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Driven into the Wilderness
Mark 1: 9 - 15
by DGBradley

Some years ago, I read that good preachers often repeat themselves. Let me say that again, "Good preachers often repeat themselves." If anyone still did not completely grasp that thought, I am happy to say it once more, "Good preachers often repeat themselves."

I can have fun with that thought, but there is some truth to saying that good preachers often repeat themselves. There are good reasons for repetition, and I presume that repetition is not done because of lack of creativity or originality or a desire to limit knowledge. I know that when a minister delivered a talk to a kindergarten commencement titled "Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten," there were those who understood that certain basic principles learned in kindergarten were applicable and appropriate as foundations for life, not that there was nothing worth learning beyond kindergarten.

What is worth repeating? I think that if a thought or message is of basic and foundational importance, that message is worth repeating. In fact, some messages may require repetition if it is maintain importance. If a message ceases to be repeated, it validity may come into question. A message of "I Love You" is nice on St. Valentine's Day, but it has little validity if it is said only once a year or less. A message not heard is often assumed to be a message not meant, and a message not heard is assumed to be a message not true.

It is no wonder that good preachers often repeat themselves, for the message of God is important and worth repeating. It is worth noting that God also repeats the message of love and truth and forgiveness and hope.

With all this background on repetition, we should not be surprised to find that we are hearing again about the baptism of Jesus. This is the second time in two months that we hear the same verses about Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist, and we heard about John the Baptist in the weeks before Christmas. There is something important in these accounts of baptism that we are to hear again. Jesus comes to John the Baptist and is baptized by John. Why? As Jesus comes up out of the water, the heavens are split open, the Holy Spirit like a dove descends upon Jesus, and a voice from heaven proclaims, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." My understanding of the baptism of Jesus is that baptism is something we must receive from someone else, indicating that baptism is not something that we humans do, but is something that God gives us. The splitting of the heavens indicates that through Jesus there is no separation between heaven and earth. The voice from heaven indicates pleasure that Jesus, by seeking the baptism of sinners, has taken the side of sinners. A new order in the relationship of God with the earth is at hand.

So far, so good. Jesus is baptized and the Holy Spirit descends upon Him. What happens next is surprising. The Holy Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness for forty days to be with wild beasts, to be tempted by Satan, and to be waited on by angels. Being driven into the wilderness is surprising because we usually expect that obedience to the will of God brings protection and safety, but that is not what happens. Jesus is with wild beasts. That is danger. Jesus is tempted by Satan. Mark, unlike the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, does not describe the temptations of Jesus, but they must be dangerous because a real temptation is not a danger unless there is something attractive or seductive to the one tempted. Jesus had taken the side of sinners, and he was exposed to danger and temptation as sinners are. Christian doctrine says that Jesus did not sin, but Christian doctrine does not say that Jesus could not sin. When Jesus returned from the wilderness, He proclaimed the good news of God, saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."

The Gospel of Mark tells us that something new began with the baptism of Jesus. When Jesus came up out of the waters of baptism and was driven into the wilderness, a new relationship between God and earth began. A new age has come, and this new age is a new relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Through Jesus, God begins a new relationship with the earth. This is repetition. God has made new beginnings before. Early Christianity, beginning with some of the writings of the New Testament, compared the new relationship begun through Jesus with the new relationship God began with Noah after the flood. Early Christians thought of the flood of Noah as parallel to baptism, not in washing away sin, but in another way. In the story of Noah and the ark and the great flood from the rains of forty days and forty nights, after the flood waters receded, God told Noah and his son that God is establishing a new relationship with them and every living creature. Never again would there be a flood to destroy the earth. Some think this means that God renounces violence. As a sign and reminder of this new relationship with all future generations, God sets the rainbow in the sky, pointed away from earth and toward God. What early Christians saw in the waters of baptism was a sign of God's new relationship through Jesus Christ that was as new and as wondrous as the covenant with Noah through the rainbow. I like to think also that as the rainbow is the result of light shining through water droplets breaking white light into separate colors as a result of the laws of physics, so the love and mercy of God through Jesus is a natural result of the nature of God. These signs show us something of the true basis of how God is at work in the world.

What I believe this means is that God tells us through Jesus that we are given not magic, not immunity from danger or temptation, but the love, power, and presence of God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit to face all danger and all temptation. In accepting the baptism of Jesus, in accepting the love of God, we shall be led into places and situations we might not choose on our own, but we go with God. We are not alone for the sign of God's love and power is that Jesus was faithful unto death and rose from the dead. We are never lost to God. The rainbow and our baptism are our signs pointing to the nature of God.

There is a Peanuts cartoon I remember of Linus and Lucy on a rainy day. Lucy worries that it could rain so much that all the world would be flooded. Linus tells her that this could never happen because God promised in the ninth chapter of Genesis that never again would God destroy the world with a flood. Lucy listens, smiles a little smile and says, "Thanks! That makes me feel better now." And Linus says very earnestly, "Sound theology has a way of doing that."

Sound theology has a way of making us feel better. Sound theology has a way of being repeated. We need to hear again the meaning of the rainbow, especially on rainy days. We need to hear again that Jesus is on the side of sinners through baptism, even when they are driven into the wilderness of wild beasts and temptation. We need to hear again that God is love; we need to hear it often so that we may never forget its truth and power. May the truth and power of the presence of Jesus Christ in our world, our lives, and our wilderness remind us always that our world is God's world, that our lives come from God, and that we are not alone in any wilderness. May these days of Lent lead us again to God. May we hear again and again the good news that the kingdom of heaven is near. Repent and believe the Good News. Christ is with us until the end of time. Amen and Amen.