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January 7, 2024

Baptism of Our Lord

Genesis 1:1-5

Psalm 29

Acts 19:1-7

Mark 1:4-11

 

Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,

 grace and peace to you

 from the one who works to bring us to new life. Amen

 

This time of year we often think about new beginnings,

 with the start of a new calendar

 we reflect on the year that was

and see the turning of the page

 as a fresh start.

 

 We may even make resolutions,

Based on our reflections or our hopes for the coming year

We might resolve to eat right and exercise every day!

to manage our finances better 

Or to try and repair a relationship.

 

These are all worthy goals to be sure

 and reflect our understanding

that we fail to do the things we know we ought to do

And we also are, let’s be honest,

urged on by the marketing departments of a variety of industries

seeking to benefit from our reflections and annual spate of goal setting

 

so for the next few weeks

the gyms will be full 

until the newness of the year has rubbed off

And we have exhausted our will and determination

and the old habits return

 

 Because in reality nothing has really changed

 except that we write a four at the end of the date

 instead of a three

 

Now what does this all have to do with the baptism of our Lord?

 Well it speaks to the reality

 that we humans are not perfect

 and that no matter how determined we are,

we cannot make ourselves perfect,

 we need God.

 

 Most of the time we find it easy to ignore this fact,

but sometimes something comes up,

 like the turning of the calendar

or John the Baptist appearing in the wilderness,

and the gap between who we are, and who God created us to be

rises up front and center in our minds

and of course our first instinct

is to rely on ourselves and our own actions to bridge the gap.

 

With John’s preaching and baptism

people recognize the gap between themselves and God,

 they come and repent of their sins,

all the things that they have done

 that have separated them from God and one another

 

 they confess,

express sorrow

 and are symbolically washed clean

in the waters of the Jordan river

and are sent to live lives worthy of that repentance 

 

but this baptism will last only so long

 because the people are the ones acting. 

 

John the Baptist recognizes this

He knows his baptism with water

is more like a new year’s resolution

than a solution to our brokenness

 

But he also knows that one more powerful is coming after him,

He states plainly that he baptizes with water

but the one who is coming

will baptize with the Holy Spirit,

the creative transformative force of God. 

 

This is who John is waiting for,

 trying to prepare the people for,

the one who will bring real transformation.

The one coming from God

who will do the work only God is able to do.

 

And having set the stage with John, Mark tells us how

Jesus comes to John and the Jordan to be baptized.

and as he comes up out of the water

God acts.

 

 The heavens that God created in the beginning are torn

and the spirit of God once again moves over the waters

descending upon Jesus

 

and the voice of God,

 the voice that spoke the world into being

 is heard saying

“You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.” 

 

Mark begins his account of Jesus’ life

with his baptism, rather than an infancy narrative

Jesus’ story starts

when the heavens are torn

and the Holy Spirit descends like a dove to rest on him. 

 

 Named as son of God

and gifted with the spirit of God

 Jesus’ ministry begins

 and immediately the spirit sends Jesus out into the wilderness

out to live with the spirit in the world.

 

A world that is broken and full of temptations,

where there is a difference between who people are

 and who God created them to be

 but a world where the spirit still rushes over the waters. 

 

Yes there is a gap between who we are

 and who God calls us to be,

but that gap has been bridged by God in our baptisms

 where we are adopted as God’s children

 and the creative and transformative power of the spirit

comes to rest upon us. 

 

The fresh start that we seek each January

 occurred at our baptism

 and in the baptismal life

occurs each morning we wake up.

 

 In the gift of our baptism

in the gift of faith,

both gifts from God,

God reaches across the gap

 connecting us with love, grace and new life

 each and every day.  

 

God has done this for us.

And yet

we still find ourselves to be imperfect sinners

In spite of our complete forgiveness in the waters of baptism

the truth of this life is

that we are fully both at the same time 

saint and sinner. 

 

 And while we may struggle to explain how this might be,

when we look at the way we live our lives

and how God has acted

 it is hard to deny the truth of the reality before us

 We are both saints and sinners

and we are only saints because of God.

 

Our baptism is effective

because in it God bridges the gap that we cannot,

 God make us whole

and the spirit calls us to live into that wholeness

 instead of the brokenness that is also present in us and in the world

the world whose wholeness God is working toward.

 

Our baptisms mean that who we are is defined by God rather than the world 

From a very early time

Christians have professed that in baptism

 we have been joined to Christ’s death and resurrection,

 

 the beginning of our funeral rite affirms this belief,

listen to the words that we say at the side of a departed loved one

 as thanksgiving for baptism:

 

“When we were baptized in Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” 

 

 All the new beginnings we need

 are found in Jesus 

who has no end,

 

joined to Christ in his death and resurrection

in the waters of baptism

 we are sent out by the spirit

 to live as God’s people

full of forgiveness and grace,

witnesses of wholeness

 in a world of brokenness

 

 and when we forget

 and get caught up in the world

Jesus brings us back to the font

and sprinkles us with water

 to remind us who we are,

Children of God

from whose love we can never be separated. Amen. 

 

 

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