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January 11, 2009

Washing and Working

On Christmas Eve we talked about the great movie, Talladega Nights. Today I want to talk about another classic, Finding Nemo.

Nemo is a neat, little clown fish living happily with his dad near the Great Barrier Reef when he is captured and ends up in a fish tank in a dentist office. His father, Marlin sets out to save him and in good cartoon fashion Nemo escapes from the tank, is reunited with his father and lives happily ever after.

Except...and this is the best part of the movie...after it says The End and as the credits begin
we discover the fish who helped Nemo escape from the tank have now managed to free themselves.
While their tank is being cleaned, they roll the plastic bags they're in along the counter, out the window, across the street, and into Sydney Harbor. When the last one finally reaches the water,
there is a collective cheer and sigh of relief. And then the reality of their situation dawns upon them. Bobbing in the ocean, still encased in their individual plastic bags, Bloat, the puffer fish, asks: "Now what?"

Seems like an appropriate question for today.

We have gone through the waiting and preparation of Advent. We lit the candles and studied the crismons. We celebrated Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus, the shepherds, the angels, the Wise men, the star.

Now what?

Here, on the other side of Christmas, we find ourselves living in the same old world with the same old people and struggling with the same old demons as always.

The economy is still in the toilet.
We still need to lay off church staff.
Couples in the congregation are still suffering difficulties in their marriages.
Teenagers are still struggling with their parents.
People are still getting sick
We are still facing transitions in building and program.
We are still changing the 9:00 service AGAIN (sorry)
Our nation is still at war.
Israel and the Palestinians are still fighting.

Even our Gospel reading for this morning is still stuck on John the Baptist. We read this passage on the 2nd Sunday of Advent. Only five weeks later and we find ourselves right back where we started. It's as if Christmas never came. But after all, that is the way it has always been. That is the way we have always been. Why should we expect it to be any different this time around?

Mark gives us an answer.
On the Second Sunday of Advent, the Gospel reading ends with John's baptism. It ends with us shivering in the wilderness. But here, on the other side of Christmas, Mark keeps going. Just when it seems that we will never get out of the wilderness,

Mark continues: "In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 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. And a voice came from heaven, 'You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.'"

"Now what?" we ask.
"Now Jesus!" answers Mark.

Mark tells us about the baptism of Jesus because our baptism will do for us the same as it did for him. What happened to Jesus in baptism, happens to us.

So let's look at Jesus.
He is baptized with water.
He is filled with the Holy Spirit.
He is named and blessed by God.

And then before he is even dry the Spirit whisks him away to the wilderness again to be tempted by the devil. Then he is given an impossible job to do. He is ridiculed, threatened, chased out of town, misunderstood, imprisoned and killed.

Why doesn't that make everyone want to run right out and be baptized?

Baptism is not a promise that God will keep us out of trouble.
It doesn't mean that things will work out just the way we plan.

No, what Jesus' baptism meant to him was that when he found himself in trouble, he wouldn't find himself alone. It meant that even when things didn't go his way, he would still have his Father's blessing and the Spirit's company. His baptism gave him the courage and the faith to respond to the work to which God was calling him.

Now what? God is calling us to work as well and the call comes to us as baptized believers.
Some are called to be elders or deacons. Some parents and some leaders. Some are called as teachers or prophets. Some are called to give comfort and others to pray without ceasing.

Whatever our call, there are times we will find ourselves back in the wilderness- afraid, confused, maybe even lost.

Baptism means that we are not alone in that wilderness.
It means that God's love for us doesn't depend upon us.
It means that God's grace doesn't wash off.

The baptism of Jesus means we are forgiven, we are beloved and God is pleased with us
because of who we are, not because of what we do, how much money we have, the state of our families, or what we build.

In baptism we share Christ's gifts, We bear his name, and we conform our lives to his.

We have been baptized.
Now what?

We wash up and we get to work.

Thanks be to God.

Resources: Sermon "In the Hole He Goes" preached by The Rev. Tim Boggess pastor of Northwest Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, GA.