McFarland

Baptism of Our Lord January 10, 2021

Readings

First Reading: Genesis 1:1-5
Psalm 29
Second Reading: Acts 19:1-7

Gospel: Mark 1:1-11

Prayer of the Day:
Holy God, creator of light and giver of goodness, your voice moves over the waters.  Immerse us in your grace, and transform us by your Spirit, that we may follow after your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Hymns of the Day

If you don’t have hymnals at home,
lookup the hymns on YouTube or other websites.

Baptized and Set Free – ELW #453
Baptized in Water – ELW #456
Christ, When for Us You Were Baptized – ELW #304
Go, My Children, with My Blessing – ELW #543

Reflection on Mark 1:1-11

by Pastor Kelli Schmit

Every Advent season, we start exploring a new Gospel.  This year we’re digging into the Gospel of Mark.  You may not be aware that this is the Year of Mark because, for the first two weeks in Advent, we heard from Mark.  But then the final two weeks of Advent, and Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, and the Sundays after…we heard from the gospels of Luke and John.  But now, now we’re back into Mark.  Next week, we’ll hear from John again, but then after that, I promise, we’ll stay in Mark for a while.

It’s important to know that we’re in Mark, especially today, because the baptism of Jesus is the lens through which we are to interpret the entire Gospel.[1]  We are to keep what unfolds in this scene in our mind as we witness God’s work, movement, and mission throughout the rest of the story.   And Jesus’ baptism is how Mark’s story begins.

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ,” a reference to the very start of our scriptures and our first reading for this morning.  “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.”  But this could also be read, “when God began to create.”[2]  This version implies that creation isn’t a past-tense event but it’s still happening all around us.  The fingerprints of God’s creative powers are everywhere and continue to unfurl everywhere we look.  God is still in the work of creating.  This promise of continued creation is carried into our reading from Mark.  The beginning of the good news of Jesus…God is still working and creating new life.

After this promise of continued creation and some words from the prophet Isaiah, we hear about John the baptizer.  We get distracted by his wardrobe and dietary choices, and rightfully so – they are wild, but we miss how he is proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  To repent requires one to be honest, so John “is calling people to tell the truth.”[3]  In the words of Matt Skinner, the “moment God has chosen for Jesus to receive a commissioning, to receive the Spirit, for the fabric of the universe to be literally altered […more on that in a bit…] is this moment of truth telling, or is this moment of the people of God […] being straight with themselves and with others about who they are and about what’s real.”[4]

John is calling people to speak the truth about who they are and the world around them.  We are to be honest about who we are and who we are not, about what we can do and about how we are limited.  Part of reconciliation and truth-telling is being honest about the impact our words, actions, and lives have in the world – to be honest about the systems in which we participate, willingly or unknowingly, systems of racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, ableism, classism, and the destruction of the planet.

We proclaimed this confession earlier in worship: “We confess that our hearts are burdened by sin – our own sins and the broken systems that bind us.  We turn inward, failing to follow your outward way of love.  We distrust those who are not like us.  We exploit the earth and its resources and fail to consider generations to come.”[5]  As individuals and as a community, we confessed this and more, and asked God for forgiveness.

And do you remember what happened after that confession?  Words of forgiveness.  Pastor Tim declared that God’s grace is vast and that through the power and promise of Christ, our sins are washed away and we are claimed as God’s own beloved.  It is like a deep breath of fresh air right when I felt like I was drowning.  The radical thing is that God knows all our warts, failings, prejudices, assumptions, and all the places where we feel powerless – God knows all of this and God still loves us and wants to draw us deeper into relationship.  Telling the truth is hard, but there is no truth so ugly God washes God’s hands and walks away.  Instead, God washes us clean.  Holding the raw, honesty of our truth, then we can begin the work of reconciliation, of repairing our relationship with God, others, and ourselves – to begin creating something new.

This deep breath when we felt ourselves going under, there is nothing we can do to earn the sacraments.  God gives us these gifts, not because we’re worthy, but because God loves us and wants to be in an unbreakable relationship with us.  Our deep, undeniable, desperate need for forgiveness makes the freely given gift that much more amazing.  The gift of baptism can’t be earned or worked towards or deserved because we can’t do it ourselves.  We can’t become a child of God on our own.  We can’t maneuver forgiveness from God on our own.  We can’t establish an unbreakable relationship with God on our own.  We can’t procure the promise of eternal life on our own.

We can do a lot but we’re still humans in desperate need for God to be God…and God is.  As desperately as we need God, God desperately wants to be in relationship with us.  Maybe even more.  That’s the recurring theme throughout the entirety of scripture from the very beginning.  From the very first page and verse, God is engaging with creation and reaching out to us all in order to be in relationship with us.

This truth-telling about the power yet limitation of humanity is the background for Jesus’ baptism.  He is submerged in the waters of the Jordan and “just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart.”  He saw the heavens torn apart.  I never caught that before this week.  What must that have looked like?  He saw it happen.  In Matthew and Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism, the heavens are opened, but in Mark the heavens are torn apart.  You can close what has been opened, but there’s no successfully closing that which has been torn.  The barrier separating the heavens from the earth is now permeable and God’s presence is running loose in the world.

Remember, looking at the Gospel of Mark through the lens of Jesus baptism, we see how Jesus, time and time again, rips apart the barriers that separate people from him and from living a whole life.  The barrier of physical illness is ripped apart when Jesus heals a woman with a fever, a man with paralysis, a man who cannot see, and a man who cannot hear.  The boundary between who is considered clean and worthy to be loved – and who is not – is ripped to shreds when Jesus travels to Gentile territory all to heal a man possessed by a legion of demons.  The limitation placed on when one can be cared for and who can be treated as human is found to be porous as Jesus healed on the sabbath, touched a leper, restored to health a hemorrhaging woman, and brought a young girl back to life.  Each and every time, Jesus rips through the established boundaries that only limit people, and he does so in order to offer health, wholeness, authenticity of self, and the resuming of relationships with family and the community. [6]

But he wasn’t done yet.  Later, after he is crucified, we hear, “Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.  And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” (15.37-38).  The curtain was torn.  This tapestry was the door to the inner-most room of the temple, the room where God’s very presence was believed to be.  When Christ died, the fabric tore as if to say that God was determined to not let anyone think God could be limited or contained.

Over and over again, Jesus pushes past any limitation that might prevent him from being with those whom he loves – from whatever prohibits people’s ability to be included, healthy, whole, restored to community, safe, and their authentic selves.  In the words of Matt Skinner, “Either Jesus declares that those separations don’t work, or that if they do work he intends to tear them down.”[7]

Wow – this is some incredibly good news on this day when we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord.  We are called to own our truth, are promised forgiveness, and are a witness to God ripping through any barrier that might keep us apart.  But there’s more.  The story isn’t over.  God is still creating.

In baptism we are made a child of God and the family of faith is made anew and made a little bigger.  We become a disciple who strives to reflect God’s love and light in the world.  To borrow a question from Dr. Karoline Lewis, this leads us to ask, “What does it mean to […] follow Jesus into this kind of ripping apart of boundaries?”[8]  So what barriers exist that prevent wholeness, justice, truth, life, and grace?  What gets in the way?  How do we participate in their construction?  How do we join God in ripping them apart?

This is part of our baptismal vocation, to be sent out in mission for the life of the world, to proclaim Christ through word and deed, to care for the world God made, and work for justice and peace among all people.[9]  This is the work to which we are called as baptized children of God – to be honest about our realities and hold our truths, to receive the inconceivable gift of forgiveness, and to join together in God’s work of sharing Christ’s love in the world, with everyone we meet.

Is it a big task?  Oh yeah, no doubt about it.  But we’re not alone in our work, and our guide will rip down anything that stands in his way.  Thanks be to God.

Amen.

[1] Karoline Lewis from: Rolf Jacobson, Karoline Lewis, and Joy J. Moore, “Sermon Brainwave: #756 – First Sunday of Advent (Year B),” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary, online podcast, https://www.workingpreacher.org/podcasts/756-first-sunday-of-advent-year-b-nov-29-2020.
[2] Ronald Hendel, footnote to “Genesis 1.1” in The HarperCollins Study Bible: Fully Revised and Updated NRSV ed. Harold Attridge (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2006), 5.
[3] Matt Skinner from: Rolf Jacobson, Karoline Lewis, Joy J. Moore, and Matt Skinner, “Sermon Brainwave: #763 – Baptism of Our Lord (Ord. 1B) – Jan. 10, 2021,” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary, online podcast, https://www.workingpreacher.org/podcasts/763-baptism-of-our-lord-ordinary-1b-jan-10-2021.
[4] Skinner.
[5] From sundaysandseasons.com. Copyright © 2021 Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission under Augsburg Fortress Liturgies Annual License #SBWA001128.
[6] List inspired by Karoline Lewis from: Rolf Jacobson, Karoline Lewis, Joy J. Moore, and Matt Skinner, “Sermon Brainwave: #763 – Baptism of Our Lord (Ord. 1B) – Jan. 10, 2021,” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary, online podcast, https://www.workingpreacher.org/podcasts/763-baptism-of-our-lord-ordinary-1b-jan-10-2021.
[7] Matt Skinner, “Preach This Week, June 24, 2018, Gospel Reading, Commentary on Mark 4:35-41,” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3677 (accessed June 28, 2018).
[8] Lewis.
[9] From sundaysandseasons.com.  Copyright © 2021 Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved.

Let Us Pray

God of new life, thank you for the incredible gift of baptism – for the promise of the forgiveness of sins, for making us a child of God, and for removing every obstacle that might try to keep you from us.  Help us see what barriers exist that hinder people from experiencing wholeness of life, and show us where we may join you in removing those limitations.  Wrap your whole creation in grace, care, and acceptance that can only come from you.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.