Sermon – “All at Once – Epiphany and Lent” – Mark 1:9-15

Anchorage Presbyterian Church, Louisville, KY – 02/26/2012

1:9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan; 1:10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him; 1:11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 1:12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness; 1:13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him; 1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God; 1:15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Friends, it is with great joy that I return to preach here again. I want to thank Rev Dee and Tara and the whole session for this invitation. Especially for allowing us to celebrate Eucharist today. My special thanks for Rick Ary and his family, friends who have been great companion during my time here in Louisville.

This week we started our time of Lent, a time that fundamentally asks us to give ourselves to God. There is only one sacrifice for us during this liturgical time: to give ourselves entirely to God. With no constrains, no second thoughts, no concerns and no caution. Pouring ourselves entirely to God is what this Lenten season asks us everyday.

Liturgically, this Sunday is a strange day. We have just made the transition into the 40 days of Lent that will culminate with the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

However, our text for today stays in between Epiphany and Lent. And that is because Jesus Baptism belongs liturgically to the Epiphany Tide when we celebrate Jesus incarnation. Thus, this text today serves as a liminal space, a way to connect God’s coming to earth and the beginning of God’s work in Jesus among us.

The Baptism of Jesus while in Lent shows us that the fullness of life happens always all at once. The incarnation of God throw us off of the linearity and expectations of proper time as we know it. The birth of Jesus collapses past, present and future and become one event where life happens in its fullness. All there is, happens at that moment when Jesus comes to live with us. And this fullness of time and life comes to us again in Jesus Baptism. The Trinitarian God manifests itself in its apparent fullness when the unity of God can only happen in its multiplicity, one God living in and through a society of three persons manifested in this text.

God’s incarnation is the meeting of heaven and earth, the encounter of that which transcends everything with the immanence of our daily life. Both Jesus birth and baptism show us how heaven and earth kiss each other and offer a new figuring of the world for us to grasp. No more dichotomies. No more divisions, No more up and down, no more here and there since here is there and there is here. It is the image of God’s kingdom drawing near…

In the same way, in our story for today, we see Jesus making a movement of integration, going from the living waters of the Jordan river to the dreadful drought of the desert. Baptism and desert belong together in Jesus life and ministry.

Life, water, people, dove and God’s presence give way to desert, abandonment, and the absence of God. If in Baptism we see affirmation, strength and solidarity, in the desert, we see the Devil, fear, uncertainty and solitude. One place depending on the other to gain its fullness.

For baptism without desert is wet self-affirmation, sacred show off and shallowness. Desert without baptism is self-search without direction, sacrifice without redemption, and draught without promise of rain.

Thus, the fullness of life can only be seen in the inextricable relation between Jesus baptism and desert experience. The totality of life in God’s presence and absence is remarkable in these events and are to be understood together.

These movements of Jesus have resonance with what Jesus promises in John 10:10: “I came so you can have life in abundance”. Life in abundance. Isn’t this what we all want? But life in abundance is not something that will arrive one day. Instead, life in abundance happens in every instance of our breathing, in the good and the bad things, in birth and in death, in the resurrecting waters of our baptism and in the deserted path we walk sometimes. In Jesus, all there is explodes in fullness all the time and all at once.

The baptism of Jesus shows that during our journey, the Spirit of God can take us to places we don’t expect. We go from the waters of our baptism to the desert places where life seems to be so scarce. However, be it a place of life or death, God’s Spirit is with us.

I have a friend in Brazil who has seen life and death in many ways throughout his life. This friend of mine, now a brother that I love almost with utter desperation, has gone through thick and thin moments that marked his life deeply. He grew up in a beautiful family that traveled and lived all around the world. Much before time, his father died. And then, his brother, a fascinating man filled with energy, love and talents, died of aids while he was very young. Later on his sister had an early death due to cancer. His mother was the one who lived a long life and he was able to be with her until her death. Now his wife has cancer. He has a brother and two adorable daughters that have good health. Life and death are all around. More than anybody else I saw, this man has seen the pulsing of life never happening without the presence of death. However, the opposite is also true! He has never seen death without the pulsing power of life breathing in his heart and nostrils!

Throughout this time he has not self-pitied himself, he has not accused God of injustice, and he has not given up on life and love. Along his days, he has loved everyone and offered healing. More than anyone I know, he has been able to engage death with a full breath of life. So much so that death could never bend him. Instead, life, that very abundant life proclaimed by Jesus, was what carried him through, not letting him break down. He has cried, he has suffered, and he was bent many times. However, Jesus life abundant breathes every morning inside of him and enables him not only to face the various manifestations of death in his life but also to live his life fully with his family. And his wife knows and breathes this abundant life too! While living with cancer, she carries life as this enormous potency that impacts anyone around her and pushes her ahead!

Life and death, lived all at once in the life of my brother! That is the fullness of life Jesus has proposed to us. That is “the kingdom of God drawing near,” his life and the life of his family.

But isn’t it the same for all of us? Don’t we all live in the midst of life and death everyday? The difference between my brother and us is that he is more aware of it for life’s circumstances. However, we all, brothers and sisters, breathe life and death in the same breath all the time! We are dying every day and this is the message of lent! And we are living in God’s promise every day and this is the promise of Easter, as part of Lent

This more acute sense of living life and death together can be seen more clearly during these past days of Mardi Gras. Brazil for instance, celebrates a longer carnival and it goes for almost a week. And it ends with Ash Wednesday. Carnival and Mardi Gras were created because of Ash Wednesday. In order to enhance the feeling of repentance and recollection, carnival and Mardi Gras were created in order to expand the intensity and interconnection of different events of life: celebration and pause, joy and sadness, life out of line and life structured, chaos and order, life and death, one woven into the other with and without proper distinctions.  All at once!

Carnival and Mardi Gras are like Jesus Baptism where joy, happiness and life happens in fullness. Then Ash Wednesday kicks in and we are thrown into the desert, where uncertainty, anxiety, frustration and death lurk around with intensity. We learn with Jesus movement that in baptism we are recognized, affirmed, and empowered to do our mission. Then we learn that after that, we go to the desert and we need to trust completely in God’s strength and not in our own abilities. In baptism we rejoice, we receive life anew, and in lent we repent, struggle and wrestle with our own incapacities, our lacks, our frustration with our own way of living and handling things.

Lent reminds us that life and death are always in the same breath. All at once, now!  We should carry the ashes on our foreheads throughout lent marking these 40 days with singing of Kyries and asking for forgiveness. But then, here and there, we will also sing alleluias, because the manifestations of life cannot be tamed or hold back.

Getting back to this friend of mine that I mentioned earlier, he also does not agree with Lent without alleluia. Why? I don’t know, I need to ask him. But I have a sense that in his own life and in the life of his family, life is never present without death, as death is never present without life. During carnival he dances and sings kyrie, and during lent he repents and sings alleluias and glory to God! For he knows that in the midst of life there is always death and in the midst of death there is always life. Always.

Friends, let us not forget that in and through our baptism and desert experiences, God’s life abundant manifests itself in life and death, and is always present in every breath, all at once, right now.

May God bless us all.


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