Baptism of Our Lord
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one with the most powerful voice. Amen
From the very beginning words have been powerful
as the first words of scripture testify:
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.”
There in the presence of the spirit,
God speaks the world into being.
Words have power to create.
Words also have power to destroy.
We hear that in our Psalm for today:
“The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice;
the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;
bursts forth in lightning flashes.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe and strips the forests bare.”
Yet as alarming as all this might sound
we are told that “in the temple of the Lord all are crying, “Glory!””
The power of the Lord is on display in the voice of the Lord
and it brings the faithful to worship.
The words of God move the people of God to action.
Words are powerful.
Especially the words of God
Which sometimes God speaks directly
God speaks through people like John the baptizer,
who Mark tells us appeared in the wilderness
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,
and at his words
Mark tells us that people from the WHOLE Judean countryside
and ALL the people of Jerusalem
were going out to him to be baptized.
This might seem like an exaggeration of the size of the crowds
but Mark makes sure that we know
the people are drawn to John by his words
rather than his way of life,
he’s kind of an odd guy dressing in camel’s hair
and dining on locusts and wild honey,
and while this may add a kind of authenticity
to his presence as a prophet
the people are not looking to emulate him,
but his message is spreading
and making a difference in the lives of people
John’s call to repentance is a call to live in a new way
And people are responding
but like any true messenger of God,
John knows that all this fuss isn’t about him,
it’s about the one to whom he is pointing
“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”
John knows that his role and words are preparatory,
preparing the way for the one who is coming after him,
And onto the scene walks Jesus,
now in Mark this is the first time we meet Jesus,
Mark has told us in the very first verse
what his gospel is about: Jesus Christ the Son of God,
but then goes straight to John in the wilderness,
there are no angels or virgin birth
or even stars in the sky to announce who Jesus is,
that happens when Jesus travels from Nazareth of Galilee
and is 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 voice of God names Jesus God’s beloved Son,
and it is so,
that is who Jesus is
God’s spoken blessing creating the future as it identifies Jesus.
This is one of the reasons that I appreciate how Mark tells the story of Jesus,
because family connections, and prophesy
are all less important than this moment
when once and for all God speaks,
identifying Jesus as beloved child
and filling him with the holy spirit,
and Jesus listens to the voice of God
and goes on to live into the identity God has created for him
as we’ll see him start to do in the coming weeks of Epiphany.
God does this for us as well.
At our baptisms,
God, speaking through the Pastor,
claims us in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
and through the hands of the Pastor
God marks the sign of the cross on our foreheads saying
“child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”
and it is so,
that is who we are,
where we came from,
what we’ve done, our family connections
all less important than this moment
where we have been identified as beloved children
and filled with the Holy Spirit.
And the question becomes,
will we listen to the voice of God
and live into the identity that God has created for us?
Beloved, created for love.
Or will we get distracted by other voices?
less powerful but often louder,
the ones that try to get us to define ourselves through power
gained at the expense of others that the voices label less than
and peddle the lie that their mere existence is a threat.
Beloved of God, whose voice do you listen to?
What words do you surround yourself with?
It makes a difference
because words have the power to create and destroy,
power to lead people to praise God or to perpetrate violence.
Whose words shape your life?
God has spoken, now the choice is yours,
In closing after this difficult week,
I’d like to offer you the opportunity to make that choice again
publicly affirm your baptisms,
to once again commit to your God given identity,
the blessing from God that shapes our future.
Please rise as you are able,
we will use the words of the apostle’s creed found on page 6 in your bulletins.
Here in the presence of God and one another I ask you to profess your faith in Christ Jesus, reject sin, and confess the faith of the church.
For the following questions the response is “I renounce them”
Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?
I renounce them.
Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God?
I renounce them.
Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God?
I renounce them.
Do you believe in God the Father?
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
You have made public profession of your faith. Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism:
to live among God’s faithful people,
to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,
to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?
The assembly makes affirmation:
I do, and I ask God to help and guide me.
The minister addresses the assembly.
People of God, do you promise to support and pray for one another in your life in Christ?
We do, and we ask God to help and guide us.
The presiding minister prays for God’s blessing.
Let us pray.
We give you thanks, O God, that through water and the Holy Spirit you give us new birth, cleanse us from sin, and raise us to eternal life. Stir up in your people the gift of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence both now and forever.
May it be so
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.