Blessed beginning of everything in the Spirit. Blessed Baptism of Jesus, God’s beloved. Blessed beginning in baptism by the Spirit for all beloved disciples of Jesus, for you, for God’s world.
Today we celebrate Jesus’ baptism by John and its identification in Mark’s gospel of Jesus’ identity, made known to Jesus and us as hearers of the Gospel by the very voice of God.
That same glorious voice of God identified in Psalm 29. The voice of God in creation upon the waters, that thunders upon mighty waters, the voice of splendor in the power of great winds and lightning flashes, that shakes the wilderness and the mighty trees and forests, stripping them bare. That same voice of the Creator “in the beginning” of creating, into the void and absence a wind that sweeps over the waters, speaking the Word, “Let there be light,” and there was! And it was good!
We’ve heard this voice, here on the Island in recent weeks, in thundering waves and winds, seen it in twisting trees and fallen branches. Did we hear these sounds of creation as the voice of the Creator? Like the Psalmist, did we proclaim it glorious? A few people of the community sent pictures of walks on the beach. At the coffee hour last Sunday, we talked about the thundering, powerful sound and sight and feeling of winds and waves of splendour on Dallas Road and Willows and Island View beaches and elsewhere. One of you said, “it was glorious!”
Do we observe this powerful wind of creation witnessing to God’s presence, the glory of God’s Holy creative Spirit blowing with and in and through all creation, as God’s voice speaking to us? What a witness of God here, of God near. As close as the wind on your face, the air we breathe. It’s the voice of God. And to pray with the Psalmist, “O God give strength to your people; give them, O God, the blessings of peace.”
The Gospel of Mark’s telling of Jesus’ baptism, coming at the beginning of the Gospel, is so typically simple and sparse. We hear the most about John, his clothes and what he eats that are directly connected to the prophet Elijah, whose return was to usher in the time of the Messiah. Did we hear and see that?
And in response to John’s proclaiming a baptism of repentance, people from all Judea and Jerusalem come to John to be baptized in the Jordan River and confess their sins. And John tells them, this is all preparation for the more powerful one who is coming, for whom John is unworthy to offer the service of untying his sandals, who will baptize not with water alone, but with the Holy Spirit. And with that we hear, “In those days, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee,” which as one person I read this week said, Jesus from “No-where’s-ville,” in back-water-county, is baptized by John, in a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins just like everyone else. And that would be it, just another in a long line of repentant, maybe desperate and fearful people. Except, just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw the heavens torn apart – remember the Advent words of longing from the prophet of third Isaiah, “Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence - …so that the nations might tremble at your presence.” And Jesus saw 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.” Did we hear and see that? That powerful, in-the-beginning-of-creating, speaking-light, bringing-order-of-night-and-day-into-being, that thundering, flash-of-lightning, tree-shaking, forest-stripping wind/Spirit of a voice, roaring or is it whispering to Jesus over the storm of the waters, “You are my Child, my beloved, and I am so pleased with you!”
Glorious! Glorious! Glorious!
And here’s a question? Is the glorious voice of God and thunderous affirmation of who Jesus is that we also get to hear, witnessing to the exceptional, one-and-only identity of Jesus as God’s well-pleasing beloved? Or, is Jesus the one who hears the voice of God when others, all those others coming to receive from John a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, do not hear that voice speaking to them. Jesus hears what we do not, maybe cannot, but reveals this voice of God, this dove of the Spirit, the glorious, powerful, light and life creating, thunderous, voice/Spirit of God alighting on and saying to each and every one, “You are my Child, my beloved, and I am so pleased with you.” Glorious.
Maybe the answer is, Yes.” Yes, the vision and voice of God’s Spirit confirms the identity of this Jesus of Nazareth to be God’s own beloved well pleasing Son. And! reveals this same powerful vision and voice of God saying to each and every one, “You are my beloved child, and I am so pleased with you.” That this voice of God’s Spirit can be witnessed in every baptism, affirmed for every person, as we hear it spoken for Jesus, all God’s beloved. Glorious!
Stories of Christian baptisms are part of the earliest writings of the New Testament. Paul’s letters refer to people being baptized. And the account from Acts that we hear today is one of these early stories of Christian baptism. It has some interesting details. Paul asks if these disciples from Ephesus have received the Holy Spirit. And they respond, they haven’t heard of a Holy Spirit! And when asked, they tell Paul they were baptized into John’s baptism. Paul makes a distinction between John’s baptism of repentance and believing in the greater one John said was to come. As we heard, they are baptized in the name of Jesus, receive the Holy Spirit, and speak in tongues and prophesy, worship and witness, in response. Glorious!
Other non-Biblical accounts of early baptisms include a time of preparation, learning about discipleship, and recognizing the radical shift in life that baptism begins. The ritual of baptism included renouncing that which opposed God’s/Jesus’ ways of love and justice, descending into the waters to drown sin and all that is broken within us, and rising out of the waters to a new life in the Holy Spirit, robed in the garment of the saints and called to a life of worship and witness in Christ Jesus. Glorious!
We continue to this day, and yes, I pray even finding ways in a pandemic, to invite people of every age and circumstance and background to be baptized; and as a community to support and prepare them for baptism through words of the Bible and worship and our confessions and conversation and prayer; and to gather to celebrate baptism with and for them, for individuals and families of every shape and size and identity, to be part of the diverse and messy and crazy and wonderful and powerful family of God, beloved children of God all, so pleasing to God!; and to nurture each other in living out, affirming this baptismal life every day with and in Christ; in God’s Spirit, listening for and witnessing to God’s voice and presence in all creation and each and every one, as near as the wind in our face and the air we breathe, in the flesh and blood of one another, beloved, broken and blessed children of God that we all are; striving to live lives of worship and witness, prayer and work, contemplation and resistance, for the love and justice and peace and joy that Jesus showed us; all by God’s glorious grace in the one who is God’s beloved, well-pleasing, life giving, Christ Jesus, in the Holy Spirit, forever. Glorious!
And so we affirm baptism today, an invitation to any and all who are not baptized to receive this gift of baptism, and for all who are baptized to be renewed in this gift of baptism, to renounce the devil and all forces that defy God; to renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God, to renounce the ways of sin that draw us from God – we need to renounce this evil and suffering that has been so evident again this week, in the turmoil and tragedy of what we witnessed in the US Capital, the hatred and white supremacy, the lies and inciting of violence and destruction, the exposing of our complicity and fear; in the continuing plague of the pandemic and its destruction and death; and in so many other places and for so many suffering people, the ways of a broken world and that which is broken in us, that we renounce! and affirm instead the way of God, in Christ Jesus and by God’s Holy Spirit, as people touched by the water and words, joined to the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, trusting in the Spirit dwelling in and with you; hearing and witnessing to the very voice of God saying, “You and you and you and all are my beloved children, so pleasing to me;” and living! living out of this promise in worship and witness, in love and justice and peace together.
Luther wrote, he began each day washing his face and remembering his baptism, and when confronted by the devil, saying, “I am baptized!” That and praying the Psalms, “O God, give strength to your people, give us, O God, the blessing of peace.” worship and work, trusting in the Spirit/voice of Christ Jesus in and around us all, is enough, for everyday, beyond any and all fear, by God’s grace. This we affirm and pray, let it be so, in all our relations. Amen.