Dying — So We Can Live

1 Peter 3: (13-17)18-22     First Sunday in Lent     February 18, 2018


What needs to die in you?

What in you needs to be drowned each day, so that a new person can come forth daily and rise up to live before God?

What attachment – to safety and security, or to power and control, or to the need for esteem and affection – do you need to die to, so the joyous person that God wants you to be can rise up?

These are questions for your prayer during your journey through Lent.  I’m talking about Lent as a journey into joy!  But that can only happen if we die to our attachments and our addictions that block God’s love and healing and salvation.

The fundamental theme of our Christian faith is this: dying, and rising to live.  This is the cross and resurrection.  This is Good Friday and Easter.  This  is the destination of our journey through this season of Lent.

Now.  How do these ideas and words become what we experience: this salvation and healing?  How does God open you and me to God’s deep, deep love for us, now, in this life?

Do you have a hard time actually receiving God’s love? My own confession is not a new one.  Many of you have heard me say this.  My ego, my false self, tells me that it is up to me.[1]  And if it is up to me, then I cannot allow God to be God!  And if I am in performance mode, then I cannot rest in God’s grace.  For me, it is my attachment, my addiction, even, to my overbearing sense of responsibility that holds me in a death grip.  (And I mean “death grip” literally!  It is deadening.)  I need to die to this – so I can live in the joy of the resurrection.

But this is hard!  That’s because I have always been rewarded for the way I do my work!  Others know that I will take it on, that I will handle it, that I will do it well.  I am afraid of letting go of all that, because I am afraid that you won’t think as highly of me.  I’m afraid that I won’t think as highly of myself!

Do you hear what is motivating me here?  It’s fear, isn’t it?  Fear of judgment!  It’s the impossible standards that I hold myself to!  Now: is any of this my true self?  Or is it my false self, my ego-driven self?

What about you?  Here’s a way to measure this: Are you full of energy?  Or are you exhausted?

“No one likes to die to who they think they are,” Richard Rohr writes.  “Their ‘false self’ is all they have…Letting go is not in anybody’s program for happiness, and yet all mature spirituality…is about letting go and unlearning.”[2]  Only then can we allow God to love us into our true selves,[3] the people God desires us to be in God’s deep, deep love for us.

What is your confession?  What needs to die in you – so you can live in the joy that God desires for you – resurrection joy?

What is your attachment?  Is it your addiction to safety and your aversion to risk that your false self keeps telling you that you must maintain?  Or, is it your attachment to control and your aversion letting go?  Or, are you addicted to worrying about what others think and your fear of being who you actually are?

It is our egos, you see, our false selves that tell us we must always be safe and always in control and always worrying about what others think.  It is our false selves that block God’s desire to love us into our true selves, the people God has created us to be.  I’m talking about dying to ourselves – so we can live as God desires us to live, in joy, in resurrection joy.

This is a Lenten theme because it is a baptismal theme.  See if you remember Luther’s words, in the Small Catechism:  baptism “signifies that the old person in us with all sins and evil desires is to be drowned and die through daily sorrow for sin and through repentance, and on the other hand that daily a new person is to come forth and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”  It is the daily process of drowning the old person in us – our ego-driven, false selves – so that a new person – our true selves as God created us to be – can rise up to live before God in the joy God desires for us.

Did you notice how prominent water is, in all three of our readings on this first Sunday of our Lenten journey?  It is water that drowns, and water that saves.  In the story from Mark: And just as [Jesus] was coming up out of the water of his baptism, he receives the Holy Spirit, and he hears the voice commissioning him to do the work the Father has sent him to do.[4]   In Genesis, here at the conclusion to the story of Noah and the flood,[5] God has drowned all living things with water, save Noah and his immediate family and the animals with them on the ark.  Do you get the idea that God is horrified by what God has done?  Look: God creates the rainbow to remind God never to drown the world again in such a flood!  God establishes the rainbow to be “the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”  After drowning the old, God creates something new!

And then the obscure passage from the obscure First Letter of Peter.  Here is some depth to what has caught my attention this morning.  Listen to the verses immediately before this morning’s reading: the author describes the work we are baptized to do, in imitation of the work Christ was baptized to do.  Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?  But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed.  Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord.  Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.  Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.  For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. 

Now, today’s reading: For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.  He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit,  in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison,  who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.  And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

It is baptism that saves us.  It is the day by day the drowning of the old person within us: our self-centered egos; our frightened, overly-responsible false selves – so that a new person, our true selves, can rise up and live before God in the joy God desires for us.

Wouldn’t this drowning of our false selves be good practice for Lent, in repentance, returning to “how God actually loves the world into wholeness?”[6]  Imagine using “Lent” and “joy” in the same sentence!  What needs to be drowned in you, so that your true self can rise up out of the water?  What in you needs to die so you can live?

What are you projecting upon others, from your own hurts and compulsions and anxiety?  Are you seeing what is?  Or are you only seeing who you are?  What are your assumptions and expectations and predispositions that prevent you from seeing and hearing what God is doing?  What is your attachment and even addiction to fear and control that makes you averse to letting go?

I would suggest these questions for your prayer during our Lenten journey to Good Friday and Easter, to Christ’s death and resurrection.

What might emerge from your prayer as a Lenten discipline or two by which God could drown the old person in you so that the new person can arise to live before God in the joy God desires for us?  What might be a Lenten practice that will open you up to that joy?

Might it be taking a break at lunch to go for a walk – not looking at your phone, or with ear buds in, but paying attention to the blessings of the day?  Might it be protecting an hour during the afternoon to read fiction – turning away from the “to do” list for a short while?

How will you allow the old person to be drowned every day?  How will you die to your ego-driven false self, so you can live in the joy God desires for you and me?

We, in this community, can provide support and accountability for each other.

Blessings to you on your journey through Lent – towards Good Friday and Easter.  Let me know if I can be of any help.

In the name of God who is Father and Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.



Pastor Andy Ballentine

[1] If you want to explore further the concepts of your “true self,” as God created you to be, and your “false self,” when you are driven by your ego, here are two important books written by two Roman Catholics.  Thomas Merton introduced this idea into Christian theology in New Seeds of Contemplation.  For our generation, Richard Rohr has built upon this in The Immortal Diamond.

[2] Richard Rohr, Breathing Underwater: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Cincinnati, Ohio: Franciscan Media, 2011), page 6

[3] To use one of Rohr’s phrases.

[4] This morning’s Gospel Reading is Mark 1:9-15.

[5] This morning’s First Reading is Genesis 9:8-17

[6] Richard Rohr, Breathing Underwater, op cit., page xvii

About Pastor Andy Ballentine

Pastor Andy Ballentine retired in July 2019 after 40 years of ordained ministry. He loved serving as a parish pastor! Pastor Ballentine took his BA degree from the University of Virginia (with a major in sociology) and earned the Master of Divinity degree at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He earned the Master of Sacred Theology degree at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, with the thesis topic of: "How Benedictine Monastic Spirituality Nourishes Parish Ministry." He has completed the program of Spiritual Direction from the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. In the Virginia Synod, Pastor Ballentine has served as Dean of the Peninsula Conference and as chaplain to the candidates in the Virginia Synod’s Candidacy process (those on the way to being approved for ordained and professional ministries in the church). He has staffed many, many Virginia Synod youth events!