Port Perry Prince Albert Pastoral Charge
Sunday, January 10, 2021
Gospel Reading: Mark 1:1-13
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
What a crazy week! As we said in our greeting, it may be uncomfortable, even downright scary, to be out of normal routine, but it is okay. Jesus has been there and offers us a way that will sustain us through normal and not-so-normal times.
This Sunday is traditionally celebrated as the Baptism of Jesus. Baptism is a sacrament in the Christian church. That means that it is a ritual where, as God’s people, we create a holy moment with God so that our connection with God is deepened and sustained. Communion is another ritual along these lines.
Baptism has become a way to count yourself in as a part of the universal Christian church. When we are baptized, it is a way of saying, or a way of parents saying on our behalf, this is who I am, I am a follower of Jesus. If we were baptized as babies, then later we confirm for ourselves those intentions that were made by our parents or guardians, in a service of confirmation, saying: yes, this is who I am, I am a follower of Jesus, count me in!
A key element in the ritual of baptism is water. And a part of baptism is not just a blessing by water, but an understanding that this water is cleansing us, renewing us, as we seek to follow Jesus. Historically, baptism was a long-standing ritual in the Jewish faith where people would come to have their sins washed away in preparation for the arrival of the Messiah. Hence this connection of baptism with cleansing.
So, baptism is a cleansing, a renewal, and a way for us to publicly say who we are and who we intend to be in this world. Okay, so what is going on when Jesus was baptized by John in the river Jordan?
We have four gospels that tell the story of the earthly life of Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And all four mention the baptism of Jesus. When all four gospels mention something that Jesus did, we should take note. We should also take note if those accounts differ. And they do!
You know what else we should take note of or ask? Why is baptism a part of Jesus’ story? We spend an awful lot of time holding up Jesus as spotless, sin-free as it were. So why did he need to be baptized?
Actually, there is quite a bit of controversy around the baptism of Jesus and what it meant. Barbara Brown Taylor, in her sermon “The River of Life,” has spoken on this. She writes that the Christian church has never been comfortable with the baptism of Jesus. Take a look at the accounts of the baptism of Jesus in each of the four gospels, compare the accounts in each of the four gospels, and you cannot miss the un-ease of the authors. Scholars tell us that Matthew’s version of the baptism of Jesus is clearly an elaboration from the account of Jesus’ baptism in the gospel of Mark. In fact, Matthew used the gospel of Mark as one of his sources for his entire gospel. Here Matthew elaborates on Mark’s story by adding that John tried to talk Jesus out of being baptized. In the gospel of Luke, Luke will not even come out and say that it was John who did it. In fact, we could easily argue that Luke has John the Baptist in prison at the time of Jesus’ baptism. The fourth gospel is the most ticklish of all. In it, John bears witness that he saw the Spirit descend like a dove upon Jesus, but he does not mention anything about a baptism at all. Scholars say that all this unease and embarrassment is our surest proof that Jesus really was baptized by John, because, when someone tells you something that it is not in his best interest for you to know, then you can be reasonably sure that he is telling you the truth. The controversy exists because, if Jesus were baptized and his sins were forgiven, it would mean that Jesus, the divine and perfect one, might have had sins to be forgiven. And it appears that this notion of Jesus, the one who was also human, was too much for some of the authors of the gospels to bear. So Matthew has John trying to talk Jesus out of it. And Luke makes it unclear who baptized Jesus. Was it John? Did Jesus baptize himself? Luke doesn’t tell us. But I suspect that John the Baptist was the one who baptized Jesus and that Jesus took his place among the other sinners who gathered around John. Again, Barbara Brown Taylor says: even if (Jesus) were innocent, even if his intentions were nothing but good, this act would ruin his reputation. Who was going to believe that Jesus was there just because he cared about those people and refused to separate himself from them? Gossip being what it was, who was not going to think that Jesus must have had just a few things to get off his conscience before he went into public ministry?
Very interesting. There is a real-ness, a messiness, a humanness, about Jesus’ baptism that we don’t necessarily see elsewhere in the gospels. Jesus truly walked in our shoes. This in turn invites us, in our “real-ness”, our humanity, to consider this Jesus and what he might mean for our lives. I think that the clear indication in all four gospels that Jesus was indeed baptized explains why we still baptize today, why we still value this ritual. If it was something Jesus did, then perhaps we should do this too. When we are baptized, we are stepping into Jesus’ baptism and into Jesus’ life. We are becoming one with him and his story.
So, to sum up … it is curious that Jesus was baptized at all. Jesus was fully human. Jesus walked in our shoes. And so, in turn, we can follow in his footsteps!
Of course, there is another side to Jesus. Those who spent time with him during his earthly life, those who encountered him after his death, those who follow him today, again and again experience this awareness that, when they spend time with Jesus, they are spending time with God. In theological terms we say Jesus is fully human and fully divine.
I think that part of the reason we experience this is because Jesus lived and breathed the will of God. When you sit down and compare the different gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism, you will notice that Matthew’s account uniquely adds that while John was reluctant to baptize Jesus, that Jesus insisted in order to “fulfill all righteousness.” These are the first words that Jesus speaks in Matthew’s gospel. So, we should pay attention to them! Do this to “fulfill all righteousness.” What does that mean?
Righteousness means seeking and doing the will of God, and it is a major theme in Matthew’s gospel. From the outset of Jesus’ public ministry, Matthew makes it clear this was Jesus’ objective … to seek and to do the will of God.
If this meant not following in the footsteps of his earthly father Joseph, but instead leaving behind all that was familiar in his hometown and setting out on a journey which would make him completely dependent upon the mercy of God and the goodness of people he had never met, he would do it.
If doing God’s will meant reaching out to help those who were marginalized and speaking truth to power, he would do it.
If speaking on behalf of God meant upsetting religious leaders because he would expose their hypocrisy and deceit and call them to repent, he would do it.
If being faithful to God’s call upon his life meant dying on a cross, he would do it.
Jesus’ baptism was a symbol to himself and to all of us that he willing to take the journey that God would take if God walked among us. That is why the angels said that his name was to be called Immanuel, God with us. And this is why there are those amazing words: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
At his baptism, Jesus offered God all his time, talents, resources, and influence to be used to advance the kingdom and to make earth more like heaven. As Barbara Brown Taylor put it: “As Jesus yielded to the water in the Jordan and let it envelop him, so he yielded to the will of God and let it guide him. To fulfill all righteousness.” And God said, “Yes.”
So, to sum up. There is a profound humanness to Jesus that we need to take note of. And, the baptism of Jesus was about Jesus seeking and doing the will of God. Living and breathing the will of God.
So, when it comes to our baptism, we are stepping into Jesus’ baptism and into Jesus’ life. We are becoming one with him and his story. We are, on the one hand, acknowledging the messiness, the realness, of our lives, and at the same time we are saying that, like Jesus, we seek to align ourselves with the will of God in our lives and in the life of the world. We too wish to live and breathe the will of God. And what does God say to this, to us? God says, “Yes!”
I invite you now to turn to the bowl of water that you set aside earlier in this service. Consider that water in that bowl. Water that represents the waters of creation. Water that has the power to cleanse us and to renew us. I invite you to remember your baptism. Or if you have not been baptized, think of those times that you have felt particularly close to God. Think of the waters of baptism and take a moment to touch those waters and then touch your forehead with your wet hand. As you do this, know that Jesus meets you in this moment and you meet him. Together you walk this human existence, together seeking the will, the hopes and dreams of God. May you, like Jesus, be empowered to yield to God’s presence in your life. In this moment, may you feel the renewing power of God. May you hear and know God’s “Yes!”
Did you notice in our scripture reading that we didn’t end at the baptism of Jesus? We included what immediately happened after his baptism. After his baptism, Jesus is driven into the wilderness where he is tempted. Interesting. You’d think it would the other way around. I have struggled with my faith, I have come to a decision, and now I will be baptized. No. I seek a relationship with God, I wash myself clean to begin again, and then I am tempted! Clearly baptism isn’t a coronation into an easy Christian life, nor is it a graduation … there, I have arrived. Baptism is a beginning in the journey of following Christ, of our publicly admitted relationship with God. Yes, people this is what I am about. I am a Christian. I know it isn’t always going to be easy, but here I go.
The great Martin Luther, founder of our Protestant reform tradition wrote: All of life is baptism. We are always being submerged in darkness and chaos, the stuff of life that causes despair, but we are always reborn into new life through it all. All of life is baptism. It means that every painful moment that seems like a little death in our lives is also the moment of the outpouring of new life, the overflow of Jesus’ baptismal waters, the movement of the Holy Spirit. All of life is baptism means that God is always creating new possibilities out of the stuff that seems like a dead end. That is the way of our baptism. We are always on the verge of new life, no matter how dark our lives may feel. All of life is baptism. God is always hatching new life from the depths of darkness.
As we go into another week, let’s remember our baptism, let’s remember our commitment to following Jesus. Each time that we touch water as we go about our daily lives, during normal and not-so-normal times, may we be reminded of God’s plan for new life in our lives and in the life of this world. May that water become for you waters of grace. Waters that confirm that God has chosen you, walks with you, and calls you beloved. Amen.