First Sunday after the Epiphany
January 7, 2007
The Gospel: Mark 1:7-11
Sermon: "Baptism Has Meaning Throughout the Ages"
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."
Baptism Has Meaning Throughout the Ages
First Sunday after the Epiphany - January 7, 2007
Water is an amazing creation of God. As rain it refreshes the earth and brings forth flowers and trees. Pour it in a glass and it can quench thirst. Add the right leaves and you have a wonderful cup of tea. Fill a tub and it can make the filthiest little boy or girl fresh and clean, at least for a while. Freeze it into cubes, place it in a glass with some lemonade and it is perfect for sultry summer afternoon. Water is indeed an incredibly important element in our physical world.
It also is important as part of our spiritual world. Take some water, say the right words through the proper person, and have witnesses, and water takes on a whole different meaning. The meaning is a powerful symbol. It is a symbol that has been a part of the tradition for over two thousand years.
Today, we read about the beginning of this sacramental ministry for us as Christians. John the Baptist proclaims the coming of the Messiah. He calls the people of Israel to repentance. The call is to repentance as a nation. He baptizes each person, purifying them of their sins. They only have to be baptized once. Unlike bathing, it does not require repeating. Once someone has been baptized by John, they do not need to repeat the process.
Yet, John says there is something more wonderful coming. His baptism or repentance is not the end of the spiritual journey. There is more to come. The one who is to come will baptize also, not with water, but with the Holy Spirit of God. The journey will continue in a wonderful way, a way of mystery, a way of love. For when one is baptized with the Holy Spirit, it suggests a permanent change in that person's relationship with God. It is a change that begins with their baptism and reaches its fulfillment at the end of the age.
Into John's ministry of baptism for repentance Jesus comes. Jesus comes to John and is baptized by him. Jesus is not baptized for the forgiveness of sins. He is baptized as a symbol of his willingness to follow God's will. It is his gesture to the people, who have been baptized, of his willingness to follow God and gather God's people to him.
Through his willing action we also learn who Jesus is. For when Jesus is baptized his identity is revealed as the Son, the Beloved. We have the privilege that people who were with him at the time do not. We have the view looking back upon this incident after it has been recorded and examined.
Through this story we have learn of an incredible opportunities before us. Through our baptism we can experience the same wonderful gifts from God as the early followers of Jesus. We are forgiven of our sins. We are incorporated into the body of the faithful. We become part of the body of Christ. Most of all we are baptized in the Holy Spirit and we begin an incredible journey with God. It is a journey that we have the opportunity to experience fresh every moment of every day. For God's Spirit is with us always.
One of the greatest joys of being a priest is being an active part of a person's baptism. If they are adults then they stand before the congregation and they make a statement of their belief in God. They stand before us and proclaim that Jesus is their Lord and Savior. They receive acceptance, love and power from God in a mystical way. We accept them into the life of this congregation to stand with us as followers of Jesus Christ. Together we walk the journey with Christ leading the way.
That journey is to learn daily about the depth of the love of God. It is a journey where we receive the love of God daily and share it daily with those in our midst. We share it through the gifts we have been given in the power of God's Holy Spirit. One of the most exciting aspects of this journey is that we are not alone. God is with us and our brothers and sisters are with us. They support us in our growth, in our challenges and in our successes. They support us for that is what the family of God is all about, being one with Christ.
Today, I hope and pray that we will take a few moments to think about our baptism. What does it mean to say we believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? How can we learn more about the love of God? How can we be better brothers and sisters to one another? As we ponder these questions I pray we will be strengthened anew, in our faith, in our commitment to God, and in our relationships with one another. I pray we are strengthened to walk the journey this day and all days our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ leading our footsteps and being a light to our path. AMEN.