"Beginnings" - Baptism of Our Lord
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
January 8, 2018 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
Mark 1:1-11

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: January 7, 2018 – Baptism of Our Lord

Genesis 1:1-5; Mark 1:1-11




            In an age where we’re inundated with information, Mark has a lot to be commended for. It’s short and to the point – you can probably read through the whole gospel in under an hour. There’s no birth story here. No manger. No shepherds. No angels. No magi. No murderous King Herod. No virgin birth. These details are either unknown or unimportant to Mark and his community. For them, the importance of Jesus lies in the good news he came to proclaim in word and deed – his teaching about the kingdom of God, his healings, his death, and his resurrection.


            And so, Mark introduces his Gospel with a bang. “The good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” It’s not even a full sentence, and yet it lets us in on a very powerful piece of knowledge – something that everyone around Jesus will struggle with for the rest of the Gospel. Mark lets us in on Jesus’ identity. Jesus is the Anointed One, the Messiah.


            Which is surprising. Because at the beginning of the story, Jesus is a nobody from nowhere. Jesus (or Joshua – it’s the same name) was one of the most common names in 1st-century Palestine. Nazareth was a backwater of a backwater, an insignificant village in an insignificant region. There was nothing, at first to distinguish Jesus from any other Jew of his time. Until he came to John for baptism.


            Jesus shows up one day, out of the blue, to be baptized. And what he sees as he is baptized initiates him into his public ministry. Though John’s baptism is for “repentance, for the forgiveness of sins”, it has a different meaning for Jesus. For Jesus, John’s baptism is about an affirmation of identity. The Spirit of God, which moved over the chaotic waters of creation and brought forth order, tears open the heavens and comes down. This isn’t the “Spirit, Spirit of gentleness” we sing about sometimes! This is the Spirit of fire, the Spirit which stirs up the storm we hear about in Psalm 29, the Spirit which is about as subtle as a brick through a window. This is the Spirit which descends on Jesus and affirms him as God’s Son.


            Jesus sees the Spirit and hears the voice, which reminds him of who he is. John’s baptism, then, is the spark that ignites Jesus’ ministry – a ministry that will bring salvation to the entire world.


            But John’s baptism means more than just affirmation of Jesus’ divine identity. John’s baptism, for Jesus, more deeply identifies Jesus as the Son of Man – the Son of Humanity. In baptism, Jesus goes down into the muddy waters of the Jordan and into solidarity with humanity in all its weaknesses and limitations. Jesus himself was sinless, but in his baptism he identifies with sinful humanity. Jesus himself was strong, but in his baptism he identifies with human beings who are weak. Jesus himself was infinite, but identifies with human beings who are finite. He is affirmed as both Son of God and Son of Man on that day at the Jordan; going down into the chaotic waters and coming up into the brightness of God’s light.


            So what does Jesus’ baptism mean for us? Why should this story have any impact on our lives over 2000 years after it happened?


            Because it shows us just how Jesus saves us from sin and death. Jesus doesn’t avoid the weakness of humanity. He goes more deeply into it. He goes down, into the muck and mess of what it means to be human with us, and brings us up with him into the light of the sun. He raises us up with him, to be a new creation. It’s like swimming lessons. When we first learn to swim, we go gradually into deeper and deeper waters. The instructor is with us at our side as we begin to learn how to swim in the deep end of the pool for the first time, when we learn how to dive, when we learn different ways of moving through the water. It’s like that with Jesus. Jesus helps us become more and more like he is by becoming just like us.


            And much is the same with our baptism. When we are baptized, we hear the same words that Jesus heard – perhaps not in the same, dramatic way – but the same words nonetheless. We hear that we are children of God; that we are beloved; that God is pleased to welcome us into his family. What Jesus is by nature we become by adoption. But we don’t only become more identified with Jesus in the completeness of his being. We are also more deeply identified with sinful, weak humanity as a whole. Just as Jesus was thrust more deeply into the human mess in his baptism, so are we in ours. Baptism isn’t some magic ritual that helps us escape the troubles that come with being human. Just the opposite.


            The Christian life is an adventure, a life of learning more about what it means to be human. It isn’t a life of escapism, but of going bravely where Jesus leads us. If you wonder why I periodically sprinkle you with water on days like today, it isn’t for the pastor’s amusement! It is to remind you of what your baptism has done for you. You are both children of God and children of humanity, as Jesus is. And as we journey deeper with Jesus into what it means to be human, we will find ourselves being changed.


            You also need bread for the journey, which is why Holy Communion is so important. For those of you who have read or watched The Lord of the Rings, you know that Sam and Frodo couldn’t make it to Mount Doom without the help of Lembas bread, the elven bread made for long journeys. Holy Communion is our Lembas bread, sustaining and strengthening our faith, for the Christian life.


            From beginning to end, Jesus is by us in all things, strengthening us for the descent into humanity so that we can ascend to eternal life in his presence. God help us all feel that strength today.


            Let us pray.


            Lord Jesus, you did not escape humanity’s pain, but went deeper into it. Through our baptism, we too go deeper into the chaos of humanity, trusting that you will bring us up from the water to share in eternal life with you. Amen.


© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.