Epiphany 1: The Baptism of our Lord

Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron, Co-Rector, January 7, 2018, Epiphany 1, The Baptism of our Lord, Year B, Mark 1:4-11

“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.”

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.


Good morning. Jodi and I were on vacation last weekend. And when I say “On Vacation”, I mean, we were stuck in our house as our family passed the flu from one to another. No, really. we had a sledding accident, a trip to the ER, three pukers, and two “flu”-like viruses. No-one slept less than 10 hours a night and no-one watched less than 4 hours of movies each day. I think we watched 5 out of the 7 Rockie Movies (because why waste time with Rocky 5 or 6 right?). We also played lots of board games, with anybody who was feeling up to it. And, ironically, It was, a good and memorable time of rest.

Ed Emenheiser was here last week right? I heard he talked a bit about “showing up” and how presence is in and of itself something hugely significant in bringing about the Kingdom of God. I wish I could have been here to hear that sermon.

And today… is one of the four principal feast days in the liturgical calendar. Easter, Pentecost, All Saints Day, and the Baptism of our Lord. These four days, which are spread throughout the year, are the days that we try to hold all of our baptisms. In the Diocese, Bishop Hougland travels to a specific parish to lay his hands on folks who are being confirmed, reaffirmed or received.

Yesterday, On The Feast of The Epiphany, 10 people joined the church. 10 new Episcopalians. 10 people who have decided that this branch of Christianity… this way of being human… was the right way for them to get involved in living the God-life.

Do you remember a couple weeks ago… I preached a sermon about Mary. About Mary and about the virgin birth. About the innocence of sweet baby Jesus and the Theotokos in the sarum blue garments on the donkey and in the stable. All was calm all was bright. I talked about how her virgin-ness is very important and how it isn’t very important at all.

But that wasn’t Mark. Our text from today is from Mark’s gospel.

I love the gospel of Mark. And here is why……

It is filled with humanity. It is filled with the messiness of being human and how Jesus was in fact… fully and wonderfully human. And if you look carefully… closely… you can see how different Mark portrays Jesus. John, for example, tells the story of a Jesus with superpowers. He can read people’s thoughts. Knows exactly what he’s doing. Has this perfect and well thought out plan. Jesus is better than any superhero a comic book could ever write about. Don’t forget to join the book conversation that starts this Thursday. The book is on the gospel of John…

Another thing I love about the gospel of Mark is that it has no birth narrative. And it isn’t that I don’t like the Christmas Eve Story. It is just so interesting how Jesus finds his way into the narrative. Jesus is just plopped into the story as an adult… being baptized.

No manger or Oxen and the cattle lowing. No three Kings… No wise men. No Epiphany. For Mark… for the community that he shaped and influenced for generations… the birth narrative was not important…

Now, I’m kind of a Bible nerd… I actually portray to you that I am more of a Bible nerd than I actually am, but this is pretty exciting I think. This difference is so important… In some ways, it is so significant…

Nerd or not… One of the four communities that birthed Christianity and carried its stories (and for which the other two Synoptics were believed to be derived from) was not concerned with Jesus being born of a virgin.

Was not concerned with Jesus as a child.

Was not concerned with Jesus being pure.

Scandalous. Maybe?

Imagine… an entire community… entire generations…. That grew up with no birth narrative… This was the case for the community that had the Markan text for their entire existence.

What does that faith look like?

What does that confirmation class encompass?
What needs to be omitted?
I really think this is significant… Mark was not concerned with so many things that we… as Episcopalians in 2018 are concerned with…
The virgin birth.
The purity of Jesus.

And so what? So what… Why are we talking about the Virgin birth on this feast day… on the feast of the Baptism of our Lord.

What does that matter?

Well, in some ways, it answers questions about the need for Jesus to even be baptized at all. The anachronistic understanding of this… the way we look back on this baptism… 2,000 years later matters. We may question this baptism, because why would Jesus need to be baptized if he was sinless… If he was pure… if his mother was a virgin… if his mother was sinless…

This is a very important doctrine… a very important understanding of how the whole program works… Jesus needed to be the unblemished lamb if this whole thing is going to make sense… And there are answers… there are good answers… because Jesus is baptized by John in all four gospels. And all four authors of the gospels offer valid reasons for this baptism…

But for Mark… things are different… things are different in a problematic and beautiful way. For Mark, Jesus was picked… he was picked and possessed to be the Son of God. That is huge… theologically, that is a big deal. For Mark, Jesus was chosen to be all the things we expect for Jesus to be.

Jesus… who was picked and possessed by God… was baptized into the scenario that John the Baptist was ushering in. A scenario of repentance for the forgiveness of sins… Was he John’s disciple? He was certainly a part of this movement of folks being baptized that day. Connected… just another Judean being cleansed in the river Jordan.

And… Mark doesn’t answer the question that you and that I am wondering about right now… Was Jesus’ baptism a baptism to cover sin? Mark doesn’t answer that for us. But what is important for him is that “people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him.” Many… many people… were drawn to the light of repentance. Drawn from the darkness of sin into the light of forgiveness and justice.

So, if we were baptizing anybody today… a baby or an adolescent or an adult… we would be initiating that image bearer into the same reality that Jesus was baptized into.

But we don’t have any baptisms today… do we?

Is there anybody here who hasn’t been baptized that would like to be?

No?

Well, today… we will affirm those vows that we have been baptized into. The vows that we made as consenting adults or the vows that others have made on our behalf as children. Today we will reaffirm the vows that connect us to the baptism of our Lord… The baptism of Jesus.

And better than any new year’s resolution… our baptismal covenant communicates who we are and who we are striving to become… as humans… as Christians… as Episcopalians… as members of this parish… as visitors to this place… as people who live in Benzie County…

And this commitment… is more important now than ever. It is imperative that we proclaim who we are and how we are connected to Jesus… with our words… and with our actions… in our schools and in our community…

Because it matters… These baptismal promises… matter. They guide us in our thinking… in our practice… in our daily lives…

My hope is that you read and pray them in a different way than you ever have.

And if I mean what I say… if you mean what you say… it will change everything… it will change our families and our friendships… it will change our households and our past times…

it will change the way we see our free time and how we see our work time… It will change everything…

Because that is what revolutions do… This renewal of baptism… will remind you of how it changed the life of Jesus and of John… where it brought them and where it left them…

And we will not be afraid but will instead be emboldened by that connection. As Deacon Marilou dismisses us… we will, in fact, go out into the world to make change a reality.

Amen.