- February 21, 2021
Sermon for 21 February 2021 (Lent 1 B)
Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary
Texts: Genesis 9.8-17; Psalm 25.1-9; Mark 1.9-15
Title: When you Grow Up
In the Name of our loving, liberating, and life-giving God. Amen.
“Show me your ways, O Lord, and teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusted all the day long” (Psalm 25.3-4, BCP).
Let me ask you a question: what do you want to be when you grow up?
Stop! I know what you’re thinking! I don’t care how many winters you have spent on the surface of this planet, if you are listening to me right now, your story is not over!
So what do you want to be when you grow up? Who do you want to become?
Now, take a moment to consider: before his baptism and his vision quest out in the wilderness, how did Jesus answer this question?
No one knows how their lives are actually going to work out, not even Jesus of Nazareth. For thirty years, his life had been fairly normal, as far as we know.
And then, look what happens! The heavens are ripped apart. The voice of God thundered over the earth. The Holy Spirit lands on him and takes over, driving him away from people and out into the wilderness.
This is Mark’s Gospel, so we don’t get the whole story, as is typical with Mark. We just get the bare minimum before he zooms on to the next thing.
So the details are not in this text, but we all know the story. Different tests and trials and temptations are put before Jesus over the course of these forty days.
And through it all, he had to figure out how to become someone and something he had never been before.
Last week, we heard about the Transfiguration. Today, we might say that we hear about the Transformation.
But before we get there, let me ask you this: what does it mean to be authentic?
That’s one of those popular words today. Everyone wants to be authentic. But what does it actually mean? If you go on Amazon, you can find over 40,000 books on how to be more authentic. Is it really that difficult?
Authentic comes from the Greek word authentes, which means self-doing or self-being. Originally it meant that which you do with your own two hands. The meaning has not changed all that much over the millennia, because the idea is so basic and intuitive.
Who does not want to BE themselves? Who does not want to DO what comes naturally to them?
Surely we all want this, just as simply as each of us wants to feel the sunshine on our face. And YET… we have this endless stream of self-help books and motivational speakers intended to help people do exactly that – as if being authentic is difficult and challenging. Perhaps it is.
Most of you know that I was in a horrific accident a few days before Thanksgiving. By God’s grace, I walked away unscratched, but our Honda Pilot was totaled. USAA provided us with a rental car while the damage was assessed and the reimbursement was determined. I asked for a simple, fuel-efficient sedan – nothing complicated. However, Enterprise informed me that USAA would pay for a brand new BMW at no extra cost, if I wanted it. Just a few hours removed from that accident, the idea of a new car with all of the latest safety features sounded quite appealing. So I took it.
But I have to say that driving it made me feel inauthentic. No offense at all to any of you who have BMWs! But it just is not me. Especially with the fact that it had New York tags on it! I could imagine the Mainers around me, spotting this sleek BMW with NY tags and I could imagine what they were thinking! I wanted to put a big sign on the car that said, “Don’t get the wrong idea – it’s just a rental.”
It was not me. I did not feel authentic in that car.
Being authentic is often just that – a feeling, an instinct when something is in or out of alignment with our core identity.
Erin, my wife, has recently introduced me to a band called Black Violin. These two young men met playing the violin in a school orchestra and they decided to find a way to bring their culture, their style and their love of the violin all together. You see, these two are young Black men, with tattoos and baggy pants and flat-brimmed baseball caps, and all the accoutrements of hip hop culture. And they love rap music as well.
To be true to themselves, to do and be something authentic, they had to work hard and find a way to create a new kind of music that combines rap and classical violin. Not simply repeating what had been done by others, but creating something new and unique.
Sometimes people think that being sincere and authentic means staying the same person that they have always been. For some, it means resisting change.
But isn’t that just being stuck and stubborn, and unwilling to learn something new?
Consider once again, Jesus in the wilderness. I love the fact that he was hanging out with wild animals and angels. Outside of normal human community, his new company highlights the power of this moment of transition.
On a purely human level, Jesus had no idea how to be the Messiah. Honestly, think about it. How do you know how to do something that you have never done before – AND something that has never been done before – by anyone – ever?
His previous life up to this point did not show him what to do next. There was no internship or apprenticeship or on-the-job training that could have helped him get ready for the next three years of his life, all of his healing and teaching and preaching.
In order for Jesus to be authentic, to be his own true self, he had to become something new and different, while still remaining true to himself.
How do we become something new and different, while remaining true to ourselves?
By placing ourselves in uncomfortable settings, by putting ourselves in the place of challenge. Remember: by definition, learning means doing things that do not feel comfortable, because you do not yet know how to do them!
One of the ancient elders in the desert said that “the first step away from God is a distaste for learning.” (Repeat)
For this reason, those holy ones always pushed themselves to test out what was uncomfortable, knowing this to be the sure process of learning and growing.
With a beginners mind, Jesus the builder from Nazareth was driven out into the wilderness. In that new and uncomfortable environment, being challenged and tested, he learned what he had to do and say to be the Messiah he was created to be. Out of that wilderness walked our Lord Jesus with his transforming message of Good News.
So I ask you again: what do you want to be when you grow up? And what is it going to take for you to get there? To become who you are created and called to be?
You are not there yet! Your story is not yet over! Don’t be afraid of the challenge. Don’t be afraid of being uncomfortable.
And trust in the Good News of God! God’s grace is at work in you, empowering your own process of transformation. Amen.