Mark 1:4-11 (CEB)
John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”
Baptism of the Lord
January 13-14, 2018
“Come on in, the Water’s Fine”
As we enter into today’s scripture in the Gospel of Mark, things are moving quickly in the life of Jesus. Just last week, we heard the Epiphany story of the Magi following the star until they found the Christ child, who was somewhere around two-years-old.
In our Gospel story, Jesus is now a grown man just beginning his ministry and is probably around 30-years-old. So, we have taken a near 28-year leap in the life of Jesus since last week. And, part of that is simply because there are not a lot of stories of Jesus growing up.
Remember in the Gospel of Mark, there is no story of the birth of Jesus, no infant Jesus, no shepherds, no angels and no Magi bearing gifts. The writer of Mark’s gospel jumps into the good news of Jesus with baptism.
When you hear this passage and it sounds familiar, you’re right and you’ve been paying attention. This Gospel reading takes us back to the Lectionary reading from the second weekend of Advent. So, five weeks later we find ourselves back in the wilderness with gruff, crusty John the Baptist clothed in camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey.
The difference on this side of Christmas is that we keep reading and we hear about the baptism of Jesus and remember our own Baptism.
(Read Mark 1:4-11)
When we think about water, we realize that since the beginning of time, water can bring destruction and water can bring life.
We think of the Biblical flood waters that destroyed life on the earth…Then we are told in our baptismal liturgy that, “In the fullness of time God sent Jesus nurtured in the water of a womb.”
We think of the destructive flood waters after a devastating hurricane season this past year in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico…Then, for good health and life we are told to drink eight glass of water a day.
We think of how often farmers wait and pray for rain to quench their drought-stricken fields…Then we realize that water is one of the commodities we control by sprinkling our lawns in measured amounts at prescribed times.
We think of water hoses turned on people of color in the 1960’s as a means of control…Then we realize how quickly we can regain control of our hectic lives by sitting on a beach alongside the water.
Even though we may not think about our baptism all that often, today we are thinking of the water of baptism. If you take anything away from worship today, I hope you take the understanding that the baptismal water of God’s grace has no boundaries or barriers.
It is the same water that has sustained life since the dawn of creation; the same water that baptized Jesus; and the same water that initiates us into the Christian faith and the body of Christ.
One author says that Baptism is the great equalizer. Not in the sense that it reduces us all to the least common denominator, but rather baptism equalizes us all as children of God…makes us all one family in Christ, whether we know each other well, are only acquaintances, or will never have an opportunity to meet each other.
Baptism marked a new beginning for Jesus and baptism marks a new beginning for us as well. Today is a day in the life of the Church when we celebrate the baptism of Jesus, and a day we will hear the words, “Remember your baptism and be thankful.”
Do you remember your baptism? You may not remember the actual act of being baptized if you were baptized as an infant, but have there been those in your life that have told you about that day?
Or, if baptism has not been part of your journey of faith yet, do you remember the first time you realized that God was involved in your life? Do you remember the first time you felt God’s grace and realized that God loves you, just as you are?
The meaning behind remembering our baptism is not to necessarily remember the day the pastor held you in her arms and put water on your head, or when the pastor might have fully immersed you in the water to baptize you…But it is to remember that you are baptized and to reaffirm your baptismal vows.
Just as it was for Jesus, baptism for us is a sign and celebration of God’s grace. When we are touched with the water of baptism and when we touch that water again and again, Christ’s ministry and mission of faithfulness, compassion, peace and justice becomes our ministry and mission too.
Our baptism becomes our identity with Christ. It is a reminder of who we are and whose we are and how we are called to live and represent Christ to the world.
In baptism, the recipient of baptism is just that; a recipient. The action going on in baptism is the action of God. Our Gospel scripture is clear that it is God who is acting in the baptism and the ministry of Jesus. Just as John the Baptist consented to God’s action and baptized Jesus, when we take the vows of baptism for ourselves or on behalf of our children, we are consenting to and celebrating God’s action in our lives.
Retired United Methodist Bishop Wil Willimon says that part of our present trouble with baptism and with living as Christians, is that we have misplaced the action of baptism. Like almost everything else in the world, we have placed more emphasis on human action and less on the action of God.
We tend to forget that we are who we are by God’s grace and in baptism, God is the lead actor and we are simply the responders to God’s loving act.
Someone once asked me if she could take back her baptism. She said she didn’t choose to be baptized…it was something their parents decided upon. She decided in adulthood that she didn’t believe in God, so she wondered if there was some way to take back her baptism.
I said no…you have been baptized. You don’t have to accept it, but you cannot deny it. Which means that you may choose not to believe in God, but God has chosen to love you, and that won’t change.
When we are baptized, it’s as if we are sealed by the voice Jesus heard when he came out of the water of the Jordan River that told him he was dearly loved. That voice of God is a very important voice that continually tells us as the prophet Isaiah reminds us, that, “I have redeemed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. I will be with you. You shall not be overwhelmed. Do not fear, for I am with you.”
The tricky part is that we have to listen for that voice. Sometimes it is not a very loud voice because it’s an intimate, often still, small voice. It comes from a very deep place. Other times, it is a voice that can encourage us and pull the best out of us.
Some years ago, theologian and author Jim Wallis preached at Ebeneezer Baptist Church on the first year that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was a national day of honoring and remembering.
Jim Wallis recalls being so overwhelmed when he stepped into the pulpit, knowing that Martin Luther King, Jr. had so many times preached from there.
So he began by saying, “What a wonderful day this is”…Then he went on saying, “In remembering Dr. King we can find hope…” and down in the front pew came a voice that said, “Come on, preacher.”
Jim Wallis paused and then continued with a bit more strength and volume. Next he heard, “Help him Lord, help him.”
I was almost sounding eloquent, Jim Wallis said. Then I heard, “You’re not there yet…come on, preacher.”
As he continued, he heard a few “Amen’s” from the front pew.
After the service, Jim Wallis went directly to Deacon Johnson who was seated in the front pew, in what was known as the Amen Corner. Jim Wallis said to him, “Thank you so much. You just pulled it out of me!” To which Deacon Johnson said, “That’s alright. I’ve raised up many a preacher in my time.”
We all need an “Amen Corner.”
When we baptize someone, whether it’s an infant, a child, a teenage, or an adult, we are giving them an “Amen” corner. We are promising to be the voice of encouragement that helps pull the best out from them. We are promising to raise them up and give them a place to call home.
As children of God we are called to listen to the Amen corner. By our baptism, we are called to hear that voice and to claim for ourselves that the voice speaks the truth; our truth.
It tells us that we are washed by the same water and that we are the beloved of God. It says to us, “Come on in, the water’s fine!”
This is the good news of God this day…Can I get an “Amen?”
Thanks be to God. Amen.