John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
The Baptism of Jesus
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and 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.”
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)
This past Wednesday the United States had a very low day as people, who our President riled up, went on to storm the Capitol Building in Washington and intimidate and possilby injur our elected leaders. I was home waiting for results from a Covid test and was hopping from channel to channel seeing various coverage from the event unfolding before our eyes.
Then in the days following I’ve seen people comparing what had happened during all the protests this summer. Comparing BLM as a similar experience as Wednesday.
BLM was a protest for the recognition of people’s lives, while Wednesday’s event showed just how far apart we are on who’s lives matter and who’s don’t.
I will address this event later, but right now amid my human emotions of anger, frustration and sadness I looked to our Gospel lesson about Jesus’ baptism to find Spiritual insight and nourishment in this difficult time.
A good story captures you with its first lines. The Gospel according to Mark begins with the introduction of a fully grown Jesus. A search for shepherds, wise persons, or a nativity proves futile. Mark presents a drama, and that backstory does not advance his plot. Rather than angelic conversations with Mary or Joseph, we find John the Baptist and allusions to the prophecy of Isaiah. Mark omits the familiar relationship between John and Jesus as nonessential for the unfolding narrative, so there is no discussion between them when Jesus walks up to John.
This week’s text is part of the prologue, the introduction to the real story, in terms of story construction, but the prologue can also function to tell the reader what’s to come. Spoiler alerts and hints to the larger story emerge in these opening verses.
Mark packs a great deal of content into his introductory sentences. We have a vivid description of John the Baptist in his appearance, ministry, and message, which quickly transitions to the first appearance of Jesus in this text, which, as the first of the gospel narratives to be composed, provides a significant basis for the writing of the accounts of Matthew and Luke.
Because of Jesus we all receive a wide welcome into the wild, wet family of God. Think about that for a minute.
Baptism isn’t really about us; it isn’t something that we “do” to access a personal Lord and savior, a heavenly pal, or a divine ATM. Our modern dualistic way of thinking can lead to this notion, but baptism is an outward sign of an inward reality that says the Christ is Lord of one’s life and the family of God is one’s adoptive—or second birth—family. Baptism is about change, but we humans are not the change makers; God is.
Our gospel lesson this week is brief and to the point, a hallmark of Mark’s gospel. In just seven short verses we learn that John was baptizing for “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). Evidently word spread quickly because we learn that people were coming from all over the place to confess their sins and be baptized in the waters of the Jordan River. This is not, however, the end of the process. John lets folks know that the Messiah (“the one who is more powerful than I”) will baptize them with the Holy Spirit.
Then, BAM! Jesus comes up from Galilee to be baptized by John, and all heaven and earth breaks loose (literally). The sky is ripped open and the Spirit descends, although the Greek indicates a less-delicate encounter—more like a dive bombing pigeon than a gently cooing dove, (sorry, it seemed like an important literary detail to me). Then a voice rings out from the heavens declaring “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11).
So the question that comes to many people’s mind is: why did Jesus need to be baptized by John if he was both fully divine and fully human? We don’t get a clear answer in the biblical witness. Theologians and scholars have pondered this question and come up with some possible answers—solidarity with humankind, a public inauguration of ministry, to fulfill the divine plan, etc.
Whatever the reason, Jesus comes to John for baptism and waits in line with the people to whom he came to minister and love. And it pleases God so much that the Creator of the Cosmos makes the divine delight quite clear.
For Jesus followers it is imperative that we understand that we have been acted upon in baptism rather than being the center stage actors.
- Christians who were baptized as infants are reminded that others brought them to the font to be incorporated into God’s family, that an entire congregation made promises to walk with them in faith, and that the gift of the Holy Spirit was given to them that very day.
- Christians who came to faith as teens or adults may decide they want to be baptized—just as Jesus decided he would be baptized—but even with their profession of faith God is still acting upon them and not the other way around. They, too, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Just what is this Holy Spirit’s gift? It is the gift that keeps on giving even though we can’t see or open this present. The Spirit dwells in each one of us, drawing us closer to God, uniting us in God’s family, and guiding our path as disciples. The Spirit even prays on our behalf when we lack the words; it’s that sort of intimate familial relationship.
We Christians fail to agree on many theological points around baptism, including the amount of water, the method of delivery, the appropriate age, and what the sacrament itself actually means. Where we might find agreement is that in Jesus’ own baptism his ministry is inaugurated through this revelation or epiphany, and in doing so the church comes into being through water and word—one big wild, wet, welcoming family.
We all can make an effort to remember our own gift of baptism every day and to give thanks for the life-giving gift of water that God proclaimed good.
In the same way we fail to agree on political points also. Like who we care for and who we don’t; who we vote for and who we don’t; how we vote and how we don’t; the age we should vote; and if voting actually makes a difference with the current Electoral College. But hopefully we can recognize each other in the wild and wet community we are apart of in God’s family.
Whether we want to admit it or not…there were Christians storming the Capitol Building; there were Christians protesting peacefully out in the grounds; there were Christians that were called in as reinforcements to protect the people and the building; there were Christians running for their lives to leave the building safely; there were Christians who lost their lives; there were Christians at home watching some horrified and some feeling it was okay to do.
And when we all begin realizing that we are part of the same wildly wet family then maybe we can begin to heal as a country. Don’t get me wrong what happened was wrong, and it will take some time to heal because this won’t just disappear because we are all emotionally filled human beings. But we need to remember our baptisms in the name of Jesus and begin to love each other in this country again.
Love can overcome anything. It can overcome racism, sexism, agism, and any possible -ism we want to speak of, but it will take time and it will take effort…from everyone. I realize that as a white, heterosexual, male I have a lot of privilege in this world and so it seems easy to rattle off my lips. But just me saying it, with all the privelege I have, won’t make it true. I have to act, we have to act, and show God’s love in this world.
The love we all experienced in our baptism by those who were gathered. I will not give in to hatred and fear, I’m going to chose to love. May we all choose to love our people we don’t agree with and our enemies, as much as we choose to love our friends and families.
So whatever choices we make in life (friends, family, enemies, occupations, where to live, politics, etc) let us make those decisions by first choosing love.