January 7, 2018
Mark 1:4-11, Genesis 1:1-5
Our scripture readings today are beginnings. Genesis tells the story of the beginning of creation when all is called good. Mark tells the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Mark doesn’t refer to Jesus’ birth, but talks about his baptism as the beginning. There are many beginnings in our lives. Some of us approach a new year as a new beginning. Every year in early January, we encounter the story of Jesus’ baptism and we witness the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. This week in text study, we reflected again on all the people coming to John to be baptized. These were the ones who were not welcome in the temple. They were willing to go a long way into the wilderness for a fresh start. The wilderness is the place where we encounter ourselves in a new way. It is a place of reflection and offering. It is a place where everything is stripped away and we see ourselves with a new lens. Today, we are invited to a beginning – to see ourselves through God’s eyes and to commit to the life we want to live.
Lest we think we are talking about some mystical experience that is out of our reach, look again. The reading from Mark “is a reminder that the gospel is down to earth, grounded in the real, tactile, sensual, fleshy world. In these few verses are references to river water, clothing from camels, diet from bugs, and tying shoes, a bird analogy, and an interesting weather phenomenon.” (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 1, p. 236)
Perhaps that is why we were so delighted by Lorenzo Madrid’s baptism last year. At baptism, the children gather around the font. As we stood next to the font, Lorenzo reached in and began to splash in the water. The children laughed and he splashed more. The congregation laughed and he splashed more. By the time, I baptized him, we were both soaked. I carried him around the sanctuary and I was dripping wet and it was wonderful! We celebrated the beautiful earthiness and delighted in Lorenzo’s baptism. Isn’t that how it should be? We often treat baptism as a somber event, but it is a letting go of what has been to make room for something new and Lorenzo went into it with joy! I must say it is one of my favorite memories. If you asked me ahead of time if I wanted to get wet that morning, I probably would not have said yes, but as I stood there dripping, I felt God’s delight as this beloved child was baptized. I wouldn’t trade that for anything!
This morning is a chance for you to reflect on your own life. This is a new beginning. You are invited to come to the font to remember your baptism. I know that many of you were baptized as infants and don’t actually remember, but you are invited to remember what baptism can mean in your life today. Many churches have their baptismal font in the back so that as you enter, you can touch the water and be reminded each time you enter the sanctuary that you have been baptized and ask what that means for you now. If you haven’t been baptized, it serves as an invitation to consider what this new beginning could mean for you.
Sarah Jo Sarchet once pastored a Presbyterian church in Chicago. A 10 year-old boy in her congregation named Cameron, walked into her office and said he needed to talk to her. Fresh from soccer practice, and wearing his Cincinnati Reds baseball cap, he had a request for her. "I'd like to be baptized," he said. "We were learning about Jesus' baptism in Sunday School. The teacher asked the class who was baptized, and all the other kids raised their hands. I want to be baptized too."
Using her best pastoral care tone of voice, she said, "Cameron, do you really want to be baptized because everyone else is?" His freckles winked up at her and he replied, "No. I want to be baptized because it means I belong to God."
She was touched by his understanding. "Well, then," she said, "How about this Sunday?" His smile turned to concern and he asked, "Do I have to be baptized in front of all those people in the church? Can't I just have a friend baptize me in the river?" She asked where he came up with that idea. "Well, Jesus was baptized by his cousin John in a river, wasn't he?"
Caught off guard, she conceded, "You have a point. But, if a friend baptized you in the river, how would the church recognize it?"
"I guess by my new way of living" he said.
(From a sermon by Sarah Jo Sarchet preached at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago)
This week in text study, we talked about what baptism means to us and as usual, there was no one size fits all. In that room, we often have different understandings and experiences. What I discover as we stay with the conversation is that it moves us to a place that is full of love and acceptance and it is so holy. I believe that as we talk about what these texts mean for our lives each week, we learn about more than what the scripture says. We learn about who God is and we learn what it means to walk with Jesus. You know that in the scripture, people are confessing their sins. We don’t like to talk about that, but it is when we honestly acknowledge the truth of who we are that we freed to live as God’s beloved.
Water is powerful. We witnessed that this fall as hurricanes wreaked havoc on our world. Water is healing. We need water to survive. The water of baptism gives us a fresh start. Whether we are sprinkled or immersed, God’s voice is there calling us beloved. In the water of baptism, we are known by God. In the water of baptism, we come to see ourselves through God’s eyes. The water of baptism gives us courage and clarity as we step out of the church into the world.
You perhaps at one time or another have seen on TV the old black and white video footage of the civil rights marches in the sixties. Martin Luther King often at the front received his share of stinging high-pressured water hoses. Rev. King once remarked that he and the other marchers had a common strength. He put it this way, as "we went before the fire hoses; we had known water. If we were a Baptist or some other denomination, we had been immersed. If we were Methodist, and some others, we had been sprinkled, but we knew water."
Today we remember that we “know water.” Today, we come forward to be reminded that this water is a new beginning. We are invited to come to the font and allow ourselves to be called beloved by God. The water sustains us as followers of Jesus and calls us to live as God’s beloved in the world. On this day, we remember how the heavens were torn apart, and the Spirit rested on Jesus and God spoke loud enough for all to hear, “You are my beloved; with you I am well pleased.” God’s Spirit comes to us all to remind us that we are beloved. Let us go forth empowered as people who know water and let us bring water to our thirsty world.