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January 8, 2006 (The Baptism of Our Lord)
Intern Pastor Joshua Graber
Genesis 1:1-5, Mark 1:4-11
Grace and peace to you from God our Loving Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, whose baptism we celebrate this day. Amen.
It’s a good day—an opportunity for all of us to also celebrate and announce the Good News of God’s loving presence and purpose in our lives, through each of our baptisms.
As we remember the power and drama of the baptismal event, it is fitting that our text today is from the Gospel of Mark, a gospel that many scholars believe was meant to be performed in front of an audience. Even today people perform the Gospel of Mark dramatically and perhaps some of you have seen such a performance.
Usually when we see a story performed dramatically, it is in a play or a movie, and those in the audience enjoy a certain separation from the story being performed. It is being presented for the audience’s entertainment. As audience members, rarely do we see a performance that directly affects our lives. But this drama of the Baptism of Jesus is different. It is not just a story that we enjoy as we would a play, sitting in our seat, applauding at its conclusion, and then going home.
This drama of the baptism of Christ, plays out in each of our lives everyday. It is an interactive performance.
But how exactly does our own baptism connect with the baptism of our Lord we celebrate today?
Understanding the Gospel of Mark as a dramatic performance such as a play may help us understand that better. Because if we see our text for today like a play, we can be introduced to its cast of characters as the story is told. Through this exercise we may gain a better understanding of this event and the character of baptism itself.
Here in this brief text we meet John the Baptist, his followers in the desert, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Creator, and as we will see....you also are a character in this story. Let’s meet this cast of characters, and see where we fit in.
First there’s John the Baptist—a person who by all accounts was “A Character.” John was someone who would definitely stand out in a crowd.
They also called John an evangelist. But not the type of evangelist we see on TV, today. I don’t think you’d ever see Pat Robertson in a camel hair coat like we hear John wore.
Maybe you think camel hair is some type of exotic and soft fabric. Well think again! It was designed to be uncomfortable, each hair pricked John’s skin like a mosquito bite.
Hardly the type of outfit you’d see on Billy Graham or the good folks at the Trinity Broadcasting Network.
John the Baptist seems to have had no intention of being “mainstream” the way (these) evangelists do today. He was not going out of his way to reach the widest audience possible. If John were alive today, I doubt his sermons would be broadcast from a Crystal Cathedral in Orange County. He was from the backwater, and that’s where people found him. This is a guy who lived in the wilderness and preached at the edge of the Jordan River, and who survived on a diet of bugs and wild honey.
(If any of you have made a diet a part your New Year’s resolution, maybe you should give John’s diet a try! I’m pretty sure it would be considered low-carb! Might be worth a shot.)
John’s message was not meant to be attractive to the average person who felt they were doing pretty well. He was offensive to these folks. How would you like it if an evangelist called you a “bunch of snakes”?
That’s John’s opening line in the Gospel of Luke. Not particularly enticing if you’re an evangelist trying to bring in as many people as possible or get into as many checkbooks as possible. And equally disquieting for the mainstream audience—who might be looking for a quick fix to their problems or something they can simply add to their life to make it better and more Godly—John does not say he has the answers but says that he is waiting for another and that the preparation for this other is no easy answer but a stripping away of what you probably hold most dear in your life through a solemn repentance.
So who is the crowd that gathers around this eccentric character? What type of people would be attracted to this message? Who are these characters who would come to listen to a man who would not be allowed behind a pulpit in this day and age and who you would most likely have to visit in a psych ward if you wanted to hear his brand of wisdom?
The people were probably not the ones doing swimmingly in the mainstream. The people around John were the ones desperate enough to go into the wilderness to hear the voice of one who the world would say was crazy.
They were people willing to hear themselves called snakes. Stripped of their outward pride in themselves, they were the people that knew they needed help—and that were actively seeking help even from someone as crazy as John the Baptist. Do you know anybody like that? Have you ever been looking for a John in the Desert in your life?
I think the people around John knew they needed an external voice of salvation to enter their lives, because they probably hadn’t been able to do it on their own. And John was preaching that gospel, the gospel of one who was to come.
When Jesus enters this plot line, he is not a handsome leading man who arrives with a puff of smoke from a secret door in the stage. The show does not stop with his arrival.
According to Mark, he seems to simply be a face in the crowd.
It’s hard for us to imagine Jesus as ever being anonymous—as ever not standing out in a crowd.
After all, the images we have seen of Jesus in paintings or in films about the life of Christ are hardly pictures of someone who could blend in amidst a crowd of dusty folks in the middle of the desert.
The Jesus of popular Christian culture seems to always be the best looking person in the crowd. He has a certain glow about him. And while we believe he was a sinless human being, these images we see of Jesus seem to be telling us that his facial features and grooming were also without flaw.
How could someone like this be anonymous in any crowd? And yet, in Mark, Jesus seems to be presented as one of the many being baptized. Jesus to the objective observer is just another face in the crowd.
Though in the introduction of Mark’s gospel we are told that “This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus’ identity is not actually revealed within the story until the Spirit shows up to join him.
And how does the Spirit appear? What form does she take? Does she enter stage left? Does she enter stage right?
No, she is a part of the most dramatic entrance, the heavens are torn apart and the Spirit descends floating, fluttering down from above like a bird settling on a perch.
This is in character with the Spirit; as we are reminded in our Old Testament lesson today, she was the wind that swept over the waters at the beginning of creation when the day and night were formed. And here, in this baptism, is this divine power uniting with this person that looks like an ordinary man, a face in the crowd.
And then comes a voice from above, from off-stage somewhere, or through hidden loudspeakers: “You are my Son, the beloved, with whom, I am well pleased.”
That’s pretty dramatic. In Scripture you will not find any specific mention of the word “Trinity.” But here at Jesus’ baptism they all show up! We have the Son Jesus, God and Man; we have the Spirit descending on him; and we have the voice of God the Creator from above, claiming and blessing him.
Here in Mark we have the Trinitarian God dramatically revealing itself within human history right at the beginning of the story. Presenting itself to the world through Jesus’ baptism.
In Mark this happens under the backdrop of the heavens torn apart. In Mark God does not enter the scene merely through a door that can be shut just as easily as it was opened.
God enters our world, our lives, through an entrance that is torn apart—an entrance that will remain open.
This is the beginning of something new through Jesus. This is the start of a new type of relationship with God, one we celebrate in our Christian baptisms.
How does this happen? How is our baptism connected to the baptism of Christ 2000 years ago? How do you become a character in this story?
First, this happens because we believe that the three persons of the Trinity that showed up at Jesus’ baptism show up at every baptism, to celebrate this event.
And then there is this common connection through this simple element of Water, which seems so innocent but is so powerful when added to the promise of the Holy Spirit.
We know that, given time, water can dig a path through the hardest of rocks. With the waters of baptism we are promised that the Spirit is working in the same way even in what seem to be the hardest of hearts.
This meeting with water is also a meeting with Christ which brings us to our knees, drowns our old self, and raises us up in new life—new life in Christ. And we know that Christ will not quit on anyone he loves. As we will be reminded in the baptismal rites we celebrate today, it is in this baptism that we are united with Christ’s death and resurrection as we die to ourselves and are raised in Christ.
And this is not only a historical event. It is a lifelong event. As we live our lives as Christians, daily we are brought back to this dying and raising. We are still in the waters of baptism.
As Jesus stepped into the waters of the Jordan 2000 years ago, Jesus also steps into our lives and our community today.
In baptism God claims us as he did Jesus. We are pulled out of the waters of despair and into relationship with God as valued forgiven children, born anew to God’s purposes for us in this world.
And as Jesus’ baptism was an announcement of God’s purposes for Jesus, our baptisms are an announcement of the good news of God’s presence and purpose for our lives.
Christ’s baptism and our baptisms are not just historical events. In baptism we find our place and direction in this world.
This story of Christ’s baptism is dramatic. But what makes it most dramatic is that through its interactive nature, we are included in this drama of God stepping into our lives. We are characters in the story along with John the Baptist and his followers. Along with Mark and those that first heard or saw his story of the good news of Jesus Christ that was real and active in their lives!
As the skies were ripped open at Jesus’ baptism, so is any separation between you and the Trinitarian God destroyed forever in God’s claim of your life.
And so while when we go to a play or a movie or any other performance we may watch the curtain close, and we may applaud, and then go home; with Christ’s baptism in Mark we are a part of the story. And when it ends, the curtain does not shut but is torn open—as God enters our world and our lives, and refuses to leave us alone. For better or worse, this is the story of baptism: that we have a God that holds onto us and won’t let go.
That may sound scary if we didn’t know better. But we know that God’s claim on our lives is not one that is intended to take away our freedom or make us less ourselves, but it is through this relationship with God that God seeks to help us recognize who we truly are and truly can be, eternally.
All of this God does not because you deserve it, and not because God wants to control you, but because God loves you so much that one day Jesus showed up in that river one day with you, knowing he would soon be up on a cross for you.
That is the love we know in Christ and the love we know in our baptism.
As we remember Christ’s baptism, we remember the story of our own baptism: that God’s love for us has no “The End” but brings only new beginnings and abundant promises through Our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who went before us and for us, in death, in resurrection, and in baptism.
And he continues to go before us, as that story—the gospel story—guides each of us through our own dramas as we live out our own baptismal calls today and every day. That is what we remember and celebrate this day.
May the peace that passes all understanding keep your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus Our Lord! Amen.
Copyright © 2006 Joshua Graber
Comments welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org