4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 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. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 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. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 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. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Sermon for Sunday, January 11th The Baptism of our Lord
“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.”
The heavens are torn apart. Many times when we think of baptism we envision a very peaceful scene. A peaceful sleeping baby with glistening water droplets on their forehead…. But Jesus’ baptism from Mark’s gospel is quite wild, untamed, maybe even chaotic. The scene which nearly begins the gospel of Mark, starts with John the Baptist in his camel’s hair, eating locusts as he preaches about repentance. Throngs of people come out to be baptized in the river. And Jesus is of them. Jesus’ baptism only gets wilder. As God looks at the Son the heavens are torn apart. The love and pride and passion of God is so great, the entire heavens are ripped apart.
Maybe you have an idea of what that feels like, as you have looked at your beloved. Maybe you’ve looked at your child and have loved them so deeply, you feel as if you have been torn apart. This little piece of your soul walking around the world… The love and fear nearly overwhelms you. Your heart is torn apart… the heavens torn apart as you look at them- my beloved.
This is the deep and excruciating love that God has for the Son, and that God has for each of us. That resounding voice declaring: YOU are my son, the beloved; with you I am well please. YOU are my daughter, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.
Jesus’ baptism is a dramatic event: with the tearing apart of the heavens, the voice of God, the Holy Spirit descending like a dove. John tells the people, “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” We have been baptized through Jesus, with the Holy Spirit. As Martin Luther says in the small catechism, “It is not water that does these things, but God’s Word with the water and our trust in this Word. Water by itself is only water, but with the Word of God it is a life-giving water which by graces gives us the new birth through the Holy Spirit.”
Clearly, our baptism is different than Jesus’ baptism. Jesus’ last command to his disciples is to go into all the world baptizing in the name of the father and of the son and of the Spirit. After his death and resurrection- baptism takes on a new meaning as the entrance into the Christian life of discipleship. Still, in our baptism we too have the same spirit of God breaking into our world.
Still, maybe you do not feel that your baptism was as exciting or dramatic as Jesus’ baptism by John. Perhaps, because you were just a baby and not aware of what was happening. Or maybe you didn’t feel any different after your baptism. And yet, every baptism done in Jesus’ name has power. Something powerful has happened. God calls us to baptism and God’ works through baptism, whether we fully realize it or not.
I had the privilege of seeing this holy power up close and personal in a baptism I was a part of. Here at our church Pastor Rick and I baptize. That is part of what you call us to do as your spiritual leaders. And yet in an emergency ANY Christian can baptize. After all it is God’s power and Spirit that do the work. Before I was ordained and called as your pastor, I baptized someone. During Seminary I was working as a chaplain in a hospital and a young boy came in who had drowned. He was on life support and I was caring for his family. His parents had not been to church in a long time and so he had not been baptized. They asked me to baptize him.
As I dripped the water on his forehead I was overcome by the irony of the water- the very cause of his immanent death- now proclaiming his new life in Christ. I marked the cross of Christ on his forehead and called him a child of God. It was a holy moment for his family. When there was nothing in the world to offer this little boy, no money or medical treatments could save him- Baptism gave a gift to his family. One holy moment surrounded by all of the grief and pain.
As our team of chaplains later debriefed with the staff and nurses, I became even more aware of how incredible this gift was. Three of the nurses shared stories of spiritual experiences relating to the baptism. I myself had a powerful dream about the family of the little boy. We were in the hospital after the baptism and yet the little boy was well and we were all hugging and celebrating as if we were long lost loved ones- as if we had done his baptism at church like any other baptism. It gave me a glimpse of the power of God’s kingdom breaking into our world. An unexplainable peace and love, which transcends all boundaries…
Here I realized the spiritual power of every baptism in the name of Jesus. It also helped me see how influential our own baptisms can be in our own lives. Scholar Timothy Wengert, wrote about Martin Luther in this month’s issue of the Lutheran. In it he debunked some myths about Luther the man, and he also referenced Luther’s writing and teaching about baptism in the Large Catechism. He quoted Luther writing, “Baptism is not a work that we do but … a treasure that God gives us and faith grasps. …In baptism, therefore, every Christian has enough to study and practice all his or her life. …Thus, we must regard baptism and put it to use in such a way that we may draw strength and comfort from it when our sins or conscience oppress us, and say… ‘But I am baptized! And if I have been baptized, I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body…”
The one-time event of our baptism is a promise of God’s love for us that lasts forever. That is why we feel it is so important to remind ourselves of our baptisms, and to support those who have been newly baptized and their families in their Christian faith. Because baptism is not simply a fuzzy-feeling ritual. Rather it is the initiation into a life of discipleship with Jesus Christ. It is a rebirth into our new spiritual selves. It is something we must rely on daily as a sustaining source of grace and forgiveness in our lives.
And as we see in Jesus’ baptism it is often something that takes place in the wilderness of life. Immediately after Jesus’ baptism, “the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” where he would spent forty days tempted by Satan. Maybe it was the power of his baptism and the confirmation in the Spirit’s presence that sustained him, along with the angels, during that wilderness time.
In our baptism we see the truth of who we are as God’s beloved children. God’s love for us tears open the heavens. It is wild and unpredictable. It comes in surprising ways. It can reach across any divide to give us the forgiveness, healing, and love that we are searching for. The Spirit at Jesus’ baptism is the same Spirit of God present at creation- and the same Spirit present in our church community today and at each of our baptisms. This Spirit proclaims good news to the poor and oppressed, offers healing to those hurting, and sometimes drives us into the wilderness to endure the difficult trials of our lives. Still, through it all God’s promise of grace and love in our baptism is forever.