning without suffering, and struggle. The very next thing that happens is that the spirit led Jesus into the wilderness, where for 40 days and nights he struggled with the meaning of his ministry, and the meaning of being a beloved child of God. He had to wrestle with what he was called to do, called to be, and with the path that would have the most integrity for him. He faced temptation, competing world-views pulling him in different directions. He wrestled with his demons, listening for the Spirit, opening himself to God’s possibility. How those words of being called God’s beloved, God’s delight, must have sustained and perhaps confused him in those times.

Baptism for each of us is a beginning, a time of letting go of old values and taking on new ones rooted in being a son or daughter of creation. As did Jesus, we too have to struggle with the call to discipleship, to wrestle with discovering what special gift we have been given by God, and what we are to do with it in the continuing creation.

These two scriptures have special meaning today as I have been wrestling with a choice that will change the direction of my life. I have told the board of this congregation, before the service that I have decided to retire at the end of this June. I admit that in the wrestling, I have sometimes felt as if I were wading into deep water, or sometimes it felt more like walking through fire. It has not been an easy decision because I love what I do, and I love this community and find serving here very fulfilling. I am very excited about all the wonderful ministry that happens here and the possibilities and hope we have for the future.

Now I did ask Santa for a reverse aging machine for Christmas….and I didn’t get it!!! I must have been a bad girl. So I must accept the fact that I turn 65 this summer and though retirement in not mandatory, I need to have some energy and vitality in me to reinvent myself yet again in this new stage of life as Howard and I return to Ottawa where we have children and grandkids.

I imagine there will be a number of reactions to this news. There may be some who say…thank God it’s finally happening. I hope those are not too many. There are probably others who can’t believe I am possibly old enough to retire, because I am so well preserved! I thank you for your generosity of spirit and your poor eyesight. There are probably many more who have been quite aware of my age and have been expecting it, soon if not this June. And there may be some whose first reaction might be panic about the future…”the sky is falling. Everything we have worked so hard to build will fall apart”. Let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth!!!! This congregation is incredibly blessed and rich in gifts for ministry. There are strong, gifted lay leaders who offer leadership and will continue to do so long after I am no longer here. You are blessed with a strong staff team who will continue to offer gifted leadership long after I am no longer here. You are a congregation who knows who you are, and has the courage to ask hard questions about where God is calling you. And you have the wisdom and courage to make wise decisions. You are committed to reach out beyond yourselves and to serve the needs of the larger community. You have proven yourselves over and over again in the time I have been here, to be an incredibly faithful, compassionate, generous, courageous people. And I have felt and continue to feel incredibly blessed to minister among you. Whoever follows me in this ministry will be one lucky person!!!

And let’s not forget…I’m not gone yet. We still have 6 months to work together in ministry. I am committed to work together with you till the last day of our time together.
Moments that define our lives, New beginnings, times of transition.

Come Holy Spirit, rebirth us in your life-giving waters, breathe hope and possibility into our chaos, Help us to dance with joy and hope, when there seems little to celebrate, and to feel new life deep within. Bless us that we might choose life in all its fullness, and be part of creating justice and healing in our world. Sustain us with your affirmation that we too are your deeply beloved, your delight, and that you know us by name, and will be with us when we walk through deep waters, and fiery testing times.

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