Mark 1:4-11

January 11, 2015 by Ken Dale

The Wednesday morning Bible study is now following what is called the Narrative Lectionary ? a different set of readings than what we have on Sunday mornings. The narrative lectionary is focused on God?s story and the hope is that we find our story in God?s story. This week both the Revised Common and Narrative lectionary have the same story ? a different source/gospel ? but the same story. It is a familiar story, the story of Jesus? baptism by John. Wednesday we considered Matthew?s report and today we hear Mark?s.

Wednesday we couldn?t help but focus on John the Baptist for a while. He is mentioned during Advent?s preparation for the Christmas event but we don?t find him in any of the manger scenes or Christmas pageants. Commentary noted that if there was a production John the baptist would be the character to play. What fun it would be to be the non-conformist counter-cultural individual who gets to call the current religious leaders a ?brood of vipers.? Not to mention that he also undercuts their credentials saying that it just doesn?t cut it to claim Abraham as your ancestor. That?s in Matthew not Mark ? but it?s interesting to note that when Jesus is baptized by John in Matthew?s gospel as Jesus comes up from the water ?the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him?? In Mark?s gospel the report (NRSV) ?he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.?

John is an Old Testament prophet and the forerunner for Jesus. His presence stands for the continuance of God?s story from the Old Testament as something new happens in the life of Jesus. Mark?s report of the heavens being torn apart brings to mind the passage from Isaiah 64 when the people of God, now struggling to rebuild after their exile hear the prophet?s plea to God, ?O that you would tear open the heavens and come down?? Well ? here it is! And the Spirit descends on Jesus. God is with us!

Mark?s gospel is quick ? not a lot of details. We?ve noted in weeks past there is no Christmas story ? just John the baptizer coming out of the wilderness. I can?t help but wonder what it was like for John to be standing in the Jordan baptizing people when all of sudden he looks to see who?s next and Jesus is standing there. John knew who Jesus was in every sense. In Mark?s gospel there is no conversation between Jesus and John at Jesus? baptism. It just happens. Matthew and Luke report John saying, ?I should be baptized by you? to Jesus. But in Mark at the baptism the only voice we hear is from above ? ?You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.? Have we ever stopped to think about what Jesus has done such that God is well pleased? We don?t know much if anything about the life of Jesus prior to his baptism. But I think that?s the point. God is pleased with Jesus because of who Jesus is. Jesus has not done anything to earn God?s pleasure with him. This event of baptism is first and foremost about God and God?s love and God claiming Jesus and in our baptisms God claiming us. First and foremost baptism is about God?s love for us. It is a celebration of our being claimed by God and so we are redefined as a child of God.

In Matthew where there is conversation between Jesus and John, Jesus? response to John is that this must happen to ?fulfill all righteousness.? Righteousness in this case is to submit to the will of God ? to align oneself with God?s intentions. And that is what is behind our decision to be baptized or have baptism celebrated for our children. It?s our response to God?s action of love toward us and the world in which we live. In baptism we are celebrated as being children of God and we understand that through what God has revealed to us in the life of Jesus. Today we are called to remember that we are baptized and claimed by the love of God.

We may remember it happening or we may just know it happened. The important thing is to claim it. Henri Nouwen would emphasize our need to hear that voice from above as Jesus did ? ?you are my beloved.??? And hearing it we are both comforted and challenged. We are comforted knowing that God is with us. Martin Luther, the great reformer of the Christian Church said long ago there is no greater comfort to the Christian, especially in times of testing and difficulty, than to remember your baptism and be thankful. And immediately after his baptism what happens to Jesus but he?s led by the Spirit and off to the desert for a test. An important point there is that just because we?re baptized doesn?t mean life will not have it?s challenges and difficulties. In fact ? because one is baptized there may very well be challenges and difficulties.

I read a recent article in Christian Century that suggested we should understand our baptism as a passport ? and passports that will take us in directions and places we never thought we would go. There is always so much more going on in those sacraments of baptism and communion than we are aware of. I?ve told the story of my Dad?s baptism probably too many times so I won?t repeat it today ? if you?re curious just ask. With heavens torn open we know God to be with us somehow in a new way ? the relationship is new and different and it is comforting and it is dangerous as we are called into the current of God?s justice, passion, and mercy in this world. Today we are to remember that we are baptized ? yes we are comforted knowing that we are God?s beloved children ? but that also gives new purpose and direction to our lives. We are called to live in this world as agents of God?s love and plant seeds of hope and healing and life. We are comforted by God but we are also put to work bringing God?s presence in the world.

John announced Jesus? saying I baptize you with water ? the one who comes after me will baptize you with fire and the Holy Spirit. I wonder ? do we hear that as promise or threat?

So today for a close may we all hear those words from above that Henri Nouwen holds so central. Believing God to be with us ? and not far off out there in the distance somewhere ? let us take a moment or two or three and share those words with each other ? just like we pass the peace on communion Sunday ? say to one another with sincerity as if you are saying it on behalf of God ? ?you are God?s beloved child? ? that?s it ? don?t talk about the weather or tonight?s pot luck ? just say to one another with meaning ?You are God?s beloved child? Then as the day goes on keep those words in mind and contemplate what that means for you and for your daily life.

Let?s share — it?s ok to move around?.