Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Transfiguration: God Has the Long View

Luke 9:28-43

I know it is a well worn theme this one of Peter's yearning to stay put on that mountaintop in the presence of Jesus and Moses and Elijah. Perhaps the fact that it has captured so many before is why I find myself settling there once again. For you see, it seems to me that the pieces all fall into place in those remarkable moments when the past, present and future meet in the persons of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. For at least a moment, I imagine, it all makes sense in a way it surely does not nearly often enough.

And oh, I have to believe that the desire to 'make sense' of things is universal --- at least among those who have the luxury to think beyond surviving the next day. Who among us does not occasionally ask 'why?' Indeed, who among us doesn't sometimes come up short when we seek to understand life's meaning and purpose, especially as we live with the occasional, if not necessarily constant, experience of suffering and injustice and seeming scarcity.

And so just for fun a few days back--- I pulled out my phone and decided to ask "Siri" just what the 'meaning of life' is. As you can imagine, 'her' answers ranged from the ridiculous to the humorous to the surprisingly profoundly practical. For instance:
Life: a principle or force that is considered to underlie the quality of animate beings. I guess that includes me.
And then, contradicting 'herself':
I find it odd that you would ask this of an inanimate object.
And this, certainly my favorite:
All evidence to date suggests it's chocolate.
Or this:
I don't know, but I think there's an app for that.
Or finally, in an entirely practical vein, 'she' seems to offer advice to give content or texture to life's 'meaning:'
Try and be nice to people. Avoid eating fat. Read a good book every now and then. Get some walking in. And try to live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.
Perhaps if you ask you'll get different answers. Either way? It is a universal quest, this trying to make sense of it all. As the disciples on that mountaintop did so long ago. And as, no doubt, they also did the day before and the day after that memorable vision was experienced.

Indeed, a few months back, last week, and probably again tomorrow, I found myself or I will find myself shaking my head and giving thanks that God has the long view, because I certainly do not. Most of the time I am hard pressed to understand, much less find words for the reasons behind much of life's struggle and suffering. Oh, it is so that sometimes when a life has been long and well lived, I can take some comfort in the 'natural order of things.' Far too often, though, this is not the case. And then, truly, I just don't get it. Which is, I expect, exactly why Peter wanted to hang on to that remarkable moment of clarity when it all made sense. For it must have seemed then that God had a plan, and a good one at that --- and yes, one where victory would be won where it should, for once. With Jesus.

Only of course, the scene before us now also doesn't necessarily answer our most profound questions. We don't, for instance, hear why terrible things happen at all.

  • Instead, what we receive is an image or experience of a kind of belonging in Jesus' connection to or fulfillment of all that has, all who have, gone before.
  • And it offers this remarkable promise received in blinding light that in the end, God is in charge.
  • And with that we can surely be confident that despite a whole lot of evidence between now and then to the contrary, Jesus will not be defeated.

So all of this is to say that while all the pieces surely fell into place for Peter (and James and John, too) on that mountaintop so long ago, they and we might be hard pressed to find words for it. (Perhaps this is the reason they kept silent in its wake.) Oh, maybe it is so that for all the truth that the past, present and future are in that instant crystal clear, perhaps we are still only left with what I have relied on for so long: this confidence that God has the long view when I do not. And maybe that is all we actually need as we move off that mountain with Jesus and are met by a whole crowd of folks with all their human hurts and hopes and foibles. Perhaps the promise in that shining image of Jesus on the mountain alone gives us what we need for what comes next, whatever it is.

  • What do you suppose that experience on the mountaintop was like for Peter, James and John? Why do you think they kept silent in its wake?
  • How does it change your life of faith that you can be confident that God has the long view? How does this shining image of Jesus on the mountaintop shape your living in faith?

  • In Luke's telling, when they come down the mountain, Jesus and the disciples are met by profound human need. Are the Transfiguration and what follows connected in any way? Why or why not?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Good News for the Outsider: How Might This Change Us?

Luke 4:21-30

Over the last couple of weeks, I spent some time preparing to lead a retreat on prayer for a group of about forty. When I sat down to put the pieces together, I began by articulating some basic goals. For instance, I decided we would not just talk about prayer, but that we would actually spend time in prayer. I wanted to do all I could to ensure that those who gathered would leave feeling renewed, filled up, replenished. Finally, I wanted to offer a practice with which I was familiar so I decided we would spend time together the sort of prayer that is ours to experience when we share in 'lectio divina,' which is Latin for 'divine reading.' Indeed, for me, this particular practice of prayer continues to shape my life and faith in profound ways.

And so it was that I spent some time this week re-reading Eugene Peterson's, Eat this Book. To be sure he makes a marvelous case for this practice of prayer. And yes, his words really came home to me as I was reflecting on this week's Gospel where he says in his chapter, "Scripture as Script: Playing our Part in the Spirit,"
This book makes us participants in the world of God's being and action; but we don't participate on our own terms. We don't get to make up the plot or decide what character we will be. This book has generative power; things happen to us as we let the text call forth, stimulate, rebuke, prune us. We don't end up the same. (p. 66)
Indeed, Peterson, makes the point that while we might try, we cannot control or completely systematize the stories which are ours to receive in scripture. Ours is simply to receive them, to take them in, and to be changed by them. It is so that we do not end up the same.

And so this week as I come to the story of Jesus preaching in the synagogue in his hometown, I find myself somewhat distressed that 'we don't get to make up the plot.' I mean, I for one, would not dream of taking the tack that Jesus does here. For as the story is relayed by Luke, it certainly appears that his accusations of those gathered are entirely unprovoked. In his preaching he reminds them and all of us that God's gifts are extraordinary. But in his next breath he turns their own sacred stories back on them --- bringing up memorable examples of how God has always favored the outsider. Oh no, Jesus makes clear that God's preference may not necessarily be first for 'us', the long faithful, the 'members,' if you will.  And as the story plays out before us now, it is evident that this was certainly not received as good news to those who first heard it. As it may not be today.

Indeed, perhaps it is no wonder that those gathered in the synagogue in Nazareth who were entirely entranced just moments before are now trying to hurl Jesus off a cliff. Yes, their reaction is extreme and violent, but this would certainly be one way of ensuring they would no longer have to hear what they do not want to hear. This would be one way of 'controlling the plot' -- as Peterson would have it. And while you and I might not seek to utterly destroy the life of one who speaks what we are not willing to hear, I know that I, that we, have other ways of tuning out voices which bring unwanted news or perspectives or insights.

For yes, I, too, am inclined to want to believe that these gifts of God are for me --- this business about good news and release and recovery of sight and freedom and forgiveness of debt which was ours to hear about last week. And it is, of course. But it doesn't stop there. It never stops with me,with us, with all of us who consider ourselves 'insiders.' For if that is the case, then I expect Jesus would tell us now that we have missed the point altogether, even as he did so long ago. If that is the case, then we have made these promises words on a page to be understood only on a very surface level --- just empty platitudes which make us feel better about ourselves when the truth is that they were meant, they are meant to change us in real and concrete ways. And at least in this case, it seems that part of what we are called to is to focus our attention beyond ourselves --- on those who are not yet part of 'us.' As God always has. On those for whom this good news would be literally life changing. And by doing so? We do not end up the same. Because by doing this? This good news is somehow even more fully ours in ways we could not before imagine.

And so what does this mean for those of us who are called to offer and interpret this story among and for those who gather for worship? In this time and place when many are so fearful of the 'outsider' how is it that we speak this important word without getting 'hurled off a cliff' ourselves? Indeed, I find it profoundly ironic and perhaps extremely fortuitous that this story falls on the very Sunday the congregation I serve gathers for our annual congregational meeting --- a time when leaders are elected and a budget is passed where in and through both, priorities will be set for the coming year. Surely in that hour, but also in every hour we deliberate, we are making choices about who this Good News is for. Is it for the likes of the widow at Zarephath and Namaan the Syrian? Or is it just for those who are already here?

I wish I could say I could offer a clear path forward on how to make this so in our individual contexts for it is so that in my particular place of call, it is often less than clear. In fact, just this week it was mine to share with my congregation the hard news that because of an Illinois state budget impasse which has gone on now for seven months, Lutheran Social Services is being forced to radically cut back services since the state has not paid what is owed in the amount of more than 6 million dollars. (For the full story click here.)

This is a tragedy with real faces for us here since for the past several years the congregation I serve has provided office space for one of the home care programs which is being eliminated. The vast majority of the clients served depend on state aid in order to afford these services. With this announcement, more than a hundred will be out of work. And hundreds more who have depended on them will have their well being put in jeopardy in very basic ways.

As you can imagine, we find ourselves heartbroken and more than a little angry. We want to lay blame, and yes, as might be expected, in a profoundly politically divided world, we do not find ourselves able to agree on who or what is most to blame. So I do speak the truth when I say  I find myself thinking that it would seem so much simpler to stop at the point where we believed that Jesus' preaching is only good news for those who are already here. It was so much easier before I began to believe that these words demand something of me, of us. Except Jesus does not leave us there today. As always, Jesus does not leave us there.

So while next steps in responding to this challenge are still cloudy for us, perhaps this is where we best begin. Maybe for now at least, we are simply called together to live in this story and others like it which push us out of our comfortable places and assumptions and old ways of thinking. And perhaps by hearing Jesus' words of challenge now as meant for me and all of us, we will be changed in ways that matter and that can make a difference. For on this day and on most any day, we do so need to be reminded that God is in charge of this story, our stories, and the larger Story where we find our homes. And Jesus' sermon in the synagogue today certainly does that. And I do wonder if together we just listened deeply for God's voice and direction in this little bit of Luke's Gospel, we might just get a sense of where we are called next? Not only in this particular situation that we are faced with now, but in all those times and places which demand more of those who follow Jesus. What do you think?
  • I do find Jesus' preaching here to be more 'direct' than I am often comfortable with.With his first listeners, I might also find myself offended. I wonder then, what needs to be changed in me? And how might my being immersed in a story such as this result in me being 'not the same' as Eugene Peterson would have it. What do you think?
  • What do you think is the main point of the story before us now? What stays with you after you read it a couple of times? What message does it hold for you? How does it change you?
  • I wonder how many listeners today are familiar with the widow at Zarephath and Namaan the Syrian. And I wonder what examples Jesus would use today to bring this story home.  What do you think?
  • Do you think scripture has the power to change us?  If you have known this to be so, which stories have impacted you in powerful ways? Which stories have left you 'not the same?'

Sunday, January 17, 2016


Luke 4:14-21

It is a riveting scene painted for us in Luke's Gospel today, this one of Jesus returning to his home town and preaching in the synagogue. Something extraordinary is happening here --- so much so that his listeners can't take their eyes off him.

We are not told, of course, whether Jesus chose these powerful words of the prophet to read or if they were chosen for him, although as I understand it, it was not the practice at the time to have specific portions of scripture assigned to be read on any particular day. Either way, you and I who know the story of Jesus from beginning to end know that the mission outlined here is one that captures all that Jesus did in...
"Bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, letting the oppressed go free, and proclaiming the year of the Lord's favor."
And one can understand why it is that those gathered were amazed by what he said. I imagine, by now, that they have come to hear these words of the prophet Isaiah as either metaphor or the contents of an unfulfilled wish-dream. One no longer expected them to really come true, if that was ever so. Indeed, I imagine we hear them in the same way today.

And perhaps, if we are honest, there is also this. As we hear in the verses which follow, Jesus' first listeners actually found themselves threatened by these words, even as we might find ourselves today. For we who are not necessarily poor, or captive, or blind, or oppressed, or in debt beyond redemption? Well, our status or our economic security may actually depend on things being as they have always been. And there is no believing that this hometown boy is speaking in mere metaphor. Not once he sits down and speaks a word of promise or threat, depending on one's perspective. Not once he says so simply, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Today is the day it all comes true.

Many years ago now I sat and listened as an up and coming church leader made his pitch to be a synod bishop. As I heard his personal story of how the church had been at work in his life for good since he was a small boy, I felt my own heart lifting within me. And this is why. It seemed to me then that this was one I would want as a leader for he knew what the Gospel was for. Simply put, the Gospel was for saving lives. The Gospel is for saving lives.

It is easy to lose sight of that. Protocol and procedure and other seemingly more pressing priorities take precedence all the time. Too often, history and dashed hopes for the future sidetrack our efforts. Fear and despair, or, if we are honest, perhaps our innate selfish desire to protect our own interests have us lending a deaf ear to what Jesus offers as he reads these ancient words and speaks his own clarity about what they mean for his own life. Indeed, if nothing else, while we may hear and even seek to embrace his intent, too often we miss the sense of urgency in Jesus' words. For what we hear today is that his is not meant for tomorrow. This is for today. Today.

Now this sense of urgency comes through also so in other places in the Biblical witness, of course.
  • For instance, I am recalling now the words of Joshua where he compels the people to "choose this day whom you will serve..." (Joshua 24:15) 
  • And the powerful words of Paul to the church at Corinth, "See, now is the acceptable time; see now is the day of salvation!" (2 Corinthians 6:2)
These are words of promise, yes, and these are also words which demand an response.     Immediately. Today.

And so I wonder now how my days would change if I simply treated every day as the today we hear about now. And I do wonder if it would change not just for me but for the world if one day at a time, today our individual and collective energies were directed to that for which Jesus gave his life:
  • Bringing good news to the poor.
  • Proclaiming release to the captives
  • Bringing sight and renewed vision where darkness has prevailed for far too long.
  • Letting the oppressed go free.
  • And releasing from debt those whose redemption never seemed possible.
I wonder what would happen if I were to remember today that the Gospel is for saving lives and only and always for saving lives.

I wonder what would happen if I began each and every day with these pressing needs on my heart, however and wherever and whenever they are experienced in the world.

Oh yes, I do wonder how things would change if we simply tacked the word "Today" to the front of all of our mission statements. As Jesus did. And then lived like it was so.

And I wonder if even my fears of losing what I have had would simply fade away as I became caught up in such a mission that matters every day.

  • What difference would it make in your faith journey if you simply substituted "today" for "tomorrow" or "someday?" How would a sense of urgency change everything? For you? For your congregation? For your community?
  • It is not too late. You have today. What would it mean to you today to embrace Jesus' mission as your own? What would it mean for your congregation? For your community?
  • True or false: "The Gospel is for saving lives." If this is true, hat would it mean for you to live like this were so? For your own life? For the sake of others?
  • I have offered above a couple of other Biblical instances which articulate a sense of urgency. Are there other passages which come to mind for you? What are they? How have they shaped your faith journey?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Water into Wine...Or Something More?

John 2:1-11

A few months back I stopped to call on a member of our congregation. It was intended to be just a short visit as I was dropping in on my way home for supper (and before an evening meeting). He was getting ready to leave early the next morning for surgery at a hospital a couple of hours away. Since my schedule would not allow me to see him before surgery the next day, I wanted to stop to pray with him and his wife then.

I was hardly in the door before John ushered me to the basement where he said he wanted to show me something. With a wave he pointed out the finishing work he had done on their rec-room. Woodworking is a skill he has developed and perfected since retirement. From there he took me into a back room to show me his wine making hobby. After explaining it to me step by step, with a huge smile he turned to me and said, "I would like to supply First Lutheran with our communion wine." Only he was also quick to point out that we would have to wait a year, for making wine takes time.

It is wisdom we know well, of course. Almost anything worth having takes time:
  • Human infants develop in the womb for nine months --- and they develop for generations, really, if you think about the wondrous combination of characteristics which sort out over time to make up one unique human being. And as for human character --- this takes a lifetime, sometimes, to be shaped and to grow.
  • Very few of us learn a new language or algebra or to play the piano or to play tennis in an instant. Rather, each takes months or years of discipline and practice to make it our own.
  • The taste of my sourdough or rye bread does not develop in a matter of hours. Rather it takes days for them to ferment enough to gain their full flavor. 
  • While some may claim to have experienced 'love at first sight,' relationships are grown and deepened and seasoned over time.
And yes, the truth of this came home to me again this week in matters of faith when I read a short piece about how 'the internet is killing religion.' In his writing for Huffington Post, Paul Wallace makes the unsurprising point that our constant use of internet is so shaping our minds that we are unable to pay attention to any one thing for the prolonged amount of time needed to appreciate it, or grow with it, or adapt to it or... and this takes a particular toll when it comes to our journeys of faith. 

This makes sense, of course. Indeed, I am working hard these days to reclaim the gifts of centering prayer which calls one to simply sit quietly for a set period of time, to breathe deeply, and to focus one's energy and attention on The Holy. So yes, at least in my own hard earned experience and observation, it is so that deepening faith also takes time.  

Almost anything worth having takes time.

Unless you are at the wedding which Jesus and his mother and his disciples attend in the wonderful account before us in today's Gospel. For there, as we know so well, the wine is not only made in an instant. The wine is also made in almost unimaginable abundance. And this wine is of the finest quality.

Now I have to say that I found myself both fascinated and a little disheartened as I scrolled down to read the comments which followed up that little article about the internet 'killing religion.' For while some were commiserating with the author, far more were gloating in their tone --- asking if it was such a bad thing that 'religion was being killed.'

And I wondered then at those who would respond to the writer's thoughts in this way. I wondered at what in their own journey had led them to offer such celebratory comments about the demise of something which is so precious to so many. And I wondered at how they must hear a story like the one that is ours to share this week. Of course, I hardly have to wonder, for I strongly suspect that they would take my deep love of this story as a sign of my ignorance. Or my unthinking faith.

For it is so that they are right if they insist that anything worth having takes time and that fine wine is simply not made in an instant.

And yet, I wonder now, if I were to engage in conversation with the skeptics, if I might get a little further by pointing out that perhaps the water turning into wine is not the main point of this story after all --- even if it appears to be the focal point of the miracle.

  • Indeed, I wonder if the main point is that this all came to be on 'the third day' --- and this sudden abundance of fine wine is simply pointing to the abundance of life which is promised us all in Christ's Resurrection, which also took place 'on the third day.'
  • Oh yes, I wonder if perhaps the main point might be that one of Jesus' first stops is at a wedding ---for wedding feasts are, over and over again, symbolic of the new age that God ushers in through Christ Jesus.
  • And I wonder if maybe the main point is that in Jesus there is always more than enough. Always. Even or especially when our own human planning and provisions fall short.
  • Oh I do wonder if the main point is that you and I are to enjoy and celebrate all the earthly gifts of God: for there is no mention of bottling up the wine to save it for later.
  • And I wonder if the main point is that the wine was made in 'old jars' is a sign for us all of how God continues to use the old to do new things --- that the old can continue to be a vessel for God's Good Work (old churches, old traditions, old practices...)
It is not that I believe the water turning to wine is only metaphor. Rather, I wonder if it is even something more than that --- if it points to something far more significant than what we might first think. For you see, I think this first miracle of Jesus is so much more than a gift to enhance a wedding feast (and to cover up the inevitable embarrassment of the host.) Even this every abundant wine would only have lasted a few days. But changed hearts and changed lives? These last forever. And if this water turned into wine points to that? Well, now, that is something!

Indeed, I have seen this to be so even in the example of the promised communion wine for the congregation I now serve. For yes, it is so that the wine from John's basement will not be ready for another year. But in this one person of faith, I witnessed joy in great abundance at his dawning realization that something he does for fun could possibly be a gift for all and that in its being shared in this way it promises be a part of something holy which offers sustenance and forgiveness and joy. 

Indeed, maybe the wine itself is not the main point after all.

Now, I don't know how this plays with the nay-sayers who celebrate the demise of religion as we know it. And yet, the conversation about what the 'main point' is, is surely worth having. Maybe especially with those who have left it all behind. For I can't help but believe that we all yearn for abundance and for old gifts made new and for the certainty that even our human shortfalls are forgiven. I wonder if they also might hear this story as life-giving if we remember together that it is really not about the wine, but rather about how the abundance of God's gifts live and grow and multiply in our lives. What do you think?
  • What do you think the 'main point' of this story is? Is it about the wine? Or is it about something more?
  • Do any of my offerings above make sense to you? Why or why not?
  • How does this story 'preach' in an age of skepticism? Is it helpful to hear it as a metaphor for something more or not?

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Baptism as Initiation: The Start of Something New

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

It occurs to me now that the story of the Baptism of Jesus is one that appears every year at this time in each one of our lectionary cycles. Oh, we have the same experience at other times as well. Christmas, of course. And Easter. And Pentecost, too.  And this. Oh the details differ, of course, depending on whether you are hearing it from Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, but the story is much the same:

  • When Jesus goes to John to be baptized, John declares himself unworthy. 
  • Even so, Jesus is baptized.
  • Either a dove actually descends or is referred to.
  • And in three out of the four, a voice from heaven is heard to declare Jesus "beloved and pleasing in God's estimation." 
What strikes me as particularly unique in Luke's telling is the specific mention of all the others who were baptized when Jesus was. Indeed, I find myself landing on the certainty that others were baptized, too, as an entry point of meaning for the story before us now. For how can we consider Jesus' baptism and not also consider our own? Indeed, what does the story before us now offer us for our own walks of faith, if we cannot in some way compare our baptisms to that of Jesus?

Now one assumes that that the baptisms of the others then and now were and are surely different from the one Jesus underwent. Or were they? Are they?

Oh yes, in my experience, surely the words spoken at baptisms today are different. And for many, the setting is profoundly different. But in each and every case, water is used. And each and every time, it is meant to be the start of something new: a kind of 'initiation,' if you will. Or at least the marking of something out of the ordinary. As was true for Jesus, so it is also meant to be for you and for me.

And so it is that I have found myself thinking about baptism as 'initiation,' --- the sort of initiation which points to all that has been and/or will be. This was surely the case for Jesus. For instance, in his baptism, he submits to that which his incarnation calls him to. Though understood to be without sin, like all the rest, Jesus is baptized. And yes, at least in the theological tradition I call home, by going under the water, Jesus experiences a kind of dying. And by emerging from it? A sort of resurrection, too.

I don't know about you, but I've been through a number of 'initiations' in my life --- a number of 'ritual experiences' which were the start of something new. In my faith journey it has been the liturgical experiences of baptism and confirmation. In my call as a pastor it has been in ordination and installations in various settings. But I've had them in the rest of my life as well.

One 'initiation' which especially comes to mind today is my own experience of going away to college. As I recall it, from the very start, it was something for which I was groomed in every way and as my senior year in high school wound down, I could hardly wait to go. Indeed, I can recall sleeping on the sofa in the front room that Sunday night of Labor Day Week-end, falling asleep to the Jerry Lewis Telethon. For all of my life I had shared a room with my younger sister, Martha, but we would be getting an early start and I didn't want to wake her. And I can remember reflecting even then that this was a transition which meant that nothing would ever be the same.
And it was not.
 Only for me the initiation was not only the four and a half hour drive with my folks in the family station wagon to Waverly, Iowa. It was not just unloading my things and moving them into a corner room with an unknown room-mate on the third floor of Wartburg Hall. It was not even waving good-bye, knowing I would not seem them again until Thanksgiving. No, the program I was enrolled in required another kind of 'initiation.' We would spend the better part of our first week in the 'wilderness' in Northeast Iowa in a sort of makeshift Outward Bound experience: canoeing, and hiking and repelling down cliffs, and well, you name it.
It was the sort of initiation which was meant to break us from our past and propel us into the future. It was meant to build community, I think, although I do not now recall the name of another person alongside me on that journey. Or maybe we were to develop some necessary skills for dorm living for the next four years. (Looking back, I'm not entirely certain those in charge knew what they were doing. And as you can probably tell, my memories of it are not particularly fond ones!)
Whatever it was meant to do, by the end of the week, my homesickness was profound. I knew ever more deeply that I had left something behind which was precious. And I knew it in a way that my intellectualizing about it the night before we headed west could not begin to touch.
And yet, no matter what the 'initiation' looked like, and no matter the regrets it stirred up in me at first, I will never be sorry that I went away to school. In spite of a somewhat nightmarish start, the experience which that 'initiation' kicked off shaped me in ways for which I will always be grateful.
Sometimes our human attempts at 'initiation' work. Sometimes they don't. Even with mine though? It attempted to mark an ending and a beginning. It was meant to bond me to a new community. Its purpose was to launch us into our freshman year well.

And so I can't help but wonder now, if Jesus also experienced a kind of sense of loss in this 'initiation,' in the setting apart of his baptism. Surely he knew that nothing would ever be the same again once he emerged from the water and the voice of God was heard declaring his identity. Indeed, I, for one, can't help but wonder if at some very human level he regretted it a little bit even then. For the 'dying' he experienced in his baptism would be his to undergo again and again. In his relationship with his human family, yes, but also in relationship to the powers of this world with which he would then and always would be at odds. And of course, in his actual dying on a cross on that fateful Friday.

And don't you think it is much the same for us?

As we are 'initiated' into the family of God, isn't this also so for us?
  • Indeed, when we emerge from the water, are we not also put at odds with a world where wealth and power seem to rule? 
  • Where human life is all too often valued?
  • Where violence is believed to be the only antidote to violence?
For at its best and truest, isn't there always something in the initiation itself which propels us to live differently in all that we are called to next? And isn't that as true in our lives of faith as it is anywhere else?
  • Why do you think the story of Jesus' Baptism shows up in each and every Lectionary Cycle? What are we to take from it or learn from it?
  • Do you have stories of 'initiation' which parallel your understanding or experience of Baptism?
  • How do you think our baptisms are similar to that of Jesus? How do they differ?
  • If Baptism is the start of a new and different life, what does that mean? How have the gifts and promises of Baptism shaped your life so far? How might they shape your life tomorrow?