“Knowing our Identity“
By: Rev. Melissa Drake, Southwest Iowa. Region Superintendent
Mark 1:9-13 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan River. 10. As Jesus came out of the water, he saw heaven split open and the Spirit coming down to him as a dove. 11. A voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, whom I love. I am pleased with you.” 12. At once the Spirit brought him into the desert, 13. where he was tempted by Satan for 40 days. He was there with the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.
We are in the first week of Lent—and this Sunday begins our journey of the next 40 days, leading the church up to Easter. The Lenten season is designed to be a mirror for us: it’s a way for us to witness to Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, as he prepares to begin his ministry.
For Christians, Lent has historically been the yearly season for us to examine ourselves in that same mirror: to spend time in deep personal reflection and preparation as we get ready to commit ourselves to living into the way of Jesus: the way of his baptism, life, death and Resurrection.
For the church it is our season together of reflecting and preparing for the ministries of sharing the Good News of the Resurrection with the world that so desperately needs to hear and see and touch and feel that they are beloved of God.
Lent, this season always known for its austerity—the season where the days are getting longer, but not necessarily getting better—always begins this same way: with Jesus’ baptism and then immediate temptation out in the wilderness. And this year we hear from Mark, chapter 1, verses 9-13:
About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”
At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.
Lent always begins this very same way, and I think sometimes, we, in the church get obsessed over the temptation and the wilderness part, and not so much over the baptism and the naming and claiming part.
And this year of all years, it is a year for us to remember the naming and claiming part: The way the clouds split open and the sun must have been dazzling; the way the wind must have blown, maybe in that wild spring way that makes us adventurous and crazy and ready to go out in the world again, or maybe it blew in that soft spring way that wraps us in the warmth of better days coming; and then the voice. That voice coming from the heavens that says, “You are mine. You are beloved. In your very being I find happiness.”
As Bishop Laurie shared in her devotion last week, Lent has historically been a season to give something up: and that can be such a powerful discipline. We need this time to examine ourselves, to pay attention to what we need to give up and let go so that we can follow Jesus more nearly and dearly. This is a season of giving things up and letting things go as we practice our faith; but it’s also a season of holding on as well. Throughout his time in the wilderness,
Jesus held on to the identity and relationship with God that was so clearly expressed at his baptism.
Friends, as we recommit ourselves to living in the way of Jesus, we need this time of holding on as well. A holding on to what cannot be changed, but what can so easily be forgotten or overshadowed or lost: that deep KNOWING of identity: that deep knowing of belovedness. That deep knowing of relationship, of who we are and who we belong to. And that deep knowing of being absolutely enough, at our very core, for God to delight in us without having to produce anything or accomplish anything.
What would happen to our church communities if we spent the next 40 days holding on to this identity, within our own spirts, during our own times of temptations that tell us that we aren’t enough. That other people have it more and better. That if only we worked a little harder, we’d be more worthy.
And I wonder, what would it be like in our church communities, if we could do this for each other, even in these longer days that don’t always seem to be getting better? If all of our words and all of our work in the next 40 days were about reminding each other, showing each other that we are beloved of God—to remind each other that there is nothing, neither height, nor depth, nor zoom church, nor sub zero temperatures, there is neither pandemic, nor politics, nor temptations or just plain old fatigue that can separate us from the love of our God. And our care for each other.
Friends, this is the promise we made to each other at our baptisms: this is our work of the church: to be connected together. To watch over one another in love. To remind each other of who and whose we are. So that, out of our union with Christ, in his baptism of death and resurrection, we can take this good news out into the world and say and show: World: you, too, are God’s beloved.
May you be blessed; may you hold on.
And may “The God of all grace, who has called us to eternal glory in Christ, establish you and strengthen you by the power of the Holy Spirit that you may live in grace and peace. Amen.” (Baptismal Covenant II, UMH pg. 39).
©2021 Rev. Melissa Drake