Pastor Michael Frye:
A business man driving home from work one day saw a little league baseball game in progress.
He had some time, so he decided to stop and watch the game.
As he was sitting down, he asked the kid beside him what the score was.
“We’re behind 14 to nothing,” he answered with a smile.
“Really?” the man responded.
“I have to say that you don’t look very discouraged.”
“Discouraged?” the boy replied with a puzzled look on his face.
Why should we be discouraged?
We haven’t been up to bat yet.”
As our Gospel lesson begins today, Jesus had not yet been up to bat.
He was just arriving at the Jordan River where he convinced John the Baptist to baptize him.
Mark reports that as Jesus was coming out of the water the heavens were torn apart, the Spirit descended like a dove upon him, and a voice from heaven said to Jesus: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
There are a couple significant paradoxes in this passage:
First, the heavens are ripped open in a show of awesome power, but the image of the Spirit coming upon Jesus is in the form of a dove (you would have expected a more powerful image – maybe an Eagle?); but the dove is the perfect symbol that God is making a new covenant with his people, just as he did with Noah when a dove brought back an olive branch indicating that the flood waters had receded and a new day was dawning for God’s people.
Jesus’ baptism and the voice from heaven indicate that God had set his mission into motion – Jesus’ long-awaited journey had begun.
The second paradox has to do with the fact that God expressed his pleasure, with and love for, his Son.
Then, without warning the Spirit drove him abruptly into the wilderness with no warning, no provisions, no direction.
But Jesus accepted his surroundings, and he accepted (without complaint) the company he was given: Satan, wild animals, and ultimately a company of angels sent to minister to him.
For Jesus, this wilderness experience (which lasted for the same 40-day duration as the flood) was his spiritual place for self-examination, and for preparation for the journey that lay ahead for him.
Not even the tempting lures of food and power set before him by Satan would deter Jesus from following the path set before him.
And, not even the arrest of John the Baptist would keep Jesus from doing what he was called to do.
Jesus stepped immediately into the void left by John, using similar words the Baptist used as he called people to repentance in the desert:
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
What does this story have to do with us?
We recognize that, as those who have been baptized with the same baptism as our Lord, we acknowledge that through him we, too, have been given a new name and identity as daughters and sons of God who have value and worth.
We also acknowledge that all human beings have been created to be in relationship with one another, and that it is our call and duty to believe, live out and declare that truth and Christ’s disciples.
In the words of St. Paul: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
“Therefore, we prepare ourselves to bear the cost of our discipleship on Christ’s behalf in the confident hope of the Holy Spirit’s presence and guidance.”
This calling we have as Christ’s disciples is, at the same time, both amazing and scary.
It means that we have to let go of our old identities and allow ourselves to be shaped by the truth that we see in Christ’s actions and words as he taught and healed on this earth.
And that isn’t easy to do, because when things get difficult or tricky in our lives, we tend to revert back to our old selves attempting to avoid pain, conflict and discomfort.
The reason Jesus prayed so often to his Father in heaven was that it kept him connected and resolute in following the path set for him rather than being seduced and side-tracked by the temptations that were all around him.
The same holds true for us.
We are going to be tempted in this life; we are going to experience failures; we are going to lose some battles; we are not always going to get things right.
In times of trial and great weakness we are made whole by placing our trust in God.
Jonathan Hemphill writes that the Holy Spirit helps us to choose right from wrong, not because we are better, but because we belong to God and do not wish to let God down.
It is all about the relationship.
How far are we willing to go for God?
How much of ourselves are we willing to give?
Richard Carlson shares a poster that reads:
“Life is a test. It is only a test.
“Had this been a real life you would have been instructed where to go and what to do.”
This humorous outlook serves as a reminder that rather than struggling with issues, perhaps we can learn from them by asking ourselves:
“Why is this issue in my life?
“What would it mean and what would be involved to rise above it?”
Could I possibly look at this issue any differently?
Can I see it as a test of some kind?
People who tend to struggle in making decisions or dealing with issues would do well to see those issues and decisions as a test that will ultimately help them learn to cope and to have a better handle on making the right choices.
All of us are put to the test every day at home, at school, in the work place – yet, we need not worry about the outcome, because we know that God is with us, just as God was with Jesus in the wilderness and answered his prayers by sending angels to care for his needs.
God hears our prayers, as well.
His angels may come to us as family, or friends, or professionals, or even strangers – people who may or may not even know that they are ministering to us.
But together, we can journey through this world, facing all manners of temptations and challenges knowing that our corporate faith and spiritual strength, and prayers will carry us forward together in Christ’s name and for his sake.