When the dove descended, God-the-Spirit greeted God-the-Son. With that greeting, it was time for Jesus to go into the wilderness. He might have wanted to run away, but how do you run from God when you are God? In the desert, Jesus was tempted by his newly-found divine power. In the desert, he acknowledge the gift of God, and aligned his human self to God’s mission.
We experience many baptisms in our life. Your baptism might be losing a loved one, fighting cancer, retiring, falling in love, going on a retreat, or participating in the liturgy. God meets us in the baptisms of our life, and calls us to the desert-work of identity and mission.
From time to time, God sends us into the wilderness. There are interior demons to fight. There are temptations to resist, affirmations to embrace, and God’s calling to follow. From time to time, God drives us into the wilderness, even though we resist feeling so vulnerable.
My sabbatical last winter was a wilderness of solitude and silence. For forty days I asked Jesus’ question about God’s purpose for my life. I fought the demons of family shaming. I walked in a national forest by Lake Tahoe, hoping to encounter a bear. I returned to Carmel with a deep sense of peace and wellbeing. I also came back to a vestry out-of-order. We worked through it, and some who chose to leave All Saints’ have left. We wish them well. The water of that baptism, or should we say the fire of that baptism, has brought a sweet spirit to this community. I hope you feel that spirit. The dove is descending upon us again this morning.
From time to time, God sends me into the wilderness. Yesterday, many of you received a letter announcing that I will retire in July. With my mother’s health deteriorating, with a scare that I might have cancer (I don’t), and above all, with the persistent voice calling me to study, pray, and teach, I feel God pushing Andrea and me into the wilderness. It is a wilderness of transition, of goodbyes, of upheaval, of a new embrace. I feel sad, but I also feel excited by the new adventure of demons, wild animals, and angels.
From time to time, God sends congregations into the wilderness. The upcoming transition is an important time of claiming your identity as All Saints’. My arrival almost eight years ago ended another desert experience for All Saints’. In that desert, the voice of Satan tempted some to think that All Saints’ was dying. It was not true, and it will not be true this time either. Some will be tempted to flee from the desert. Two people have already told me that they might leave when I leave. I will be disappointed if any of you give into that temptation. You are cleansed by the water of baptism; you are ready to claim your identity; you are empowered to affirm your mission.
Know that the time for God to drive All Saints’ into the wilderness is approaching. Know also that, as you trust God, the wild animals will welcome you to a peaceable kingdom, and angels will minister to you.
Before going into the desert, Jesus was baptized. It was a simple, yet profound celebration. He stepped out of the water reborn from above. The heavens were torn open, the Spirit-dove descended, and the voice pronounced, “You are my beloved.” What awesome joy!
We too celebrate such joy today. We give ourselves to God. We welcome the Holy Spirit. We rejoice. We say “thank you” to God, and “I love you” to each other.
The next six months will be a season of love and delight, of splashing in the water, of confessing our sins and acknowledging disappointments, of following Jesus out of the river, of hearing the voice of God, of knowing that we are beloved, and of choosing to love as we are loved.
From time to time, God sends us into the desert, and this is a good thing. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Tuesday morning, before he went to preschool, I told my eighteen-month old grandson, Theo, “Grandpa is going bye-bye.” I made the baby sign-language for goodbye. This is the sign for all gone. I said, “I’m getting on an airplane and going home, to California.” Then I held out my arms and made an airplane sound, “Wshhhhhhhhhh. Wshhhhhhhhh.” That afternoon, Theo walked from room to room in his house, making the sign for all gone, and saying “Gampa all gone.” “Gampa all gone.” “Wshhhhhh. Wshhhhhh.” “Gampa all gone.”
From time to time, we stand dripping wet, only to feel the breath from the wings of a dove, and to hear the voice of God saying, “You are my beloved.” Let us rejoice and let us be glad.
The Rev. Rick Matters, Rector
All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Carmel, California