St. Thomas Evangelical Lutheran Church

3800 East Third Street

Bloomington, Indiana 47401

(812) 332-5252


Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord (January 11, 2015)

Liturgical Color: White

Marissa Tweed, Pastoral Intern


An Ordinary River

I remember skipping down the hall with my mix-matched socks and ponytail bobbing up and down enthusiastically shouting, "Where's my baby? I want to see my baby!"

I was six years old and my grandparents were taking me to the hospital see my new baby sister for the very first time. I was so excited to have a sister, and I couldn't wait to see her.

I walked inside the room and up to the bed where my mom was holding baby Marina. She said, "Here she is, Big Sister. Would you like to hold her?" I sat myself down in a nearby chair and held my arms out like they told me to. Before I knew it I was holding my beautiful baby sister in my lap. She had such tiny hands and feet!

I stared at her for a bit, just taking it all in, and then I decided I knew exactly what needed to happen next: I licked my finger and placed it on her forehead and I said, "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

Today we are talking about the Baptism of our Lord and it comes at a fitting time as we celebrate Epiphany — the liturgical season when we recall the manifestation (epiphaneia) of Jesus coming into our midst. This is a season where we celebrate the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

In Jesus' Baptism God declares to Jesus, 'You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.' This event is mentioned in all four gospels, so it's obviously a big deal.

Almost exactly one year ago I had the opportunity to travel to the Holy Land with a group of my classmates as a part of our seminary studies. While we were there we visited the Israeli side of the Jordan River near the approximate area where it was thought Jesus was baptized.

It was a partly-cloudy 65 degree day, the green brush around the river was a dull, lack- luster green, and the water made little sound as it slowly flowed past us. The river couldn't have been more than 30 feet across to the other side over to Jordan.

I was struck by the apparent lack of... distinction. It felt as if I was standing at the banks of just another ordinary river. It didn't look extra special or extra holy or extra clean. In fact, I couldn't even see my fingers when I dipped my hand below a few inches of the cloudy water.

It was just a normal river — with mud, and bugs, and reeds and bushes...

It was in that moment that it hit me: Jesus was baptized into this ordinary river. Jesus was submerged in the dirt, the grime, and the filth of the River Jordan; not because the river itself was special or noteworthy, but because Jesus was coming to be baptized by John.

And the baptisms of John were relatively ordinary as well: a routine ritual-washing, a covenant-renewing spiritual refreshment of sorts, a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

And God uses this ordinary act, in an ordinary river, to do something extraordinary: to claim Jesus as God's son and anoint Jesus with the Holy Spirit.

In our passage from Mark today we hear that John is proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. These baptisms by John were meant to be a renewal of the covenant with God: a ritual cleansing with a spiritual "restart."

People knew their spiritual lives needed to be whipped back into shape and so they came from the whole Judean countryside and even Jerusalem to be baptized by John in the River Jordan. Even Jesus came to be baptized in this way.

But when John dips Jesus into the water this is no ordinary or routine baptism because as Jesus comes out of the water the heavens are torn apart, and the Spirit descends onto Jesus like a dove, and a voice comes from heaven declaring to Jesus, 'You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.'

This is the beginning of a whole new chapter of what Baptism will mean.

This is no ordinary thing. This is God acknowledging Jesus to be God's son, acknowledging God's very own presence on earth.

This is God coming to humanity in a way we have never experienced before. This is God sending the Holy Spirit. This is God becoming loose in the world... or at least this is the point Mark is trying to make.

Mark is very concerned with connecting the story of Jesus to the story of Israel. In ancient times, continuity was credibility. Thus, a main theme of Mark is the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures with the coming of Jesus the Christ. In this particular passage that we just heard Mark is likely referring to Isaiah 64.

Isaiah 64 desperately cries to Yahweh, O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, to make your name known, so nations might tremble at your presence! Show yourself to us God, do not remain silent up there in the heavens, tear them open! Say something God... come to us God... be near us God.

And if we take a look at the Greek in this passage from Mark, we see that the gospel writer uses a violent word to describe what happens to the Heavens: "schizomenos," a word meaning torn or ripped, identical to the word’s meaning in Isaiah 64.

Mark is the only gospel writer to use this word; all the other accounts say the heavens 'opened,' but Mark uses the word 'torn' to connect this story as an answer to Israel's plea for God's presence. Mark is making a statement that Jesus is God's presence on earth.

Mark also happens to use this verb one more time at the very end of his gospel when the temple curtain is torn apart the moment Jesus breathes his last.

In this way, Mark is framing the story &mdashp the tearing of the heavens and the tearing of the temple illustrates that God is accessible in a new way like never before! God is not confined in the temple or in the heavens. God is with us in Jesus Christ, God's own beloved Son.

There is no birth narrative in Mark, it is here in this baptismal event that God tears open the heavens, and comes down, and anoints Jesus with the Holy Spirit, and is loose in the world.

And after Jesus' crucifixion when he has taken his last breath, when the temple has been torn, when Jesus is dead and buried and all seems to be hope lost, God is still loose in the world.

And hundreds of years later, through war and famine and disease and destruction, God is loose in the world.

And even now, in the midst of terrorist attacks and widespread injustice, God is still loose in the world.

In Baptism, we become anointed with the Spirit just as Jesus is anointed with the Spirit.

We become adopted as children of God, we become a part of Christ's body, we participate in Christ's death and resurrection, we are given new birth, we have the forgiveness of sins, we become members of the church universal, we are made righteous before God because of Jesus, and with the gift of the Holy Spirit we become an important part of God being loose in the world.

God uses ordinary things in life to do extraordinary things. Baptism is one of those examples: it's not the water itself, but God's word and God's promises and God's action with the water.

The extraordinary thing about baptism is God coming to us in it.

In Jesus' baptism, Jesus is named and claimed as God's son and sent out with the Spirit to be God's presence in the world.

In our baptisms, we too are named and claimed as God's children. We too are anointed with the Holy Spirit. We too are named beloved and sent out for the life of the world.

Amen.

 

 

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