Epiphany I B’21: Baptism of Our Lord
10 January 2021
Mark 1.4-11
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone
And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased;” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. – from Mark 1.10-11 NRSV
A new collection of poetry by various American poets has been written and published during the pandemic. It’s title – “Together in a Sudden Strangeness.” Leave it to a poet to creatively and accurately name our common experience, and to capture perfectly the sentiment of all of us who are living through a pandemic and political upheaval. It’s as if we went to sleep one night and woke up the next morning with our republic and our very lives seemingly at stake – “together in a sudden strangeness.” All that we hold dear from loved ones to liberty itself seem to be hanging in the balance. Our emotions are erratic and tensions are running high all around us. Many of us are still shaken by scenes of the attack on our nation’s capitol building where symbols of our democracy were vandalized and leaving at least five people dead!
We add our voices to the psalmist’s lament asking “How long, O Lord, how long? How long until you deliver us from these days of strife?”
The Latin root of the word “Quarantine” means forty days and echoes the biblical stories of the “forty days and forty nights” of Noah’s flood, and Jesus’ desert temptations – redemption takes time.
In the meantime, what are we to do when everything seems to be falling apart and we simply cannot put all the pieces together? Perhaps we need to do what some parents were doing just prior to Christmas morning when they were struggling to assemble all those bicycles and toys made in Taiwan – we can read the directions. Through scripture, tradition, and reason we find the pathway of light through the darkness.
Just as it was in the necessary dark days prior to the creation, the Spirit hovered over the formless waters ready to bring to life God’s new world. In the Gospel there is a parallel where God’s Magnum Opus is performed through the Son of God coming into the world, and water is again involved, this time in the Jordan river at Christ’s baptism. God was up to what God is always up to – in the midst of chaos bringing New Life! In the midst of a creation that had run amok God would rescue us through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ! As St. Paul puts it, Jesus would be “the firstborn within a large family.”
Through the baptism of Jesus God was bringing a New Creation to life, as Jesus was coming up out of the baptismal waters “he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.” Like a Cosmic Christmas Present the skies were torn open to reveal God’s Greatest Gift – the Gift of God’s Son for the World. In that moment the words would come from heaven revealing Jesus’s true identity as well as ours: “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” Jesus becomes the firstborn of many brothers and sisters in God’ large family and we are made the children of God.
To be the Beloved was Jesus’s core identity, not to be just a Jewish man, or a carpenter’s son, but the Beloved of God. From Jesus’s true identity flowed all of his redemptive actions: forgiveness, reconciliation with God, with ourselves, and with our neighbors. It is through our adoption by God as sons and daughters that we fulfill our ultimate purpose. But there is a great battle to derail us from our true identities. We will be tempted to live by the judgments and standards of the world and base our identities on what we can do, and on the on what other people think about us.
Priest and author, Henri Nouwen reminds us of our calling:
“Jesus came to announce to us that an identity based on success, popularity, and power is a false identity — an illusion! Loudly and clearly, he says: ‘You are not what the world makes you; but you are children of God.’
At his baptism Jesus is given his true identity as God’s Beloved, and he is then sent into the world to declare to all with ears to hear and the eyes to see, their own beloved-ness. This is our core identity that we are God’s beloved children and we must live our lives based on this solid rock foundation. As we follow Christ in baptism, we begin his same journey and are sent into the world to live as his followers. And what does it look like on the ground to live as a beloved child of God? The Baptismal Covenant points the way:
1)We promise to “continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.” Put simply we stay in fellowship with God, with one another, and continue to lean on the resources of our Christian community.
2) We promise to “persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent, and return to the Lord.” We resist all efforts that bring harm to our fellow human beings and all the creatures of God. We will never get things perfect in this life, but when we become aware of our failings we will “quit it and admit it” (our wrongs), that is to turn away from them, and come back to fellowship with God, and with God’s Church
3) We promise to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” In order to share good news, we must BE good news, that is our actions must back up our words. The kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of this world, it is to God’s kingdom that we owe our prime allegiance.
4) We promise, “to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.” This means that Love must supersede all other causes, and we must seek to show this love to the people who are most unlike ourselves, those with whom we may vehemently disagree. In them and in the poor and needy – we will see the face of Christ.
5) We promise to “strive for justice and peace among ALL people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” Republicans, Democrats, or Independents, Gay or Straight, Male or Female, Red, Yellow, Black or White, etc. ALL are precious in God’s sight! (see the Baptismal Covenant, The Book of Common Prayer pp.304-05
My dear brothers and sisters, as members of the same family let us receive the Greatest Gift, the gift of our beloved-ness:
“And now, Father, send us out
to do the work you have given us to do,
to love and serve you
as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.
To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit,
Be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.
Credit: “The Baptism of Christ” by William Blake