Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Temptation of Indifference

Today I read not only the appointed lesson for the day, but went back and read chapter 1 of the Gospel of Mark, from the beginning, through verse 15.

I took us all the way back to the beginning of Mark which is really only eight verses before.  Mark is the action packed gospel- we hear it’s the beginning of the good news and the next thing you know, Jesus is at the Jordan being baptized by John. And that was the reading on my first Sunday with you. Today we hear about the baptism again as Jesus is then sent into the wilderness. And as I read the lesson I thought, “well, we’ve already heard about that baptism and we really don’t need to do that again.” And as soon as I say it though, I wonder if that is our thought about baptism. That we, already baptized have already done that. And then I think about my stole for Lent which not only has purple and black and crosses, it has that third color, the blue. That blue represents baptism and I think it’s so important, it’s in my stole.

And so we really should talk about baptism again. Mark has such intensity about Jesus’ mission and purpose. And when Jesus comes to be baptized, we don’t hear that God the Father just kind of saunters by and says, “Oh, by the way, he’s going to be important.” No! We hear that the heavens are RIPPED OPEN and that the Holy Spirit descends in the form of something like a dove. And doesn’t just hover, but enters Jesus.  God is invasive and intrusive in the world and in us. Life altering!

And I wonder how many of us have thought about our baptism THAT way- that God “invades us” and dwells in us in that kind of life-altering way?

In the days of early Christians, there were men and women who went out to lives as hermits in the wilderness. They purposely chose to imitate Jesus in the wilderness in a life altering way. They were called the desert mothers and fathers. They wrote very insightful things about human nature and challenges in the wilderness. They had the time, and were removed from everything else. The thing about the wilderness, being alone though was, when they were mad, it was their anger and the wilderness.

When they were sad, it was their sadness and the wilderness. And in reading some of what they wrote, they chronicled the various temptations of life, which made me think even more about what Jesus must have experienced in the wilderness. The loneliness, the fatigue, the hunger, the thirst, the doubts. In a place people saw as the most dangerous place around.

But of all the temptations, hunger, thirst, fatigue, these weren’t the greatest according to the desert dwellers. The greatest was another, called “Acedia.” Indifference. They called it the noonday demon- somewhere between the beginning and end you just lose interest altogether. As one New York Times writer noted this feeling “is not a relic of the fourth century or a hang-up of some weird Christian monks but also a modern force that easily attaches” to us.   With the overburdened schedules. While we seem so busy, as we do more, we commit less and less. Think of the ways we allow our “schedule” to alter our living.

As it turns out, Pope Francis, in this year’s Lenten address spoke to this very thing-perhaps the greatest temptation of our age: “Indifference to our neighbor and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience.” Because of our networks and distractions, he described the phenomenon he calls the globalization of indifference, Francis writes that “whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.”

He continues that, “We end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.” And maybe we even convince ourselves that God is pretty indifferent too. After all, why are there so many struggles and troubles? It reminds me a of cartoon series “Coffee with Jesus” where Jesus is having coffee with a woman who asks why there are so many destructive things happening in the world, and Jesus, coffee cup in hand smirks and replies, “I was going to ask you the same question.”

Indifference is a temptation. The forces of evil are counting upon our belief that nothing will really change.

But the gospel is that Jesus comes to challenge such a world. God has ripped apart the heavens. The Spirit descends and enters. The gospel breaks in with life altering promise!

This is amazingly good news in all our places that seem that the world can’t change or wilderness exists. Since God has invaded and altered the world- it’s not the world we think we see. There is difference. Not indifference. When we turn away from indifference, when we fast from it, then we can feast on God’s love.

Now all battles with evil are altered-the game is changed because God is present. And it comes back to baptism- where we hear we become part of God’s family and mission. And it’s about more than just assuring our salvation as in eternity with God some day. Luther taught that baptism is necessary for salvation- this we believe. What about those not baptized? Will they be saved some day? Is that the only way God will save people? As important for this life I believe, is that baptism is necessary for salvation in this life- that every day we know life, share community and healing, and forgiveness and know we don’t stand alone. God is present and providing and redefining. And today Karlie, who is up here being absolutely adorable, enters this life- baptism is a life changing journey with God.

This weekend some of our youth, years beyond their baptism are experiencing this. They are at Youth Quake and the theme is ReDefine. Being followers of Jesus redefines and alters us- who we think we are and what we can do. This is the change in our conscience we hear of in 1 Peter.  We are changed and given the gift and challenge of serving others. No matter how young we are- no matter who we are. This weekend the youth are packing food for the hungry.

And here we are collecting for Baskets of Promise. These things challenge the world as it seems. Even in something as small as the soap we gather. Because when you are in a wilderness like a refugee camp, a simple bar of soap reminds you that you are human and you are not alone, you are loved.

This is what we can share, living out our baptism as not just once and done- but continually being reshaped in the story that God is here. And in us. This overcomes evil and that great temptation- the myth that tells us God isn’t really present and so we don’t need to care either. It’s exposed. Even in the most challenging place, even when God seems silent, without any doubt, God is present in it all.

So here’s the thing- may we continue to be redefined by this God and in how we respond to the challenges, and may we resist the urge to sacrifice the promises of community in Christ. Let’s bust the myth.

1 comment:

judi smith said...

Often times when we think of being "filled with the Holy Spirit" we grapple with manifestations of the Spirit such as speaking in tongues or being slain in the Spirit and other phenomenon that seem a bit creepy to some non-Pentecostal Christians. I have rarely thought about being infused with the Holy Spirit in connection with water baptism, but then, of course, there is only 'one Lord, one faith and one baptism'. So, when we are immersed, sprinkled, or whatever the means by which we experience physical baptism, it is merely the outward evidence or sign of what has hopefully been performed within our hearts, souls, and minds by the work of the Holy Spirit. Just as the washed sow returns to wallowing in her mire, unless there is that Divinely radical transformation from within that washes us from our filthiness, physical baptism is little more than a variation of taking a bath/shower. Thank you for provoking me to thinking about the subject of baptism.