There is a great family movie that came out about 10 or so years ago. It’s called The Lion King. If you haven’t seen it or haven’t seen it recently I really commend it to you. It is layered with spiritual and religious themes.
In it, a very young lion named Simba encounters a tragedy where his father the king dies. He blames himself and casts himself out of lion society. He grows up in the company of some fun but unstructured friends who really don’t understand what it means for him to be the son of the now deceased king. The motto he learns from these friends is “hakuna matata,” which I take to mean something like, “no worries- live for yourself.” They have a lot of fun together.
But in Simba’s absence, bad things start happening back in his home. Without him, there is no good heir to the throne. The lion society slips into ruin. The balance of life has been altered while the new king has centered life around his own needs. Food has run out because he has not maintained the delicate balance of life in the ecosystem. The kingdom is failing. Several years into this horrible situation, a childhood friend of Simba’s strikes out to find a solution to the problem.
She encounters Simba, living a life of “hakuna matata.” She asks him to return to restore order to the kingdom. He refuses, believing he is not competent enough, and saying that hakuna matata is more important. She becomes angry and leaves to try and do something herself.
The priestly figure in the movie, who just happens to be a monkey– isn’t that just fitting? Anyway- the monkey runs into Simba as he is struggling with the identity he was born into as an heir to the throne being a part of such an interconnected community and the life he has become accustomed to, a life of leisure and hakuna matata and living only for himself.
The monkey leads him to the shimmering waters of a pond, and tells him to look in. At first, he can only see himself. But the monkey-priest says, “look harder, he lives within you.” When Simba looks closer, he hears the voice of his father, “Simba, you have forgotten who you are, you are more than you have become, Remember who you are…”
Simba realizes in that moment that he has not been living into his true self. He realizes that hakuna matata is not who he was made to be. He understands that the thriving community of home, of interconnectedness, even if it brings struggle, is where he belongs. And he leaves, to help restore it to all it was and can be.
So it is with the waters of baptism for us as we celebrate the Feast of Our Lord’s Baptism today. We forget who we are, don’t we? The false self comes in and feeds us lies about how we can be satisfied living in something other than our true identity as God made us. For Simba, the false self told him he was inadequate. I suppose we all know where the voice of our false self mislead us.
But the waters of baptism are here to remind us of the truth. They echo the very waters of creation in the Genesis story: where God’s love was so big that it couldn’t be contained and God’s love breathed over the waters bringing them to life with light. And God said, “This is good.”
Even in the scientific version of the story, the atoms exploded, and the stardust at that moment now inhabits our very bodies, making up the water that keeps our bodies alive. And something about that is very good.
Water is core to our story. Water calls us back to beginnings before we forgot, before we got off the path chasing false promises. Water calls us back to remind us, “you are good. You are very good. There is a real path here for you that feeds and sustains that goodness, that part of you that longs to be free.” Water is the outward and visible sign of baptism; the sacrament that re-births us into the real us; the new creation of God in Jesus Christ.
In that sacrament we are called back– just like Simba we can see in the shimmering waters a mirror of our true selves so that all else can fall away. Who is it we were made to be? Baptism deepens our journey with Christ towards love of all people; interconnectedness with the whole world, and our commitment not to retreat into the false self. In fact, we say that we die to that false self and give birth to the new self; the self that proceeds from Christ.
In our baptism, we are joined into the very baptism of Christ. The false self looks for ways to soothe and comfort that ultimately fail. Simba’s journey into Hakuna Matata didn’t leave him satisfied but always looking for more ways to find extreme thrills. In baptism, though, we are called to our most authentic selves. In baptism, we are named as the very beloved of God. Come back and remember: you are beloved, with whom God is well pleased.
Baptism is recognition of your identity. It is freedom to live fully in the world. It is finding of new life in Christ Jesus so that we can co-create with God, participating fully in the restoration of the world. Simba found new life and brought his tribe back to harmony. How does your new life- your reaffirmation of your Baptismal vows that we will say in a few minutes- How does that identity call you to participate in the community around you?
The Rev. Canon Jeff Martinhauk
Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 1. Ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 2010.