A New Day

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; January 7, 2018

Baptism of the Lord

Genesis 1:1-5; Mark 1:4-11

 

4John the baptizer is on a mission. Even before his conception, the mission is foretold to his soon-to-be father, Zechariah. The angel Gabriel brings the message: “…your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John…many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord…he will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him…to make ready a people for the Lord.”

 

Our reading today brings us to the edge of the River Jordan. Here the grown man (John the Baptizer, he’s called) appears in the wilderness. In your mind’s eye, can you see him? Wearing clothes made of camel’s hair, and a leather belt, and living on the most meager of rations—John is on a mission and he has a strong message to deliver. Without a doubt, John will never be accused of preaching the cotton candy gospel. There is nothing sweet and syrupy about what he has to say as he calls for repentance for the forgiveness of sins. In Luke’s Gospel, John goes so far as to call the crowd gathered around him a brood of vipers!

 

Now be honest, if you came to church this morning and I called you a snake and yelled at you about your dirty, filthy ways—would you come back? Would you even stay for the rest of the service to see how it all turns out? Probably not! Yet people do come, and they do stay. They are drawn to this wild and crazy guy. Why? Could it be that they are starving for a word of truth from God? In the life of the people of Israel, God has been silent for so long. Then this wild man comes from out of the blue. The people see his strange ways and they are reminded of the prophets of old. They hear his words and the passion with which he delivers them, and their hearts burn within them. Could it be that only the grace-filled waters of baptism will cure what ails them and point them in the right direction?

 

Although we tend to think that baptism is a Christian invention, it is an ancient Jewish practice. The ritual of immersion was required for all kinds of things—like after giving birth to a child or after touching the dead. The ritual bath, or mikvah, is still practiced by many Jews today—particularly Jewish brides in preparation for their wedding day. In our reading from Mark, John the Baptist uses the mikvah, as a way of symbolizing repentance, using physical water to demonstrate spiritual purity.[i]

 

The people come to the Jordan River and hear the message proclaimed. They repent and participate in a ritual cleansing. And all the while, John reminds them that this is only a foretaste of wonders to come—the Wonder to come!  “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.”

 

With these words still floating overhead, Jesus comes to be baptized. Jesus, the One without sin, comes to the cleansing waters. Why? Marcus Borg says that in baptism Jesus identified “with the faults and failures, pains and problems, of all the broken and hurting people who had flocked to the Jordan river. By wading into the waters with them he took his place beside us and among us.”

 

The renewing waters of baptism hearken us back to another beginning…in the beginning of creation when the earth was formless and a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light…God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” In the beginning, order is created out of chaos and the first day is inaugurated. With his baptism, Jesus’ earthly ministry officially begins—it’s his inauguration. Creation takes part, as the heavens are rent asunder. The Spirit descends like a dove, and for us and all creation, a new day dawns.

 

After Jesus’ baptism, a voice comes from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you, I am well pleased.” Before any test is passed, before any deed is done, God declares his pleasure with his Son. And while God expects great things of Jesus, so does John. It is why John remains faithful to his mission. John expects something to happen and it does. Do we? Do we expect our baptism to mean something; to equip us for something?

 

The truth is Baptism is our inauguration—our beginning—our new day. It is a pivotal event in the life of any Christian—whether administered to those presented for Baptism as children or those who profess their faith later in life. In the Book of Order we read, “In Baptism, we participate in Jesus’ death and resurrection. In Baptism, we die to what separates us from God and are raised to newness of life in Christ. Baptism points us back to the grace of God expressed in Jesus Christ, who died for us and was raised for us. Baptism points us forward to that same Christ who will fulfill God’s purpose in God’s promised future.[ii]

 

As a community of believers, we gather here this morning around the renewing waters of baptism. By the waters of our Baptism, we are marked for service, we are filled with the Spirit and we are commissioned to go forth to spread the love of Christ in our little corner of the world. Using the litany provided in the bulletin, together, let us reaffirm our baptismal covenant.

 

REAFFIRMATION OF BAPTISM

Brothers and sisters in Christ, united by faith in Jesus Christ, we remember the waters of lifestreaming forth to make all things new. Now, through the remembrance of our baptism, let us recommit ourselves to lives overflowing with love, justice, and righteousness:

 

In the beginning, O God, you separated the waters from the earth and saw that it was good. By the care of your hands, creation flourished. You provided grain; you watered earth’s furrows and softened it with showers and blessings.

(Silence is kept.)

For your life-giving waters,

O God, we give you thanks and praise.

Creator God, you gave us the breath of life and the freedom to choose your way. Instead, we followed our own heart’s desires, but you did not turn away from us. You sought after us and through prophets, like Ezekiel, you spoke words of hope: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you…a new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you…”

(Silence is kept.)

For your life-giving waters,

O God, we give you thanks and praise.

When we failed to listen to your prophets and priests and kings, you sent your blessed Son to beckon us back to you. You led Jesus to the river’s edge to be baptized and as he came up from the water, the heavens opened, and your Spirit descended like a dove.

(Silence is kept.)

For your life-giving waters,

O God, we give you thanks and praise.

Later, Jesus proclaimed to those gathered around him, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”

(Silence is kept.)

For your life-giving waters,

O God, we give you thanks and praise.

Faithful God, we praise you for Jesus, for his baptism; for his life, death, and resurrection that sets us free and gives us new life. We rejoice that through the waters of baptism, you make us holy and whole. And, by the power of your Spirit, you equip us to live into our baptism.

(Silence is kept.)

For your life-giving waters,

O God, we give you thanks and praise.

INVITATION TO THE FONT

At this time, you are invited to come forward to take a stone from the Baptismal Font. May the stone remind you that through the life-giving waters of God, you are a new creation. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, remember your baptism and be thankful. Amen.

 

 

[i]  http://web.me.com/lindyblack/Sermon_Fodder/Lectionary/Entries/2012/1/8_First_Sunday_after_Epiphany.html

[ii] Book of Order, W-2.3002.