February 26, 2012 Gospel: Mark 1:9-15 1st Reading: Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-10 2nd Reading: 1 Peter 3:18-22
Last year, hundreds of thousands of people from around the world watched the Decorah Eagle Cam—a camera system set up next to an eagle’s nest to monitor a breeding pair of eagles and broadcast it on the internet, day and night. There were so many people watching on the day the eggs hatched and on the days the adolescent eagles sat out further and further on the branches getting their nerve up to try to fly that the site crashed several times. Many of us watched the mother and father eagles as they sat on their eggs, the three eaglets as they were born and through their development over the months, and then many of us tuned in again as they prepared to leave the nest.
There would be many tests ahead for the little eagles that the cameras would never see. They would test the wind on their wings. They would be challenged to find food and catch it. They would encounter predators and people and cars and pollution. They would be challenged to find a mate and build a nest and start a family of their own.
When I went to the website to prepare this sermon, I found out the mother eagle is getting ready to lay more eggs, so we can watch another year.
I see this morning’s Gospel reading as Jesus’ experience of being ushered out of the nest. He goes from being unknown for the most part. He is in the safety of the nest. He is feeling and knowing in his core where he belongs and who he is—he even hears it in his baptism that he is God’s beloved Child and that God is pleased with him.
That happy moment of calm and contentment doesn’t last. Jesus immediately goes out into the desert to be tempted—I’d rather use the word tested, like the eagles are tested. And it isn’t that God is testing Jesus, but that life will test him. Mark doesn’t go into what exactly the tests were, like the other Gospel writers. I bet we could fill in the blanks from our own lives.
When a child is baptized, it can be easy to focus on the protection of baptism. It sometimes gets used as an insurance policy to make sure that people will go to heaven. It is a moment when that child is assured that he or she belongs to God. Wouldn’t it be nice to freeze everything in that moment? But that child is a part of our broken world. There will be many twists and turns in the child’s life—many tests—and that is why it is especially important for that person to have heard that they belong to God and be reminded of it by family and community and be equipped in the faith to handle the tests that will come. Godparents promise to place in the child’s hands the Holy Scriptures and to teach him the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments. The community agrees to support the child and the family.
None of us can live that protected life. It would pretty boring anyway! All of these things are put into place on that day of baptism to build a strong support system around that little person so that when he does come to a time of temptation or testing or trouble, he has the systems in place to help him navigate. There will be times when he will be away from all those support systems and we hope that he will have received messages growing up that help him when he feels he’s all alone in the world.
That’s why today my theme is “Returning to the Self.” Eagles are a good example of this. They have a reputation of going it alone. You don’t see a flock of eagles. They don’t fly in formation. They are mainly solitary creatures.
We aren’t solitary creatures. Humans tend to gather in groups. Some of us are more social than others. No matter how social we are or aren’t, there are going to be times we need to be able to go it alone. We need time alone and away from other people to really know who we are. We need times of silence to listen to God’s voice and to sort out all the voices that rattle around in our heads to decide which ones are worth listening to and which ones are telling lies and trying to damage us.
That is why I am encouraging you to take some time for yourself for lent. We get so busy, some of us might go for days without spending time alone. Or if we are alone, we might spend that time watching TV or playing Sudoku. I invite you to let yourself just be alone. It is probably going to feel awkward at first. It is going to take some time to get used to, to quiet your mind from going over everything else you have to do. It isn’t that you can’t be doing anything at all. I find gardening and sewing to be especially good activities to do in solitude, to quiet my mind, to pray, to listen to my dreams, to listen to God, to remember who I am. I would guess fishing would be a similar experience.
And it isn’t that you don’t think any thoughts, during this time, since that is nearly impossible. You could go through a list of everything you’re thankful for. You can go over a mental list of goals and dreams. What else would you yet like to accomplish in your lifetime? How might you move forward on your goals? You can go over your regrets—what wounds still remain? What amends need to be made? Where might you be able to forgive yourself or another? What can you let go of? What do you need to say that you haven’t said? You can let your mind wander, taking note of the images and thoughts that cross your mind. You can wonder about God’s purpose for your life and what that might look like. You can look at yourself through the eyes of yourself as a child. What would your child self say to your current self?
Some of us might feel selfish taking some time for ourselves. Aren’t we supposed to spend our lives helping others?
It is crucial for us to center ourselves and to remember who we are and what our priorities are. How can we help others if we haven’t been able to help ourselves? How do we have anything to give others if we don’t take care of ourselves? . I always think, too, that when I take my day off, I am setting an example for others, that is it okay to practice good self care. Maybe your loved ones will see you taking that time and remember to do the same for themselves. Jesus took time for himself. He spent those forty days in the wilderness, essentially alone, to learn that he was God’s beloved Son, not just in that moment of baptismal blessing, but in trials and temptations, too. In that desert, nothing could hide. The sun shown down bright on all Jesus’ insecurities and failures. The sound of his empty, rumbling stomach called for him to use his power to serve himself. Day after day of no one to talk to must have made him doubt his relationships, his importance. And yet he came through it, ready for ministry, ready to heal, ready to love. He was assured that no matter what he faced, he would always be God’s precious child
Just like the eaglets, Jesus takes flight in today’s Gospel. He soars through the sky. He meets his tests with courage. Eventually he comes up against a test he cannot survive, a trap set for him because of the broken world we live in that can’t handle such a wide and gracious love, such a creature of beauty soaring so high. And Jesus breathes his last and gives up his spirit. But Jesus is pure love, which cannot die, and he rises to give love and life to all creation so that we can share it with one another, so we can live in love for all eternity know that we also are God’s precious children.