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Baptism Of Our Lord B Sermon
Mark 1: 1-11
January
10, 2021

 

Sermon Archives
 

 

Mark 1:1-11

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’,
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He 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. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And 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. 11And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

The congregation I served before coming to Clinton Heights had a huge, ornate cathedral-like sanctuary with lots of stained-glass windows and symbolic artifacts specifically designed to give witness to our Christian faith. At one point someone created a booklet, explaining much of the symbolism found in the beautiful church building. One of the symbolic features was the baptismal font, a huge, heavy concrete basin that had eight sides. As I read in the accompanying booklet about the reason for the design, I learned of a long-held image for Holy Baptism, that it is sometimes referred to as “The Eighth Day of Creation.” In other words, beyond the seven days of the first creation story in Genesis, God created a new day, a new beginning through Jesus’ resurrection. We begin to live this new life through Holy Baptism, hence we consider that our 8th day … creation’s 8th day.

The roots of this teaching lie in the Jewish practice of circumcision on the eighth day of a little boy’s life – that is, he is marked with the sign of being a child of Yahweh on this, the new beginning, or 8th day. We Christians have adopted this as a sign of new life through baptism for all men and women. Even though not many of us are baptized when we are exactly 8 days old, the numeric symbolism is still there. No matter how old the person is that is baptized – a few weeks, months, or even many years, we can still consider their baptismal day as their 8th Day.

Where am I going with all of this? In researching about history and symbolism of baptism in the Christian Church, I came across a sermon by St. Augustine of Hippo. Augustine himself was baptized in AD 386 and died in 430, so we can imagine that this was written and preached in the early 400s. It was first shared on what was known as the Easter Octave, the eighth day after Easter, or the first Sunday following Easter. Having Baptized and confirmed a number of new converts, Augustine shared this message specifically to those who had been baptized. Augustine begins, “I speak to you who have just been reborn in baptism, my little children in Christ, you who are the new offspring of the Church, gift of the Father, proof of Mother Church’s fruitfulness. All of you who stand fast in the Lord are a holy seed, a new colony of bees, the very flower of our ministry and fruit of our toil, my joy, my crown….”

Augustine speaks these words as a parent to small children, lovingly acknowledging their new status as brothers and sisters in Christ, newly clothed with Christ and one in unity with all Christian people. He continues with the two-fold meaning of Baptism as a means of salvation and the beginning of new life in Christ: “Such is the power of this sacrament; it is a sacrament of new life which begins here and now with the forgiveness of all past sins and will be brought to completion in the resurrection of the dead. You have been buried with Christ by baptism into death in order that, as Christ was raised from the dead, you also may walk in newness of life. You are walking now by faith, still on pilgrimage in a mortal body away from the Lord; but he to whom your steps are directed is himself the sure and certain way for you: Jesus Christ, who for our sake became human. For all who fear him, he has stored up abundant happiness, which he will reveal to those who hope in him, bringing it to completion when we have attained the reality which even now we possess in hope.” In other words, the new creation which is ours in baptism is not only for the eternal life which extends beyond death; as a matter of fact, in baptism you have effectively died, so that you can rise again, here and now in this earthly existence. Resurrection has already happened – the eighth day is accomplished! Live a new life in Christ now, following the call of the Holy Spirit that spoke at Jesus’ baptism just as we believe it spoke at our baptism – that we are God’s beloved children, with whom God is well pleased!

Finally, Augustine finished his sermon talking about the octave of new birth: “This is the octave day of your new birth. Today is fulfilled in you the sign of faith that was prefigured in the Old Testament by the circumcision of the flesh on the eighth day after birth. When the Lord rose from the dead, he put off the mortality of the flesh; his risen body was still the same body, but it was no longer subject to death. By his resurrection he consecrated Sunday, or the Lord’s Day. Though the third after his passion, this day is the eighth day after the sabbath, and this also the first day of the week.

Jesus’ baptism foreshadows two events in his life – the Transfiguration, where God’s voice once again speaks from heaven to proclaim him his beloved son, and the crucifixion, where the curtain of the temple – adorned to resemble the heavens – is torn in two and an unexpected voice, that of the centurion, proclaims that, “Surely this was the son of God.” In the same way our own baptisms foreshadowed our lives as followers of Jesus Christ and beloved children of God. Having died to all that sin stands for in our world – hatred, greed, brokenness, division, to name a few – we are bold to stand with each to love each other because that sinfulness still exists in the world.

No matter your political opinions you have to admit that the conflict in Washington DC this past Wednesday was a sign of how deeply broken and divided we are in our nation right now. Whether it is over politics, the virus, support or questioning of the police, economic uncertainty, mental health, systemic racism or just the inability to treat those with whom we disagree with kindness and dignity, things are escalating toward more and more conflicts, and I wonder if physical violence can and will become more and more evident. What does one do as a baptized sister or brother of God’s beloved children who are the other side of the arguments from where one finds him or herself?

Is it possible to see that other person as a beloved child of God, with whom God is well-pleased? When I think about how often I personally must have “displeased” God, I cannot help but be amazed that I am still considered God’s beloved child! To be sure, the law should be enforced and consequences should follow when people act out of hatred or greed, especially when they sow seeds of division in what they say or do, but we have to recognize that we are all sinful and unclean, and that we all can act out of this selfish mindset when we get too far removed from that wonderful eighth day of our lives – our baptism into the family of God which spans all time and space and even mindsets or opinions. We can be grieved about the actions on Wednesday, just as some have been grieved by the actions of others this last year, especially in Portland and other cities where violence occurred. In our baptisms we are all called to grieve the disregard for the sanctity of all life, the life of people of color, of law enforcement, the poor, the rich, other faiths, young, old, women, men, right, left, whatever. When, through baptism, I die to the mindset that I am any more beloved a child of God than the person from whom I am broken or separated by any number of factors, then I can rise to do as Augustine called those newly baptized to do over sixteen hundred years ago – to walk by faith, still on a pilgrimage in this mortal body directing my steps in the way of Jesus Christ. To experience the abundant happiness stored up and revealed to all who hope in him. I know this will never be experienced perfectly until my earthly days come to an end, but by dying in this way while I am still alive, it can certainly be lived out in part now.

I want to close by sharing the words that the late Alex Trebek shared Monday evening before the Jeopardy game began. Our household loves Jeopardy, and we made sure to watch this week as they were the final episodes that Alex taped before he died of pancreatic cancer back in November. After he greeted the television audience – thinking that the episodes were going to air the week of Christmas and maybe wondering if his earthly life would end before they aired - Alex said this, “You’ll recall that about a month ago I asked you all to give thanks for all of the blessings that you’ve enjoyed in your lives. Now today a different kind of message. This is the season of giving. I know you want to be generous with your family, your friends, your loved ones; but today I’d like you to go a step further. I’d like you to open up your hands and open up your heart to those who are still suffering because of Covid-19. People who are suffering through no fault of their own. We’ve tried to build a kinder, gentler society, and if we all pitch in just a little bit, we’re going to get there.” As we are looking for words of wisdom, solidarity and inspiration, these that have come from someone who has literally died can be just what we need as we seek to die to sin in remembering our baptisms, and rise to newness of life right now, on this eighth day. Amen.