First Sunday after the Epiphany - The Baptism of our Lord
January 12, 2003
The Gospel: Mark 1: 7-11
Sermon: "How does Someone become real for us?"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
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. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 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."
Mark 1: 7-11
How does Someone become real for us?
First Sunday after the Epiphany - The Baptism of our Lord - January 12, 2003
How does someone become real for us? We live in a world now where we question the reality of people immensely. For example, science has made it possible to make holographic images of people, places, and things. Go to the movies and the backgrounds instead of being real places may be pictures on a blue screen behind the actor. Computer games have people that look and act real. Even more amazing is that with the right documents, ID cards, and a few dates it is possible to create a person who doesn't exist. A case in point is the woman who created a brother who she claims died on September 11th so she could collect funds from the Red Cross and other agencies. Our government can create a whole new identity for someone through the witness protection program. Finally, we have cloning. Is it real or is it Memorex? So, what makes a person real for us?
Obviously it isn't a set of dates or numbers. Do we need to know something about them to make them real? Do we have to see, touch or hear them for a person to be truly present? What evidence do we need? Maybe we need to talk to their parents?
As you are aware we are now in the season of Epiphany. The word Epiphany means manifestation. Manifestation means readily perceived by the senses especially the sense of sight. The Epiphany is the time when we remember that God came to us in Jesus Christ, flesh and blood. God incarnate came and dwelt among us. And Mark wants us, the ones who were not there, who did not see at the time, that Christ is alive today.
So, how does Mark try to accomplish this task, to make Jesus Christ real? Mark doesn't begin with the usual information. He doesn't begin with the story of Jesus' birth. He doesn't have a lineage or a discussion with Mary. He doesn't begin with a birth certificate. He shows us who Christ is. He makes Christ real by showing us who He is through his actions. He begins with John the Baptist preparing the way. John prepares the way for Jesus by calling people to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. The people who hear this call of John are being prepared for the coming of the Messiah, the Christ. The people may not fully understand what John means through this baptism. However, we know what it means through Mark. The people who hear the call, as they are baptized, are being prepared to receive the one who will baptize with God's Holy Spirit. The door for them is being opened so they may enter into the presence of the One who brings in the kingdom of God. The Messiah will be the One who is totally obedient to God the Father. The Messiah is the One who will open the way to eternal life for all. So, Mark begins with the ministry of Christ and not with personal ID. Jesus will be the One who ministers to all. Jesus will be the One who will draw all of God's people together and baptize them with God's Spirit.
From this proclamation Mark moves to Jesus' baptism. Please notice something here. When Jesus was baptized the crowds did not see a neon sign with an arrow that said The Messiah is Here. They did not hear the voice or see the Holy Spirit descend like a dove. The only person who hears the voice and sees the Spirit descend is Jesus. The people at the time do not know. The only people who know about this event are the readers of the Gospel. Mark wants us to know what occurred on that day. Mark wants us to know that Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of God. We are privy to information that helps make Christ real for us. Jesus is being baptized, not for forgiveness, but as an outward sign of his full obedience to the Father. He is obedient to God and will carry the message of God's redemption to all people, to you and to me. His baptism confirms for us his identity as the Son. He is the one who will lead us into salvation. For he, like us, has been baptized. Jesus shows His oneness with God the Father and his humbleness to us through his willingness to be baptized.
Jesus' identity becomes real for us initially through his baptism. Throughout the rest of the Gospel of Mark we will see just how real He is. We will hear stories of healings and other miracles. We will hear the words of his teaching and preaching. Ultimately we will hear the account of his death and resurrection. Jesus is still alive, still real for us today. Every time someone is hungry and is fed, Jesus is real. Every time someone receives comfort when they are ill or hurting, Jesus is real. Every time someone is comforted at the death of a loved one, Jesus is real. Every time there is joy, at the birth of a child, at a baptism, Jesus is real. In other words every time there is compassion and love given to one another we are reminded that Jesus is alive, that Jesus is real, and that God's redemption in the world still goes on.
If we want to know how real Jesus is, look at the person next to you. Stare into their eyes and see the love of God present there. See the love of God for you and for me.