I’m sure you’ve all heard some version of Jesus’ baptism. It’s in all four gospels but told a little differently in each one. Last Sunday I mentioned that the story of Jesus’ birth is only told in Luke and Matthew. I wonder what our faith would look like if we spent as much energy on Jesus’ baptism as we do on the stories of his birth.
Mark’s gospel opens, not with a birth narrative, but by introducing John the Baptist. John felt God was calling him to tell people to repent and be cleansed, and for generations since we’ve held a particular understanding of the English word `repent’. You may have the image of John in the river, or any number of hell-fire preachers thumping the pulpit and yelling at folks to repent.
But… what if we’ve been misled. The word we translate as `repent’ in English, is metanoia in Greek. Rather than meaning “feeling sorry for doing bad things,” or regret, or confession, metanoia means “go beyond the mind” or “go into the larger mind.”
Scholar Cynthia Bourgeault writes that this `high teaching’ was Jesus’ central message: “the Kingdom of Heaven means reaching beyond black-and-white dualities, into the larger heart and mind of God.”
What a different perspective this opens on a familiar Christian word. Rather than “Change your bad ways!” we now hear “Look! Look! God is inviting you to a new way of seeing! Come into the larger mind, see how God sees!” To “go beyond the mind” or “go into the larger mind” is no easy task, but it can be much more life-giving than being told you’re an awful sinner, or `a brood of vipers’, as John apparently called the Pharisees.
Last year I had a hard time finding music to go with Jesus’ baptism, as most hymns indicate that Jesus was baptised in order to take on the sins of the world, to appease an angry God. However, Jesus ministry shows that God’s mind doesn’t have to be changed about humanity; God’s anger doesn’t have to be appeased. Jesus ministry is to change the hearts and minds of people, encouraging them to be open and compassionate, as God is compassion. So, I wrote a new baptismal hymn and I thank you for singing it with me this morning! (I’m delighted to let you know that it is being sung across the country today in various churches after I put it on a Facebook page called BAM (Below Average Ministers of the United Church of Canada)
Through the universal symbol of water, Jesus models his invitation for all to move from unconsciousness (for which water is an archetype) to consciousness – a deeper awareness of just how deeply loved we are by a good and gracious God. But it can’t stop there. This is not a narcissistic love where me and God are buddy-buddy and to hell with the rest of the world. It’s a call for us to go into the larger mind – the more expansive sense of love until nothing is left out, no one is unlovable.
It is Jesus alone, according to Mark’s gospel, who sees the heaven’s open and hears the Spirit say, `You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ Why would Mark put this slant on things? I don’t know for sure – but I find it intriguing. Matthew and Luke leave it a bit vague as to who heard this affirmation and John’s gospel says John the Baptist saw and heard it. But here’s what it makes me wonder about. Which voices have power in your life? Are they voices that affirm you, condemn you, or challenge you? I invite you to take some time this week and just be aware of what voices, whose voices you give more weight to? If you have nine people tell you that you did a great job on something and one person tell you that they are unhappy, or that you failed to live up to their expectations, which voices do you take to heart and why?
How do John and Jesus invite us into life-changing metanoia? John didn’t stop baptizing when Jesus came on the scene. Everyone was invited to let go of the old way of being.
I am encouraged by these words: “You will find that is necessary to let things go; simply for the reason that they are heavy.” If you fall into the water, what’s the first thing you do? You kick off what is weighing you down so you can rise up again. What do we need to let go of in order to rise to a new way of being in relationship with the sacred in and around us?
Richard Rohr, an American Catholic priest and author writes:
“Our religion is not working well. Another year has ended—a new year begins—in which suffering, fear, violence, injustice, greed, and meaninglessness still abound. This is not even close to the reign of God that Jesus taught. And we must be frank: in their behavior and impact upon the world, Christians are not much different than other people.
The majority of Christians are not highly transformed people, but tend to reflect their own culture more than they operate as any kind of leaven within it. I speak especially of American Christians, because I am one. But if you are from another country, look at the Christians where you live and see if the same is true there.
Let’s be honest: religion has probably never had such a bad name…
As we saw in the (2016) U.S. election, Christians overall showed little prophetic or compassionate presence.
Most (of them) have not been taught how to plug into the “mind of Christ;” thus they often reflect the common mind of power, greed, and war instead. The dualistic mind reads reality in simple binaries—good and bad, right and wrong—and thinks itself smart because it chooses one side. This is getting us nowhere.
Throughout the history of Christianity, it would seem Jesus’ teaching has had little impact, except among people who surrendered to great love and great suffering.
We must rediscover what St. Francis called the “marrow of the Gospel.” It’s time to rebuild from the bottom up. If the foundation is not solid and sure, everything we try to build on top of it is weak and ineffective. Perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise that so much is tumbling down around us. It’s time to begin again.”
On this day, when we celebrate Jesus taking the plunge, as it were, we also have the opportunity to step into the water beside him, to let go of all the unconscious garbage that drags us down, and be open to see the world with the mind and heart of God.
During our communion liturgy, in a few minutes, as you come forward to receive the elements, I invite you, as I invited the children earlier, to look into the water, and find there someone whom God dearly loves. (I had placed a mirror in the bottom of the baptismal font – an idea from this year’s Gathering magazine)