- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2000

When we are baptized, we know who we are, and Whose we are.

After Jesus was baptized [Mark 1:9-13], He was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness. He was tempted by Satan, lived with wild beasts, and "the angels ministered unto Him." Here, for us, is a biblical image for Lent and the 40 days before Easter.

The baptism of Jesus, in a strange way, is like our own… .

We take seriously that we are driven immediately into a place of wild things. Think back on baptism, your initiation into the body of Christ. We are made a different people, and then we see the place into which we've been driven. It is a place of Satan's temptations and wild beasts.

This is not difficult to translate into our daily lives. Read the newspaper. Or think of the temptations of wealth and power in the Washington area. The illusions of immortality and invincibility, especially in the political arena of this town.

We are not too far from the wild beasts, either. We've read of the first-grader who shot a fellow student, and of teachers who bring guns to school for protection. Think of the Virginia [General Assembly] and Congress, where people try to legislate morality or religion, which is impossible.

The confusion of priorities are all part of the beasts that are everywhere. Look what we've done to our children. We expect them to dance, sing, read, run a computer, play soccer and every other sport, pass advanced placement tests for colleges that charge $30,000 a year. We expect them to look good, be good and be our children… .

The beasts keep getting at us. One of them, I feel, is an expectation we bring to other people. We say: 'You must stay young. You are not allowed to age.' We must do what the young do. And the gray hair: Do something about that… .

The beasts nip at our time and sense of who we are. The beast I hear a lot is, "Don't forget, you are independent. You can do what you want." Really? That's not what I learned as a Christian in community, helping one another.

The beasts are distracting, and they are effective at destroying our values and sense of community. You know what I am talking about. But the image that Jesus gives us today, when He is pushed out to the wilderness, is not only of temptations and wild beasts. There are angels ministering unto Him.

How often we forget that. We are so busy fighting the temptations, we don't see the hand extended in help. The sympathetic smile from the person across the room. The sharing of life and love. Those are angels ministering to us… .

It seems to me the Lenten season is a perfect time to stop and look at what is going on. The temptations are real, and the beasts are awful. But don't forget the angels.

How do we stop the routine we are in? At Lent, we try by having no flowers at worship, a draping of purple and a bit more somber tone. We call people to repent. Take account of who you are and Whose you are… .

The color reminds us of the suffering of Jesus Christ. I am offering today something to help us stop and reflect. It is a nail. These nails are large, rusty and square. You can take one with you as you come back from Communion. Keep it with you during the Lenten season.

Do not put it on your dresser, keep it with you. Men, when you go into your pocket for a coin, you will be greeted with a nail. It will remind you to stop and think about temptation, the beasts, the ministering angels. And ladies, when you reach into your purse and mean to bring out something useful, you bring out a nail.

And you're going to say, "Uh, oh, yes." … The nail. Changing colors. The tenor of our worship. We need something that God gives us to stop, stop and recognize our baptism. Take the nail. Take time to remember who we are and Whose we are in this holy Lent.

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