Acts 19:1-7 Mk 1:4-11
NEED Three PIECES OF PAPER
For the last several weeks, baptism has been very much on my mind.
That is, of course, because my grandson Thomas was baptized last week.
And, as an added blessing, I got to preach at his church the day he was baptized.
So I'm very happy to have the theme of baptism continued on this day, the first Sunday after the Epiphany, the Sunday when we remember the baptism of our Lord.
Before I start talking about the Gospel story we heard today, the story of Jesus' baptism from Mark's Gospel, I'd like to hear what YOU have to say about it.
No fair peeking at the Gospel reading in your bulletin…let's see what you all can remember about it.
What do you want him or her to know about the baptism? Who wants to start?
Thank you so much!
If I ever hear any of you saying that you don't know how to share your faith or talk about Jesus, I'm going to remind you of this day because I think you did a pretty darn good job.
This is an important story for us to remember and a great way for us to share the Good News of Christ.
In fact, the great theologian, Karl Barth, says that this story of God's claiming of Jesus summarizes the essence of the gospel: "The astonishing claim that God does not will to remain hidden in the heights of heaven but descends to the depths of earthly life in order to be seen and heard by us."
By the way, since we're speaking of baptism today, your ability to tell this story addresses one of the promises in the baptismal covenant: to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.
For, when we look at the story of Jesus' baptism, we are, of course, challenged to think, not only about the meaning of his baptism, but also about the meaning of our own baptism.
Obviously, there is some difference between the two.
Part of the point of being baptized for us is to be cleansed from our sins.
And, unlike us, Jesus didn't have any sins from which he needed to be cleansed.
Another important part is for us to be adopted as God's beloved children.
Jesus was, of course, from his birth, already God's beloved Son so he didn't need to be adopted by God.
But Jesus' baptism still served an important function as the first place where he was openly proclaimed to be the Son of God when the Spirit came down like a dove after Jesus' baptism.
For much of his ministry on earth, people, even Jesus' own disciples, struggled to understand who he really was.
In fact, in Mark's Gospel, it's not till Jesus is hanging on the cross, right after he dies, that someone (in this case a Roman centurian) again affirms Jesus as God's Son when he says, "Truly this man was God's Son."
There's also another important and unique aspect of the story of Jesus' baptism as told in Mark's Gospel, and this has implications for our baptism as well.
In the other two synoptic Gospels where we hear the story, Matthew and Luke, when it describes the coming of the Spirit, it merely says that the heavens were opened.
Here in Mark's Gospel, we hear that the heavens were "torn apart."
"Torn apart." That's a pretty powerful image.
While I love the Gospel song we sang today about "the murmur of the dove's song," I think it's important for us to remember other words from that song as well: "the vigor of the wind's rush" and the "new flames eager might."
In fact, even these words are probably not strong enough for the powerful and even violent image of the heavens being torn apart.
When something is opened, there's always the possibility of its being closed again.
But when something is torn apart, that means that it can never truly be closed again like it was before. DEMONSTRATE WITH TWO PIECES OF PAPER
This means that Jesus' baptism --and indeed our own baptism-- represents a break with the past.
In a sense, nothing can ever be the same.
We see this in Mark's Gospel.
The next verse after today's reading from Mark tells us: "And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness."
From the wilderness, Jesus entered into his difficult and costly ministry, a ministry of proclaiming the Kingdom of God, of healing brokenness, of treating all people as worthy of God's love, and of bringing about justice.
In Jesus' case, this ministry to which he was sent by the Spirit led eventually to his death.
All this reminds us that baptism is not for sissies.
We love to be reminded that we are God's beloved children, but we need to remember that this blessing comes with an assignment.
Just as Jesus was sent by the Spirit, we too are sent from our baptism out into the world, where we are called to continue Jesus' work.
In a very real sense, this happens to us every week.
We come to church to be filled and renewed by the Spirit, and then we are driven out into the world where our real work as Christ's disciples is to be found.
It is the work of resisting evil and repenting whenever we've fallen into sin. PAUSE.
What kind of evil do you need to resist or repent from right now?
It is the work of proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. PAUSE.
Who needs to hear that Good News from you now?
It is the work of seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself. PAUSE
Who is the neighbor who especially needs your love right now?
And it it’s the work of striving for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being. PAUSE
In what ways are you called to strive for justice and peace right now?
We have been called to follow Christ.
The heavens have been torn apart. (TEAR PAPER)
There's no turning back!
I invite you all to turn to p. 304 in the BCP and join in the Baptismal Covenant, which will replace our Nicene Creed for today. READ COVENANT TOGETHER.
And now I want to say the blessing over the water used for baptism, slightly revised:
We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water.
Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation.
Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life.
We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit. Therefore in joyful obedience to your Son, we bring into his fellowship those who come to him in faith, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Now sanctify this water, we pray you, by the power of your Holy Spirit, that those who here renew their vows may continue for ever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Savior. To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit be all honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
Now I invite all who would like to come up to come and put your hand in the water.
Touch your forehead with the water as a reminder of your baptism. You may make the sign of the cross if you wish.
If you've not yet been baptized, you can still come so this can serve as a time to reflect on what it would mean to be baptized
As you come, I will remind you that you are God’s beloved child, empowered by the Spirit for the work God is calling you to do.
_____, you are God’s beloved ______; with you, God is well pleased.
(Ask someone to say it for me.)
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit, you have bestowed on these your servants the forgiveness of sin, and have raised us to the new life of grace.
Sustain us, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give us an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen.