by Sharon Marr
(Based on Mark 1:1-11 )
Dearly beloved, you will be forgiven for thinking you have heard this just recently, and indeed you would be correct. In fact it was the reading for the second Sunday in Advent, just a month ago, verses 1 – 8, which our sister Joan preached on so well saying that Mark’s story really is just the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, and that we here today are part of this on-going story, called to participate in the continuing spirit-led, transforming movement of God-with-us in our own time.
So today we continue in the story, and in the next three verses, find Jesus now at the Jordan. Mark doesn’t beat about the bush with any preamble he simply states that Jesus was baptized by John. But as in all good stories it is what happens next that is life changing. In that moment Jesus is situated in the past, present and future of God’s movement. It is not what Jesus does that is of primary significance, but what God does to him. When Jesus comes up from the water he experiences three things, that in Jewish tradition signifies the launching of God’s kingdom. The heavens are opened, the Spirit descends, and the heavenly voice speaks to him.
God’s dramatic acknowledgement of Jesus makes it clear that through the words and deeds of Jesus, we humans are encountering the enacted intentions of God. The word became flesh, and this baptism marks the defining and indispensable start of Jesus ministry.
Jesus’s ministry thus begins with the voice of God ringing in his ears: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
What a wonderful thing for a son to hear from his father! I suspect that there are many adult children today who are walking around with a big empty space inside, because they just aren’t sure whether or not their parents are pleased with them. In some cases those parents have been dead for years, but it doesn’t matter; that big, empty space is still there. But here we have God the Father, right at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, before he had healed anyone, or told any parables, or done anything out of the ordinary at all, saying, “You are my beloved son, and I’m very pleased with you.”
So the first thing we notice about the baptism of Jesus is that it was God’s assurance to him that he was indeed God’s beloved son. The second thing is that it was the beginning of a new life for him. Up until that time, he’d lived quietly in Nazareth with his family. But now, at the age of thirty, he came to the Jordan and was baptized by John. From that point on, he left his old way of life and plunged into three years of public ministry, in which he announced that God’s kingdom was coming, and showed by his actions what God’s kingdom was all about.
Baptism speaks to us today of becoming God’s children, welcomed into the family of God, His beloved sons and daughters .
A young son of a Baptist minister was in church one morning when he saw for the first time baptism by immersion. He was greatly interested in it, and the next morning proceeded to baptize … you guessed it … his three cats in the bathtub. The youngest kitten bore it very well, and so did the younger cat, but the old family tom cat rebelled. The old feline struggled with the boy, clawed and tore his skin, and finally got away. With considerable effort the boy caught the old tom again and proceeded with the ‘ceremony’. But the cat acted worse than ever, clawing and spitting, and scratching the boy’s face. Finally, after barely getting the cat splattered with water, he dropped him on the floor in disgust and said: “Fine, be a Methodist if you want to!”
Quite cute isn’t it, but shonky understanding! We are followers of the way, and worshippers in a tradition. The point of this little aside is to remind us that Jesus did not go under the waters of baptism a Jew and come up a Christian but, rather, Jesus went under the waters of baptism and came up empowered by the Spirit and filled with the love of the Father, to live out the will of God for us on earth. ‘The word became flesh’, and the flesh brought the Word.
Our Anglican service of Baptism begins, “Dear friends in Christ, God is love, God gives us life. We love because God first loves us. In baptism God declares that love; in Christ, God calls us to respond.” And just as Jesus received the affirmation of his sonship before he had done anything spectacular to earn it, so too God declares that we are his children as a free gift, an act of pure grace – which we don’t have to earn.
So when we were baptized, we too were set down at the beginning of a new way of life. And the way will be, according to Debbie Thomas, “wild water”, because if indeed our baptism involves a participation in Jesus’s baptism, and if Jesus’s baptism launches his ministry of suffering and obedience, then our baptism must include a similar expectation and acceptance of self denial. From baptism onwards we and all those others who follow Jesus inherit the mission of declaring and embodying God’s reign. And how should we do that? By loving God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and loving our neighbour as ourselves. The best way I know to love God is to love what God loves—which is everything! Surely this is the way that Jesus loves. You are chosen in Christ (see Ephesians 1:4), and one purpose of being chosen is to let everyone else know that they too are chosen! Love begets love.
In Mark, we see the new order is coming in: Jesus says, “See, I am making all things new” … you and me. Are you ready for the wild water? Well I hope I will be able to follow my dear grandson’s example in this. Remember the story I told you about Steffan, when he jumped off the Tairua bridge for the first time, aged about 7, and nearly drowned? When I asked why he had jumped when he couldn’t swim, his answer was, “I didn’t know I couldn’t.” Let us, beloved family, have that same trust to plunge forward in the wild water of discipleship, following the way of Christ, bearing his message of love. Let us trust that we too can participate fully in the continuing, Spirit-led, transforming movement of God-with-us in our own time … we are, after all, God’s beloved. Amen.