Mark 1:9-15

In the interests of full disclosure I want you to know that the purpose of this sermon is to encourage you to do what Jesus did in the Gospel for this morning: make a serious, life changing commitment to God. I want what you know of God to be the way you interpret and understand the events of your life. I want what you know of God to be the way you set priorities and take action in your life. That is what Jesus was doing in the Jordan River, and that is what I want you to do today. In the continued interest of full disclosure, if you make that kind of commitment to God, your experience will be like that of Jesus when he came up out of the water. I would like to take a look with you this morning at Jesus’ experience because my purpose is to invite you to make it your experience as well.

The story of Jesus’ baptism takes place when he was about thirty years old. In a time when the life expectancy was not far from fifty, you can see that he did not rush into it. It is not a thing to be done lightly. But, when it was done, he immediately felt the pleasure of God: You are beloved, with you I am well pleased. That can be your experience, as well, because while God and I do not always agree, we are united in wanting you to make this commitment and are pleased when it happens.

It is at this point that full disclosure takes a serious turn. When I am pleased with someone I usually mean that I like them as they are, that they have arrived at some plateau where they might rest from my labors. Not so with Jesus in the lesson. Not so with us in life. The words of God’s pleasure are followed by, “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.”

Wilderness is not a random term. It means something we do not control. You will have noticed the word ‘wild’ is in it. Wilderness is not predictable. It is not to be discounted or taken for granted once it is entered, for it can be dangerous. Commitment to God is a wilderness because it requires us to live by principle rather than calculated outcome, to do what we believe is God’s will without figuring either cost or promise. Unpredictable!

Commitment is wilderness because it means living generously, openly, and vulnerably in a world that does not always respect those qualities and indeed often abuses them. Dangerous! Making a commitment to God sets us immediately in the unknown, the un-predictable, the realm of mystery and encounter. When the first person of our faith, the patriarch Abraham, made his commitment to God it was in response to the invitation to “Come with me to a land I will show you.” Such a land was then, is now, and ever shall be unknowable in advance, unpredictable in the present, and only fragmentary in memory. It is because commitment leads to wilderness that we are called followers. We follow because we do not and cannot know the way in the wilderness to which the Spirit drives us.

Jesus’ story, which I pray will be our story, is not just one of spiritual exploration. There are hostile realities in that wilderness personified in the title Satan but experienced as temptation. At this point you may want to join my grandson whose response to every perception of injustice is, “Hey Man, no fair!” It does not seem fair. Why would commitment to God result in temptation, an experience Jesus equated with facing evil when he crafted the Lord’s Prayer?

The fact is that commitment and temptation go together. They are two sides of the same coin. There can be no temptation without some form of commitment, and every form of commitment includes temptation. If I do not care what I eat, junk food is no problem. But once I commit to eating sensibly, the temptation to eat foolishly is at hand. A commitment to God works the same way. It is hard to betray a God to whom no commitment has been made, a God who is one option among many, a God on retainer who comes when we need help but maintains a discreet silence otherwise. But when what we know of God becomes our criteria for understanding life and our priority for taking action, the possibility of falling away is immediately at hand. That is why Jesus faced temptation in the wilderness to which his commitment had driven him. That is why we can expect the same thing.

If you remember that the purpose of this sermon is to encourage you to make a commitment like that of Jesus in today’s Gospel, a commitment that leads inexorably to wilderness and inevitably to temptation, I doubt that you are wondering where you can sign up. Full disclosure about commitment to God does not always paint a rosy picture.

But we are not through painting.

Fifteen hundred years ago, it is said that Saint Brendan of Ireland was telling a village chieftain the kind of story we have been hearing today. The chieftain rightly asked why anyone would make such a commitment. Brendan replied, “Because when you do, you will see wonder upon wonder and every wonder true.”

To let what we know of God determine our understanding and interpretation of each day is to find that day shot through with the glory of God. Sometimes it is tantalizing the way spring is hinting itself outside, sometimes it is as bold as organ and choir, sometimes as surprising as forgiveness, sometimes as quiet as an insight or as powerful as an idea, sometimes as subtle as a wink, sometimes as lavish as a sunset but each day, each moment, brims and sloshes over with God. That reality is not known outside of commitment.

Letting what we know of God determine our priorities and our actions is like sky diving or being married or being a Marine. It can be talked about from any angle but only known from inside the experience where you can feel the power of it and see newness with its light. Stepping into commitment to the living God is like getting your ears opened or your eyes fixed, it is like HDTV the first time you saw it, or surround sound the first time you heard it. It is life writ large, life that hugs you and lets you hug it back.

The four thousand years from Abraham’s journey to this pregnant morning, the two thousand years from Jesus’ baptism to tomorrow’s priorities are a wilderness of temptation filled with wonder upon wonder and every wonder true. And there remains only one way for us to know it. Commitment to the living God.

That is full disclosure. Amen.

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