First Sunday after the Epiphany
January 8, 2006
The Gospel: Mark 1:7-11
Sermon: "The Baptism of Jesus"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
John the Baptizer 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."
The Baptism of Jesus
First Sunday after the Epiphany - January 8, 2006
Exactly two weeks ago we celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ. God Incarnate, God in the flesh, walks among humanity in our own form fully human and fully God. Today, we recognize the baptism of Jesus. We move quickly over twenty-nine to thirty years of Jesus' life and move to a very important event.
This event is very important in Jesus' life. It is one of the few events of his life that is recorded in all four Gospels. It is important for two reasons. First of all, Jesus' identity is confirmed. Secondly, he is empowered and called to his ministry. These two aspects of this event are not only important for Jesus, they are also important for us.
They are important because our baptisms are patterned in the same manner. We find out our identity and we are empowered for ministry.
First, letís look at Jesus' baptism. Initially, we see John the Baptist. He proclaims his ministry is one of a baptism with water. Water was used mainly as an act of cleansing and repentance. He proclaims the Messiah will come and baptize with God's Holy Spirit. Then Jesus arrives. He goes to John for baptism. As he comes up from the water, Jesus sees heaven open and the Holy Spirit descends upon him like a dove. Then Jesus alone hears the voice that proclaims Jesus is God's son, the beloved. With Jesus and his actions God is well pleased.
It is important for us to note that Jesus is told exactly who He is. He is told by the voice of God that He is God's son. He is told that he is the Beloved. His full identity is revealed. He is aware of exactly who He is. Now, I know that there has been a great deal of ink spilled over just when Jesus knew He was God's Son by many theologians. It is entirely possible that he knew it earlier. However, what I am suggesting here is that at this particular moment there is no doubt. There is no question concerning his identity after this moment. He knows who He is from this moment on. He is the Beloved.
Furthermore, the Spirit of God has come upon him. He is empowered for his ministry in a new way. The Holy Spirit comes upon him gently, like a dove. He will begin his ministry after this event. I find it interesting that the very next thing the Spirit does is chase him into the wilderness where he is tempted. However, he is given the ability to resist through the power of the Holy Spirit and because he knows who He is. This singular event is pivotal for Jesus and his ministry.
Now, the church recognizes how important this event is in Jesus' life. Furthermore, the church recognizes it is important in our life as well. Please turn with me to page 301 of the Book of Common Prayer. When we are baptized, whether as an infant, youth or adult, the first thing that happens is that we are named. We are named as we are presented for baptism. We find out who we are. We are named as a child of God, a daughter or a son. Even if we are baptized as an infant, a similar process occurs at confirmation. Our identity as children of God is confirmed.
Secondly, we turn away from the sources of evil in the world and accept Jesus Christ into our lives by answering the six questions. We recognize that we are created by God and that we can do nothing without God's help. In other words, we need the presence of God in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit to do ministry. It is true that people do good things in their lives and do not believe in God. However, we have an understanding of God and what God has done. We know that our abilities as individuals and as a community to do good are increased as we trust in God.
This knowledge is really brought home to us as we say together The Baptismal Covenant. In this covenant there are eight questions. The first three questions review our statement of belief in God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We recognize that God created us, redeemed us and continues to sustain us. Our identity as children of God is confirmed even more through these questions. As children of God we are a part of the Body of Christ the church and empowered by the Holy Spirit to work for God in the world.
After we have confirmed who we are as children of God the next five questions give us an idea of how we do our ministry. Thankfully, we are not sent into the wilderness for forty days of rigorous testing. We begin a journey, a life long journey with God and with a community of brothers and sisters in Christ. These questions help us see what we are to be like on the journey. We are to stay connected to God and the community through worship, education, communion, and prayer. We can't do anything on our own. The community is there to support and sustain us on the journey. God is there through the sacraments and through the Holy Spirit to lead, guide, comfort and strengthen.
The reason this question is first is because the next question shows us the challenges we will face. The world is not a perfect place. Temptation is all around us. There will be times when we will succumb to the temptation. When we do, God does not desert us. God is there as we repent and return.
This reality is followed by three questions that describe our ministry. These three questions call us to a ministry in the world. We are to proclaim by our words and actions the salvation of God in Christ. We are to seek out and to serve Christ in all persons by loving all. Finally, we are to work for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.
These are not just idle words on the page. They really do give an outline of our role as ministers. We are called to share the Good News of salvation we have received. We share that news as we talk with others and as we work around others. People know what we believe by what they see us do. If we respond to anger with anger than we are not following God's will. If we choose personal power and authority over God's, then we are not following God's will. Furthermore, people see what we do and assume that we are not Christians at all. They would assume this because our actions do not follow our words. Please note that we are not called to be passive. We are called to seek out and serve Christ in other persons. We are not called to sit idly by or rest on our own laurels. Being a Christian means being active, constantly working for good by serving others, respecting others, and striving for the peace and justice that Christ offers to the world.
Yes, Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan many years ago. His identity was confirmed and his ministry began. We continue in this practice of baptism in our own lives to know who we are and to be strengthened and empowered as children of a wonderful and loving God. I pray that each time we say the creed, each time, we participate in a baptism or confirmation, that we will be reminded of our own baptism, our own identity, our own ministry.