Sunday, January 11, 2015


St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
January 11, 2015

Year B: The First Sunday after the Epiphany – the Baptism of Our Lord
Genesis 1:1-5
Psalm 29
Acts 19:1-7
Mark 1:4-11

            Today we are all about beginnings.
            In today’s Old Testament lesson, we literally began at the beginning with the start of the Bible, the account of God creating the heavens and the earth and seeing that it was good, very good indeed.
            And in today’s gospel lesson, as we always do on the First Sunday after the Epiphany, we heard the story of Jesus’ baptism.
            Baptism marked the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
            The fact that John the Baptist baptized Jesus must have been very well remembered among the early Christians, so well-known that all four of the gospels include the story, though with some interesting differences.
            This year we heard the account of Jesus’ baptism found in the Gospel of Mark.
            Most scholars think that Mark is the earliest of the four gospels to be written, sometime around the year 70, thirty or so years after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, written at a time when there would have been at least few people still alive who had known Jesus in the flesh and maybe even had been there that day at the Jordan when Jesus was baptized.
            Mark’s gospel is definitely the shortest and most barebones of the four gospels. Mark isn’t interested in giving us a lot of extra details that aren’t central to his story of Jesus the Son of God.
            And at the beginning of the gospel, Mark just jumps right in.
            It’s like Mark can’t wait to begin telling the story!
            There are no stories of Jesus’ birth that we find in Matthew and Luke.
            There is no beautiful and profound prologue like we find in John.
            Instead, Mark begins with one sentence of introduction: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
            Then there’s a little intro of John the Baptist and then we pick up with today’s lesson, Chapter 1, verse 4: the baptism of Jesus.
            For Mark, although Jesus is clearly an adult at the time of his baptism, the story of Jesus begins with his baptism.
            The beginning.
            The way Mark tells the story, the baptism of Jesus is an intensely personal experience.
            John does the baptizing, of course, but we’re told that just as Jesus “was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.”
            Just like us, Jesus received the gift of the Holy Spirit at his baptism.
            And then we’re told that Jesus heard a voice from heaven say to him, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
            There’s no mention of other people hearing this heavenly voice. Maybe others heard it, maybe not.
            But, it seems to me, that this was a personal – intensely personal - communication between God the Father and Jesus the Son.
            “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
            By the way, those words are actually a combination of Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1.
            “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
            With those words, God the Father announces Jesus’ special, unique, identity.
            But, maybe even more important than that, that day in the River Jordan, in the water of baptism, with those words, God the Father really says to Jesus the Son, “I love you.”
            “I love you.”
            Jesus’ ministry begins in baptism and begins with love.
            Right after his baptism, Jesus spends his forty days and nights of testing and temptation in the wilderness and then begins his public ministry, calling people to repentance, teaching and healing, proclaiming the Good News.
            And eventually his public ministry that began in the waters of baptism and began with love will get Jesus into big trouble, will get him arrested and will get him killed.
            And, we know that there were some difficult moments for Jesus along the way.
            His message was never was as widely or well received as he must have hoped.
            His closest followers seemed to have had a lot of trouble understanding his main points.
            He wept in the Garden of Gethsemane as he anticipated his fate and begged God to let this bitter cup pass.
             One of his disciples betrayed him, one of his closest friends denied him three times and just about everybody abandoned him in his greatest moment of need, as he cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!”
            Yet, even in those moments of terrible despair, I believe that Jesus remembered the waters of baptism and the voice from heaven declaring, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
            I hope that Jesus remembered that in the water of baptism God said, “I love you.”
            In a real sense, just like for Jesus, our lives begin in the water of baptism where God says to us, “I love you.”
            Of course, we all face many challenges and troubles in our lives: life often doesn’t work out quite the way we expected or hoped; we’re not as smart or as talented or as good looking as we might want; we don’t get the job or we lose the job or the job is boring or too hard or doesn’t pay enough; our relationships get broken or never even take root; we hurt people and other people hurt us; we get sick; we lose the ones we love…I could go on and I’m sure you could make your own list.
            Life is hard.
            So, it seems to me, that one of the best reasons to come to church week after week is to remember the beginning.
            When we come here we are reminded of the God of love who began it all by dreaming up and willing into existence this beautiful world and the incomprehensibly vast cosmos beyond.
            When we come here we are reminded that in a real sense our lives began in the water of baptism – that’s why the font is by the church entrance.
            When we come here we are reminded that in the water of baptism God says to us, to each and every one us, no matter what we do or don’t do, no matter what goes right or what goes wrong, God says to us, I love you.
            God says to us, “I love you.”
            And, with God’s help, we begin.
            We begin again.