Sunday, January 7, 2018

"Jesus' Baptism and Ours." A Sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church on Baptism of Jesus Sunday.

"Jesus' Baptism and Ours"

Genesis 1:1-5; Mark 1:4-11

         The scripture passages we heard today have to do with beginnings.  The Genesis text is the beginning of the creation story and tells how the Spirit of God swept over the face of the waters and was part of the creation process.
            The gospel according to Mark begins with the words, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  There’s no birth story here.  The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ is about his baptism.
            John the Baptizer appears in the wilderness    Then Jesus comes to the Jordan and asks John to baptize him.   As Jesus is coming up out of the water, he sees the heavens torn apart and the spirit descending like a dove on him.  And a voice comes down from heaven, “You are my Son, the beloved.  With you I am well pleased.”

            Without the rest of Jesus’ life, his baptism isn’t something we can comprehend.  We can only comprehend the purpose of Jesus’ baptism when we look at the days and years that followed that day in the Jordan.  It’s when we see Jesus taking his place with hurting people that his baptism starts to make sense.  Baptism was Jesus’ commissioning for ministry.
            During the week before his death, Jesus was challenged by the leaders of the temple: “By what authority do you do these things?”
            Jesus answers by referring to his baptism: “Was the baptism of John from heaven or not?”    In other words, I was baptized.  That’s how all this started.”  It was in the waters of baptism that Jesus began hearing the Spirit calling him to speak the truth     and to live with grace.
            Baptisms, like all beginnings, find their meaning after the event.  Beginning is usually fairly easy.  Finishing is usually harder.
             Starry-eyed young couples who are in love come to the pastor, and very often, they’re focused on having the perfect wedding.  It’s part of the pastor’s job to remind them that the wedding is just the beginning.  It’s the living out of the promises they make that’s the hard part...  the part that will make all the difference ten or fifty years from that day.
            Baptism is the beginning of a journey.  We’re handed a map, but we have to take the trip.  It takes our whole life to finish our baptisms...  to fulfill what was started when we were baptized. 

            It was no ordinary day when John baptized Jesus in the Jordan, and it’s no ordinary day when we baptize someone here in this sanctuary--whether it’s a baby or an adult.  It’s no ordinary day because Jesus’ baptism shows us how far God will go to be reconciled with us and to reconcile us to one another. God tore apart the heavens to get to us, to give us the Holy Spirit, and to join us to Christ.
            This time of year, we may have made resolutions or renewed commitments to get in shape, to get more sleep, to eat more healthfully to live the rest of our lives better in some ways.  
            We live in a time when it feels like there’s a lot to worry about--the economy, a divided government, an increasingly polarized culture… the growing gap between the rich and poor.  Closer to home, people may be concerned about their kids… their work… health challenges… a parent struggling with frailty or dementia…loneliness… or grieving the loss of a loved one.
            In the midst of all this, sometimes we forget who we are… or whose we are.  Sometimes we run away from our identity and our calling. 
            In Disney's film and play The Lion King, the young lion, Simba, is living in exile-- separated from all that reminds him of his identity.  He's away from home...  away from his family...  and away from his responsibilities.  He has forsaken his true identity as the king of the lions.  In his absence, the kingdom has been overpowered by forces of evil, and it is a very dark and wounded place.
            The baboon "priest"- figure Rafiki finds Simba in the jungle and calls Simba back to his true identity.  Rafiki leads Simba to a lake.  As Simba stares into the pool of water, it is not only his own face that he sees.  It is also the face of his father.  The father and son are inextricably
            As Simba recognizes his father within himself, the heavens open...  and his father speaks to him from heaven.  In that moment, Simba is transformed.  He understands his true identity as the Lion King.  He sees the responsibility his identity carries.  He is empowered for the mission that lies before him...  and is able to combat the evil forces of the world.  In the end, Simba is able to bring light and healing back to the kingdom.

            On this Baptism of the Lord Sunday, we are reminded of Jesus' baptism...   and our own.  We are reminded who we are...  and whose we are.
            At your baptism, the same Spirit came down upon you as came down upon Jesus at his baptism.   The same Father said to you, “you are my beloved son"...   or "you are my beloved daughter."  The same Father has continued ever since to hold you...   and to work to empower you for God's work.
            In baptism, God proclaims God's grace and love for us.  God claims us and marks us as God’s own.  We have a new identity as members of the body of Christ.
            Through the waters of baptism, we participate in Christ’s death and resurrection.  Repentance... conversion...  and growth are a lifelong process.  Anything in us that separates us from God has to die, so that we can be raised to new life in Christ. 

            The good news of our baptism is that God adopts us as God's own.  God reaches for us...  and claims us as God's chosen ones—God’s beloved.   We are baptized-- not because we have come to God...  but because God has first come to us.   So, we are baptized   and begin a lifelong pilgrimage with God...  a lifelong process of conversion and nurture which begins at the font...  and doesn't end until death-- until we are at last tucked safely into the everlasting arms of the God who first reached for us in baptism.
            God keeps on reaching for us throughout our lives.  God isn't finished with any of us yet.  Every day we live out our baptism.  Every day we need to respond to God's gracious gifts in our lives...  open ourselves again to God's work in our lives...  say YES in all the big and little things we do throughout the day.
            A major part of God's daily saving work in our lives is God's gift of the Holy Spirit.  Just as God's creating Spirit hovered over the waters in the very beginning, the Holy Spirit works in us...   leads us daily...  tugging at our lives to turn us more and more fully toward God. 
            How easy it is, in the midst of this life, to forget who you are...  and whose you are.  So, the church is here to remind you...  to remind each of us-- that God has named us...  and claimed us...   and seeks us and loves us unconditionally.
            What a difference it can make in our lives when we know—deep in our souls—that we are God’s beloved!  So-- remember your baptism.  Remember who you are   and whose you are.  Hear God’s blessing and let it shape and strengthen your life: “You are my beloved child. With you I am well pleased.”

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
January 7, 2018