Sunday, March 4, Third Sunday in Lent

Kristin White

John 2:13-22


Preparing for baptism feels like one of the most important things I do as a priest, and I love it. I love talking with parents about their hopes for their children, about their relationships with the people they ask to serve as a child’s godparents. I love sharing about the life of this congregation, and the choice that parents and adults deciding to be baptized have made, to take a share in this community of faith here at St. Augustine's. I love walking through the service itself ahead of time, sharing the theology of why we do what we do and the pieces of history we still carry from the earliest days that the church was church.

And…that is not all.

One of the lessons about baptism that I can’t stop thinking about right now has nothing to do with white dresses or liturgical preparation. Instead, this lesson, one that I’ve taught, one that was shared with me by a friend and mentor, talks about baptism as entering into chaos.

It teaches the reality that the world began in water and darkness, but that none of us can live without shape and form and substance. It shows that the stories of the Bible are really stories about how people have dealt, throughout the millennia, with that chaos.

And we do, too. The darkness and the waters and void exist, at some point, for all of us. So we create ways of building barriers that hold it off and give our lives shape and form: we study, and get a good education; we floss our teeth; we wear seat belts and drive (close to) the speed limit; we exercise; we get to know our neighbors; we eat vegetables; we save money; we choose a safe neighborhood to raise our children; we buy insurance; we get a flu shot; we go to church; we get regular checkups; we read the newspaper; we vote.

And most of these barriers work. Most of them help most of us give our lives shape and form, most of the time.

Until they don’t.

Until the chaos hits, and the thing that wasn’t supposed to happen, does.

You get hurt by a driver who never should have been behind the wheel. After years and years of clean tests, your screening reveals a diagnosis that terrifies you. You do good work at your job…and lose it anyway. Your kid gets into some kind of trouble that you can’t fix. Or your kid is in danger, and you don’t know how to keep them safe.

Is that the real moment that I'm preparing people for in their lives, as we come to the waters of that font? Is that what baptism is for? The time when we find ourselves asking, demanding, in a thousand different ways and at elevated levels: what is real, and who can I trust, and where is God?


This is our opening prayer from the beginning of worship today:

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul…

Keep us in our bodies, we pray. Keep us in our souls.


John’s gospel gives us a word about bodies in today’s passage. But before we even get to it, the poetry of that otherworldly evangelist echoes into the conversation: “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us,” John says, “Full of grace and truth…and from that fullness have we all received, and grace upon grace.” The irony of that beautiful and ethereal account is that it describes the very earthy fact of God taking up space in this world with flesh and blood and bone. God is word and God is more than word. Because in the person of Jesus, God has a body.

God is fully human. God is fully divine.

Two chapters into that gospel lands us in today’s lesson. In a discussion with the powers that be, Jesus says by word of a sign that if people destroy the temple, he will raise it up in three days. The authorities are confused by such a statement, confused by such a teacher who disrupts the shape and form that they have known to make their own lives make sense. They don’t understand that Jesus is not talking about the temple of marble and gold that has been under construction in Jerusalem for 46 years. They don’t know that he is talking about the temple that is his body; the temple that for 33 years on this earth showed us what God looks like.

And this is what God looks like, what the scripture before us in these next weeks will reveal: “A body anointed, a body beaten, a body on a cross, a body laid in a tomb.”[1] Through it all, and through the 33 years that his body was a temple in this world, and beyond, Jesus shows us that his body is what God looks like. And yours is too.

The word became flesh and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth. “We are baptized into that word made flesh, that we might become the flesh made word,”[2] that we might embody the truth of the gospel, become agents of the fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.

Keep us in our bodies, we pray. Keep us in our souls.

The grave danger in this is that we get fractured and lost, that somehow we get separated from who we are, body and soul. The danger of believing we can control the chaos is that our baptism becomes more about that white dress (which is of course lovely), and less about knowing our need of God.

“Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves…” that’s a terrifying thing to pray, and entirely contrary to the narrative that this world would strive to teach us.

And yet:

Keep us, we pray.

Defend us from adversities, which may happen to our bodies.

Defend us from evil, which may assault and hurt our souls.

Be with us in the chaos we inhabit, O God, and help us to see you right here.


When I meet with people preparing for baptism, usually with parents getting ready to have their children baptized, our conversation includes what we call the “renunciations and affirmations”: six questions from the earliest days of the church. They begin with these three:

·      Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?

·      Do you renounce the evil powers of this world that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?

·      Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?

It’s not the kind of language we tend to use in our day-to-day lives. And so what I say to parents and godparents if they ask about it (and sometimes even if they don’t) is that, whatever you believe about the personification of evil, my guess is that we can agree that the world as it is is not the world of God’s promise. That there are forces striving to keep us fractured and separated, and those forces are what we renounce in these prayers.

Which is to say, there is chaos.

No matter where you fall on the political spectrum right now, I believe that we find ourselves in a moment of collective chaos the likes of which I have not known in my lifetime.

Things are not as they should be. Kids should not have to text their parents from a closet during lockdown, but they have. Teachers should not have to identify themselves as first responders, but now they do. Parents, you should not have to clutch a little at your throats when you drop your children off at school, hoping that you will pick them up again safely at the end of the day, and yet my hunch is that – at least at the back of your minds, at least a little bit – you do.

Churches should not have to be a space with a contingency plan for what if…but Mother Emmanuel, Charleston, and First Baptist, Southerland Springs, would teach us otherwise. I did not know this might be asked of me at the time of my ordination, but I know it in my bones now, that I would put my body between yours and a gun.

Keep us in our bodies, we pray. Keep us in our souls.

We inhabit a time of chaos. But take heart – because in the person of Jesus, God chose to come into the chaos we inhabit. Take heart, because God chose to take the same frail and fleshy form that we do, in order that God could be with us.

“He was speaking of the temple of his body,” the gospel tells us. And it’s true – his body was destroyed. Death is real. Still, our faith teaches us that it is not ultimate.

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” he said. And they did. And God did.

Keep us in our bodies, we pray. Keep us in our souls.