Göttinger Predigten im Internet
ed. by U. Nembach, J. Neukirch

Epiphany 1 (Baptism of Jesus), January 8, 2006
A Sermon based on Mark 1:4-11 (RCL) by James Mueller
(->current sermons )

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Coming out of the Christmas season is always a weird preaching experience because you realize nothing I say up here can live up to the excitement of the manger, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and Christmas cookies in the fellowship hall after the service.

There’s not too much in the lectionary that matches Christmas, and then you come across Mark 1. Mark 1 records the Baptism of Jesus. In only 2 weeks we’ve jumped 30 years in Jesus’ life, from baby to rabbi, because the Biblical text tells us of almost nothing from his childhood. The one story when he was 12 in the temple was one of my favorites as a kid. Imagine the permission from Scripture, under valid circumstances of course, to not check with your parents and do what you want to do. Jesus just comes across as the slightest bit naughty and that sounded pretty good to me. So let’s jump ahead 30 years after Christmas and take a peek at this amazing text from Mark 1:4-11.

4And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. Stop for a second. This is an amazing scene to open the Gospel of Mark. When Malachi ends the Old Testament there’s a 400 year waiting that begins. Waiting in sadness as God’s people live as the world’s captives. Waiting in anticipation for God to show up and part more seas. Waiting for a Messiah that no one fully understands. And here John comes in and preaches about repentance and forgiveness and the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went to him. All Judea and all Jerusalem! Now remember we’re out in the desert, no bus service, no cars, all for this thing called Baptism. Verse 6.

6John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. To make matters even more strange John’s a little weird. He dresses in itchy camel’s hair and eats locusts and wild honey. It’s comforting to think Jesus had a crazy cousin just like all of us. Not that John is actually crazy, but people surely must have wondered. I hope you’re beginning to set a mental picture in your head. Verse 7. 7And this was his message: "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." Which is another way of saying Jesus’ baptism is a little different, and more important than John’s. Verse 9. 9At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."

Mark doesn’t include the verse where John has to be talked into baptizing Jesus. John doesn’t see himself as worthy. I can imagine it’s a humbling position to be in. Jesus has nothing to repent and nothing to forgive and yet you’re washing him. This is the kind of thing I remind myself when baptizing people. If I get too caught up in my sins, my mistakes, my worries, then I’d have to stop preaching, stop blessing, and stop baptizing. If ministry was about me then nothing would ever get done. I take comfort that John was humbled by the task because I’m humbled by the task. In a sense what Jesus is reminding John the Baptist is that it’s all about the covenant. God’s promise to His people that He’s going to rescue them. God didn’t let Noah down during the flood, He didn’t let Abraham go without a son, He didn’t let Moses and the people stay enslaved in Egypt, and He’s not going to abandon His people now. John is ushering in the covenant. I like to think of him as the last prophet. He’s like Elijah and Jeremiah. He’s reminding the people for the last time that the Messiah is on His way. He’s coming to take that flood, son, and Red Sea covenant and he’s going to fulfill it, perfect it, finish it, and complete it. Jesus is going to seal it. And before John knows it there’s Jesus in the water with him ready to start that redemption. And just for good measure heaven opens up to verify that Jesus is the real deal.

This text might not live up to the excitement of the Christmas Eve text, but it might be more important to each of us. Baptism is a place where God does something to us. Somehow my faith is strengthened by knowing that my faith doesn’t have to measure up. I like knowing that Baptism is something God does to me. Unfortunately, Christians have allowed the theology of Baptism to divide them for centuries. We debate effect and we debate method. Do you immerse, do you dump, do you sprinkle? Does more water mean more covenant? There certainly is nice symbolism in washing the whole person, but in nearly all the traditions Christians at least wash the forehead in Baptism. The forehead has much symbolic meaning in the Bible and in Revelation in particular. When we wash the forehead with the Word of God as our soap we are attacking the mark of the beast. We are unmarking any evil seals and replacing them with the mark of Baptism. Spiritual language with a tangible change. The powers in the sky can see that the mark has changed. The covenant is there.

The power of Baptism does not come from the worthiness of Pastor Jim, Reverend Mueller, or even John the Baptist. The power does not increase because you used a waterfall to do the washing. The power comes when we link up God’s Spirit with simple things. Water plus Word gives you baptism. Bread and Wine plus Word gives you the Lord’s Supper. God takes simple things and uses His Word to transform lives. The covenant Jesus is fulfilling in each of us in Baptism includes Noah, Abraham and Moses. But He takes that covenant and He completes it through the forgiveness of the cross and the promise of resurrection.

Baptism washes the outside and the inside. It washes the parts we can’t see. The parts we can’t find. The eternal parts. It’s the promise I look for when I try to find the words to say at a funeral. I’m looking for words of hope to give a family that’s grieving and then I remind them that the forgiveness of Jesus already washed all the sin away in Baptism. Instead of talking about how good that person is, I look for the mark that says resurrection is sealed on them too. If possible I want to remind them of the date.

For me it was way back in 1975. I was the size of a little oompah loompah. I don’t remember a thing. I suppose we could debate whether age matters in Baptism. When I baptized my three children I did a new generation kind of thing. We made a DVD for each of our kids so they can celebrate their baptism birthdays. They can see it, they can own it. We blow out the Baptism candle, we open a Baptism gift, and we celebrate the new life Jesus brings to them. They can trust in God’s work. There’s a lot we can do to make a child’s baptism just as personal and memorable as an adult’s. The one thing we shouldn’t do is take this promise from our children. They need it and we need it.

The Old Testament lectionary text really completes this Gospel. In Genesis 1 we learn again about how God took the empty and formless and made beauty and life. By relating this to the Gospel it’s as if the Church is saying we have a new chance at creation. Let’s go back to the Garden of Eden. Let’s create beauty again instead of letting sin destroy us. Let’s separate the darkness from the light. Jesus is here to say “let there be light”. The Gospel lesson is important because in it God is retelling the world to “let there be light”. I pray that the beauty God is ushering in through the cross, the tomb, and through Baptism is fresh and alive in your life. Live out that covenant because you are God’s son, you are God’s daughter, whom He loves; with you He is well pleased. In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. James Mueller