Have you seen the recent movie “The Secret World of Walter Mitty”, starring Ben Stiller? (It’s always fun to watch actor/comedian Ben Stiller). It was in theatres last year, and these days you can catch it on Netflix or Red Box.
Now, don’t worry, I’m not going to divulge details in case you want to see this movie, and haven’t yet.
But I just want to say this: Walter Mitty, the central character, experiences a transformation of sorts.
The story of Walter Mitty is a transformation story, a story of transition, of stepping over the threshold …
…from death to life,
…from dullness and despair, to freshness and newness,
…from that which is constricting and narrowing, to that which opens up to abundant and expansive life.
Walter Mitty, for the longest time, has led a mundane, monotonous life, working in the basement of a magazine company processing photographs and film.
And to this point, he’s never been able to muster up the courage to try anything new, to vary his life in any way, or do something different.
He seems stuck. Stagnating.
But finally, prompted by a crisis at work, (he’s lost a valuable photographic film) Walter decides to break out of his “stuckness”, and sets off on an adventure to Iceland to try to find this lost photographic film, which then leads him to search for the photographer of this film in the Himalayan Mountains.
Walter travels the world searching for this lost film.
But the real transformation he begins to experience is his new-found ability to see with fresh eyes his ordinary world around him – at home and at work – and to be able to take some new, bold, courageous steps forward.
In the last scene of the movie, Walter is walking alongside a female co-worker he’s been pining over for the longest time.
And suddenly, he reaches out and takes her hand, and walks with her hand in hand.
Walter … courageously stepping over a new threshold, breaking open his world into new possibilities.
The setting in today’s Gospel reading takes place at a river – but not any river.
It’s a river that, in the history of the Hebrew people, has been a place of many “threshold stories”, a place where the people of God had experienced significant transitions and transformations from death, dullness and despair, to new, abundant and expansive life.
After forty years of wilderness wandering, Joshua finally stands on the shores of the Jordan River, the border of the land God had promised the Hebrew people.
And Joshua leads the Hebrews through the Jordan River, and into the Promised Land – into a new life, a new beginning for the Hebrew people.
The Jordan River is the site where the elder prophet Elijah hands over his mantle of leadership to the younger prophet Elisha in a dramatic scene where Elijah is taken up into the heavens, and Elisha is able to pass through the waters of the Jordan into a new life of prophetic leadership.
The army commander Naaman, who has a terrible skin disease, is told by the prophet Elijah to go into the Jordan River, and wash himself seven times, after which, he’s healed.
Threshold, transformative stories – from death to life, from illness to health, from sorrow to joy.
Today, Jesus, returns to his ancestral waters, to the Jordan River, to this sacred place for the Hebrew people gone before him, in order…
… to inaugurate a new beginning in his own life and ministry,
… to step over the threshold from his previous life of childhood and young adulthood growing up in Nazareth, into his new expansive life opening up before him,
… a life he knew God was calling him to, a life of self-giving love and compassion to the outsider, marginalized and rejected.
And then, do you remember the voice Jesus hears as he emerges from the baptismal waters?
The affirming, encouraging words of God from which Jesus will forever draw strength: “This is my son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
God points to Jesus.
And this is why today we want to pay attention to Jesus, to read and learn about him …
… his ministry among the suffering and marginalized,
… his immense compassion,
… and also his tenacity and directness in speaking the truth, uncovering falsehood,
… and calling people …
… to less fear and more trust,
… to less despair and more joy,
… to less arrogance and more mutual understanding and sympathy.
God points to Jesus as the person we should pay attention to, not only because in him we can get a better sense about who God really is, but also because through Jesus, we can experience our own process of transformation into greater abundant life.
If there’s one thing the scriptures make clear, it’s that the people of God need God. They can’t create, or experience transformation alone, by themselves.
This is no private, individual accomplishment.
Only with and relying upon the Spirit of God, and only while in the company of the faithful, surrounded by others, can we be ushered into new abundant life.
Notice that even in the story of Jesus baptism, Jesus doesn’t get baptized alone, by himself, in some individual ritual act.
He steps into the water, joining a long line with others, waiting to be baptized by John, embedded in a community of people.
Because, at the end of the day, it’s not about us, about individual accomplishment. It’s about God. It’s God who is working transformation in the world and in people’s hearts.
Just as it was God who first created light in the darkness at the dawn of creation, so too God continues to create and bring new life into existence, today!
And we’re called to consider how we together can join in, and participate in God’s unfolding creative work.
The Spirit of God is already let loose in the world:
Those who are homeless are finding shelter above their heads.
Those who struggle in old age are finding assistance and aid.
Those who are addicted, or who’ve lost a job, are finding sanity, stability, and support in a group of caring friends.
Syrian refugees fleeing death and destruction, are finding friendly and helpful friends in Canada to help them settle in comfortably in new and safe neighbourhoods.
Joyful, transformative, threshold moments are happening all around us today.
The question is:
How might we continue to open ourselves to the expansive Spirit of God in us and around us…
… so that, like Walter Mitty, we might courageously reach out our hand, and take hold of the hands of others…
…and in so doing, participate in the unfolding, transforming work of God?