Some Thoughts on Starting Over. Again.

I freely admit that, along with the rest of the world, I stood in line to join the gym last week. I could offer many (valid, in my opinion) explanations for why I didn’t join the gym in, say, July of last year, but I’ll save the excuses for later in the year (when I suspect I’ll really need them).

I hate to be so cliché as joining the gym the first week of January, but it’s a new year, fresh start and all of that. It seems natural with the turn of the calendar, to think about this ever-ongoing human process of becoming, of trying to actually live into the best expression of our individual humanity.

Have you ever noticed that every year this new-year-resolution-starting-over theme intersects with the lectionary Sunday where we read about and remember the baptism of Jesus? I don’t know whose idea that was, but it struck me this year that, from a spiritual standpoint, that’s a pretty powerful overlap.

Observe: As each one of us turns the calendar to a new year, grimaces with chagrin at what we have not become in the old, and — if we’re brave — begins to imagine again what our best selves might be, we’re accompanied by Jesus, who is kind of making a new year’s resolution, too.

Along with all the rest of the folks in Jerusalem and across the Judean countryside, Jesus traipses out to the river to stand in line and get dunked by John — a new start, a courageous beginning, a powerful act of hope.

new-years-resolutionI have to think that Jesus didn’t do that because he was smugly following a formula for becoming the Savior of the world, as he always knew he would be, and didn’t have one hesitation or fear about who he was or whether he could accomplish the task ahead of him.

I think it was probably something more like: I think this is what I’m supposed to do. I’m not sure how, exactly. Heck, I don’t even know if I can. But it’s a new day — and, if the process of becoming who I was meant to be has any chance of happening at all, well, I have to start somewhere.

So that’s what he did — stood in line on the muddy banks of the river and took his turn getting dunked. The text says what followed was a naming, a blessing: the heavens opening up and God’s voice speaking louder than all the doubts and fears and even excuses, reminding Jesus who he was meant to be. I’d also like to think that in the days that followed, when throwing in the towel became the obvious next step, that the memory of that blessing got him through.

I did not, actually, hear the voice of God when I joined the gym last week. But I did have the thought that the God who animates our lives is a God who is always inviting new beginnings, even after repeated failure: get up, try again, start over, I want you to live into the best expression of who I created you to be.

I don’t know if this theological reflection will help in the weeks ahead, but it’s a new year, so I’m thinking it’s worth starting again.


This essay was published first at Baptist News Global.

5 Comments on “Some Thoughts on Starting Over. Again.

  1. Thank you so much, Rev. Amy. For me, as I crossed over into the new year, I also crossed over into a new decade of my life — one of those milestone ages. Needless to say, I have mixed emotions — regrets for all that I have not been able to accomplish, but thankfulness for all that I have managed to accomplish. In listening to your sermon on Sunday, I came in touch with the desire to revisit the scene of my Baptisms, and reach out to God for a fresh touch. Thanks.

  2. Thank you for your insights! Come check out
    Blessings on your new beginning!

  3. I offer a more extended comment on this piece and also on your sermon from Jan. 11 on Mark 1:4-11. I’m so glad you opted for the second alternative here–not that Jesus “smugly” knew his identity but that he had to struggle to work out his identity and mission (like the rest of us, in fear and trembling).
    Marcus Borg says that one of the two conclusions of the Jesus Seminar that was virtually unanimous was that the pre-Easter Jesus (Jesus as a figure of history before his death) did not think of himself as the Messiah or the Son of God in some special sense. His whole message was not about believing in him but pointed away from himself to God.
    So, presumably, like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he had to wrestle with his identity, his mission and its outcome until the very end. It was an evolving thing. Presumably, Jesus thought of himself as leading a poor peasants’ movement against the Jewish establishment and the power of Rome. And, perhaps like King, he was wrestling with his own fate as leader of that movement up until the very end. And somehow he found the courage at that moment to persist in his mission, as did Dr. King.
    In your sermon on Jan. 11 you bring out the crucial connection between knowing our identity and finding the power to change the status quo. Thank you for doing that. You tell us, like Ben Hooper and like Jesus, that we need to know who we are if we are to change the world. “We are all children of God, and that’s quite an inheritance. Go and claim it.” That may take a lifetime to work out, but those words I need to hear–thank you for being pastor to us and bringing the Jesus story with its healing power into our lives.

  4. Reverend Dr. Butler, nor did I hear the voice of Jesus when I proceeded (the first of January, of course), to AGAIN declare I’m sticking with my diet this time, but I did hear the voice of Dr. Greenlee who said to me “you’re treading in dangerous waters, if you don’t give serious consideration to dropping several pounds.” Well, for one who has never had a love for the deep waters, even though I can swim a bit, I am committed to really sticking to my diet, not just to say I stuck to it, but to say, “hey, God speaks to us through our doctors, and with a multitude of physical (and some mental) problems, I am determined that when my arms and legs (and, of course the stomach) gets “water logged” AGAIN, I’ll keep on swimming until I get it right!


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