The First Sunday of Lent – the First Step in Fulfilling God’s Covenant (The Old Testament and The Epistles Passage)

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” (Genesis 9:8-17)

As I read through this passage, I remembered all the times I have used this passage in worship services, meditations, and other writings. God’s cleansing of the lands (whether you understand it as being literal or figurative) is powerful. And the promise of “never again” destroying the world as sealed by the rainbow in the sky is a continual reminder that God is with creation and humanity for all of its existence. And that God will provide for creation and humanity beyond its existence.

There will be times of trouble and trauma, distress and discord, but never again through destruction. No, humanity is now capable of destroying itself and all that surrounds it. God is embarking on a plan to renew.

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.” (1 Peter 3:18-22)

As we enter into Lent, we are reminded of what we have done to others, to our relationship with God, and to ourselves. In the times of the early church, the period of time leading up to Easter was a time of preparation for baptism of new converts. That is part of how the season of Lent came into existence, and part of the recurring three themes for each of the lectionary years. Year A is the calling of new Christians. Year B, where we are now, is renewal and recommitment. And Year C is penance, confession, and forgiveness. It is during the yearly season of Lent that these themes come out most strongly.

This past Wednesday we have been marked as those in need of our God and the covenant that was made between God and humanity. Let us give thanks that God set in motion a plan that is still being fulfilled. Selah!

SPIRIT . . . The who’s who of Spiritual containment

Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.” (Reference: Romans 8:8-10 )

We have established that the Holy Spirit comes when a person accepts God and Christ, and has made signs both outwardly and inwardly that their lives are God controlled. The thing that may be hardest to understand is the time table for these changes. Actually, beloved, the outward sign often lags behind the inner changes. That is, baptism can come some time after a person had accepted God and Christ, at least in the Mennonite faith. But we have moved past baptism and are considering now just the Spirit.

Dirk Philips, a historic Anabaptist who gave much thought and wrote down his thoughts wrote the following; “. . . no one can understand Christ’s doctrine, much less abide in it, except through the

Holy Spirit. And no one has the Holy Spirit except one who is no longer carnally but spiritually minded, as Paul says, “But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God really dwells in you. Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness,” Rom. 8:9-10. . .”

Let’s take this in small thought bits. Christ and God, two parts of the triune Divine, have certain expectations and standards. To one who does not believe these expectations and standards can sound pretty unusual. To understand them and live them out, one must already have asked Christ and God to control their life. You see belief and faith really precede understanding. It is the desire to know God and Christ that leads to enough information that the beginning believer decides to take a “leap of faith” and commit themselves deeper.

And when this “leap of faith” is leaped – so to speak – that the Holy Spirit settles into the beginning believer’s heart and soul. Once there, the Spirit teaches the believer more. Paul, and Philips, say that the beginning believer is focused on the agenda and priorities of the Holy Spirit, and not worldly/sinful/flesh desires and agenda. Without the Spirit there is not even a beginning of belief, so the non-believer is considered to still be of the sinful world.

Remember that the historic Anabaptists believed the body was sinful because was of earth and flesh, but the mind/soul could be spiritual and pure. There was a sharp division between body and spirit/mind, and it took modern Anabaptists/Mennonites centuries to overcome that split to see that the body and mind are inexorably linked. And that the body is no impure than the mind, and that the mind is no purer than the body.

Worry not, beloved. If you have asked God and Christ (I use both these terms back and forth because one is no different than the other) to take control of your life, for your body and your spirit/heart/mind belong to the Lord. And you are of the Spirit. Selah!

BAPTISM . . . The Spirit on YOUR Shoulder

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’” (Reference: John 1:29-33 )

There is a reason, beloved, that Anabaptists/Mennonites baptize with water as opposed to any other liquid that is in existence. Jesus was baptized with water and the Lord in heaven sent down a sign and symbol to show that the outer baptism of water is accompanied by the inner baptism by the Spirit. There are some who have felt that Spirit alight on them at their baptism and others for whom the baptism of the Spirit came later.

But I want to emphasis that this baptism of the Spirit is available to anyone who has undertaken to follow God with all sincerity. The water pouring over your head (or being sprinkled on your head or being dipped bodily into water) is not necessary for the baptism of the Spirit. Those who believe in baptism take upon themselves the meaning and significance. Through the action of the Spirit the water baptism opens the gate to new life in God, and this life unfolds as the Spirit directs it.

You wonder why? And wonder why some quickly have the baptism of the Spirit and for others it is a slower process? It is because the Spirit of God already knows us through and through – knows what we are capable of and what we need more time and teaching to learn. The Spirit knows all of these things, even when and if we will accept baptism of water and of the Spirit, and whether we will also have the baptism of blood as the historic Anabaptists understood it.

You wonder why, if the Spirit knows all these things, we have to go through the outer sign of baptism? With all the knowledge that God’s Spirit has, the Spirit will never force on us any spiritual decision. Know too, beloved, that the Spirit weeps if we do not accept what God has to offer us. And there is great rejoicing when we do.

May the grace of God cover you and the baptism of the Spirit enfold you from the day you first confessed your faith and believed until the day that God brings you home to eternity. Selah!

BAPTISM . . . Entry way to the new and holy

John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.” (Reference: John 1: 23-28 )

Perhaps beloved you like me are asking “Are we through baptism yet?” And the answer is not quite yet. But let us step back from the centered theme of baptism and look instead at the verse itself.

The writer of the gospel of John says that John the Baptist saw Jesus amongst the crowd and knew him for who he was. Now, if you think this is miraculous, remember they are actually related through their mothers. It was foretold that John would announce the way of Jesus,setting the groundwork for a new way of living. In Jesus John saw something that was very familiar. But he also saw something that was new and holy – so holy that though Jesus was a part of his family John was not worthy to offer even one minor service or submissive action.

When something new is happening, sometimes people do not realize it because they are stuck in their own way of living and being. But others see the new way and announce it clearly and boldly, as John the Baptist did. And as the historic Anabaptists did. Just as John the Baptist was made to suffer and was put to death, so were the historic Anabaptists, made to suffer because the new way of living they were proclaiming was not what the power majority wanted to hear.

How do we recognize the new and different? How do we make ourselves worthy of what is new and holy? And how do we bring into ourselves this thing that is so vital to our lives? It is through, beloved, baptism. Think of baptism as a way of showing that was at one time not visible and apparent to us is now clear, recognizable and familiar. We have proven ourselves worthy, both outwardly and inwardly. The old ways are washed away and the new ways take hold of us.

It may seem that this section on baptism is spanning many days, especially for something that in and of itself is just at the beginning our Christian lives. And if there seems to be many days devoted to baptism, it may be because the historic Anabaptists found it to referred to so often in scripture.

May you beloved see what others may not see, Christ and God working out a Divine mission in the world. And may you feel deep in your spirit the presence of God that refreshes you each day. Selah!

BAPTISM . . . Three-In-One

This is the one who came by water and blood–Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”  (Reference: 1 John 5: 6-12)

[Not that matters much, but this is not the scripture passage that Reading the Anabaptist Bible has for this day – it is a passage on baptism, but not this one]

There are three components of baptism and all three are contained in Jesus Christ. There is the baptism of water which is an external sign of our being cleansed of sin and all of the world that “sticks” to us. (Anabaptists/Mennonites believe a Christian life is lived publicly and so we are accountable for the way we live.) There is the baptism of spirit (or Spirit) that is a presence in our lives and connects us to the Divine. And there is the baptism of blood which is for suffering and sacrifice, ours and Christ’s.

What would we do without each baptism? Without the cleansing and inner change there can be no Spirit in our lives. Without the sacrifice and the giving up of our own agenda there can be no cleansing. And without the Spirit we would still be lost and adrift in a sinful world that keeps us from God and Christ. Thanks be to God (at least according Anabaptist/Mennonite theology) we do not have to be without any of them. All of them are a part of baptism – all we need to do is accept it all.

Just as Anabaptists/Mennonites believe in a triune God, we also believe in a triune baptism. But as I have said in the past few days, this triune baptism is not a static baptism but a living thing. As we grow and mature in our faith, our baptism experience becomes deeper and wider.

You may not believe as the historic Anabaptists and the modern Anabaptists/Mennonites beloved. But I would hope and pray that your faith grows daily, that your outer life matches the convictions that you have in your inner spirit, and that your devotion to God and Christ grows more ever firm. Selah!

BAPTISM . . . Many drops of water, many steps along the way

And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him..”
(Reference: 1 Peter 3:21-22 )

As a young child, before the 3rd grade, I confessed my sins and was “saved” at bible camp – but I was not baptized. At around 5th grade I went forward at an alter call, confessed my sins and was “saved” – but I was not baptized. Around 8th grade, my friend and I asked for baptism in the church but we were considered too young, so instead of being baptized were had a “blessing service.” In 9th grade I went through catechism class in preparation for baptism. But I did not feel ready at that time. I was only at the very end of the classes when I heard in a sermon that baptism is the only beginning of a Christian’s journey that I felt ready (and the church agreed with me that time) for baptism. And even then there have been significant points in my life when I have felt the Holy Spirit baptize me all over again. Even now so far (comparatively) into adulthood I am sure there are at least one if not two more “baptisms” in my future.

What is my point? If you think there will only be one baptism in your life that will cover everything from your first public acknowledgment of accountability and faith to your last prayer in this life, you are sadly mistaken. Sadly because God and the Spirit may have a whole wealth of experiences and revelations that will build on and perhaps take the place of your first baptism. This historic Anabaptists realized that infant baptism is much too soon to take that important step into faith. But waiting until old age is no good either. All the religious experiences in my childhood were leading up to baptism as I moved from childhood to maturity. But from the baptism when still moving into adulthood set the stage for further experiences that moved me even beyond the inner cleansing of my soul and spirit to a deeper and wider experience of spirituality. But each experience along the way from young childhood til now has prepared me for each further step and has confirmed what went on before.

And what delights my soul and spirit is that each step was “prefigured” by God! The Lord knew each step I would take and planned each spiritual revelation. That is how I can be sure that there are more spiritual baptisms ahead of me, because God is not done we me yet!

May you beloved be watched over by our God and the Holy Spirit, planning for you and nurturing you along the way. Selah!

BAPTISM . . . Not looking back but looking towards Christ

I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” (Reference: Luke 12:49-51 )

The historic Anabaptists were under no illusion – or at least not after the first year or two into the new faith – that this new faith would be bring harmony and consensus. It is a recurring theme in the New Testament that the new way of life Christ brought would cause divisions. The historic Anabaptists accepted this. They also accepted the price and consequences of this new faith, both in terms of dividing family and friends and in what they would suffer for their faith.

Up to now we have heard only from male historic Anabaptists, but women were treated no differently. Maeyken van Deventer writes from her prison cell to her children, “Hear, my children, the instruction of your mother, and incline your hearts to understanding, and open your ears to hear the words of my mouth, for I seek the salvation of your souls; believe me, and no one else, that you may come to me and live forever. Behold, my children, I hold before you the way of my Bridegroom, and our forerunner, Christ Jesus, who went before me, which leads to the truth, as the Lord has commanded me; and behold, I take up my cross, and follow the Savior of the whole world. Do so, too, my children; I shall go before you, without looking back, for this is the way of the prophets and martyrs, and behold, I shall now drink the cup which they drank. I now go the way which Christ Jesus, the Lord full of all grace and truth, who laid down His life for His sheep, went; this cup I must drink, as Christ says: “I have a cup to drink of, and a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” Matt. 20:22; Luke 12:50.”

The editors of the book we are using this year tell reader she died in 1573. While I do not know for sure, I strongly suspect she did not die of old age. It is sobering, beloved, to hear and know that women were put to death in the same way men were. I am of the generation that still holds to an ideal that women are treated more gently then men. But a woman’s faith can be just as determined as a man’s, and women from all times and all generations are as much examples and spiritual ancestors as a man. I am struck by her words “ I shall go before you, without looking back for this is the way of the prophets and martyrs, and behold, I shall now drink the cup which they drank.” The historic Anabaptists believed that the suffering that Christ and his disciples endured might also be the type of suffering they endured – and generally speaking it was.

May the faith of the men and women that you know of lead you and inspire you to drink from the cup of suffering Christ did, if that is your faith journey. Selah!