Sunday, March 01, 2009

Sermon, Lent 1B, Gen. 9:8-17, Mark 1:9-15

Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. These words from the Ash Wednesday liturgy remind us of our own mortality. We are reminded that God brought us forth from the dust of the earth and to earth and dust we shall return. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

The readings today are full of life and death. Noah, the lone righteous man in a world gone mad, and his family, is saved by the grace of God. Humanity had become so full of sin, so full of themselves, and rebelled against God to such an extent, that God decided to scrap the whole endeavor.

But in Noah, God saw a glimmer of himself. "Let us make humankind in our own image." Some of the qualities of God include righteousness, love, steadfastness, and honesty. He gave those qualities to us to be part of us; for us to be the image of our creator. But over time, humanity turned against God in a big way. Noah was the only person left who managed to hang onto this spark of God.

So God decided to save Noah. He was saved from the powers of the world and brought into the loving embrace of God. God said to Noah, "You belong to me, not to the world."

How was this saving act accomplished? Through a flood. Through a flood of water, God washed away the sin of the world. Through a flood of water, God reminded Noah to whom he really belonged. Through a flood of water, Noah's old life died. Through a flood of water, Noah was given a new start.

If you read a little further, however, you will see that it doesn't take long for humanity to fall back into the same old habits. Noah gets drunk. One son advertises his father's nakedness. And the post-flood population decides to build a tower to heaven.

Even though humanity was saved, we have a habit of falling back into our old ways of selfishness and sin. Cleansing the world of sin through the waters of the flood wasn't enough. What was required was for God to take on human form and defeat sin and death once and for all.

The baptism of the world under Noah wasn't enough; people must choose everyday to allow their sinful ways and desire to die and to submit to God. The first step in this process is our own baptism. John baptized people with water as a symbolic way of washing away sins. Through the waters of baptism, people were reminded to whom they belong.

Into this mix stepped Jesus, God incarnate, fully human and fully divine. Because he was who he was, Jesus had no need of baptism for the forgiveness of sins. But, as a man, he needed to show that his humanity submitted to the rite of baptism. As God, however, his baptism hallowed the waters so that we are not only cleansed, but that we are born again.

It is through the water of baptism that we are saved from the powers of the world. It is through the waters of baptism that we are brought into the household of God. It is through the waters of baptism that we are buried with Christ in his death and share in his resurrection and new life.

And it was through his own baptism that Jesus began his new life. Up until this point, Jesus was doing who-knows-what. Maybe he was learning his father's business or traveling as a disciple of John. We don't know for sure. But we do know that it was after his baptism that he began his public ministry. It was after is baptism that he began his long road to his crucifixion, death and resurrection.

The baptism under Noah led to death and a new beginning; but it did not lead to resurrection and new life. The baptism by John led to repentance, the washing away of sins and to a changed life; but it didn't lead to death and resurrection either. It is only through our baptism in Christ that we are led to death, being buried with Christ and resurrected to new life in him.

The baptism of Jesus was the beginning point for him. It was the point where his new earthly life began. It was the event that would ultimately lead to his death on a cross. We share in that same journey, allowing our old selfish ways to die and being resurrected anew.

The paradox of Christianity is this: we live to die, and we die to live. It's not always easy. Sometimes it's downright painful. Christ's baptism led to his death and resurrection. In our baptism, we are buried with Christ in his death, and we share in his resurrection.

Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It's a good day to die.


First time comments will be moderated.