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Friday, December 2, 2016

Baptism of Christ B January 7, 2018

Quotes That Make Me Think

Chinese artist He Qi depicts the baptism of Jesus.

"The main thrust of today’s text and the meaning of Jesus’ baptism for us is that we are baptized into something. A fundamental change takes place in baptism, at whatever age."  

Commentary, Mark 1:4-11, Michael Rogness, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

"Jesus’ baptism isn’t preamble to all that comes later in his life, it’s the highpoint and climax of the story in a nutshell."

Baptism and Blessing, David Lose, the meantime..., 2015.

"When baptism is a wilderness experience, an unexpected entrance of God, and a little terrifying, well then, we will know the meaning of baptism according to Mark."

"Baptismal Blessings?" Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, 2015.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from


Lord our God, O Holy One of Israel, to the waters you call all those who thirst, to the feast of your covenant you invite all the nations. As once at the Jordan your Spirit tore open the heavens, and your voice proclaimed Jesus your well-beloved sons and daughters; lead us by your Spirit through the water and the blood, that our love for you may strengthen us to obey your commandments, and our love for one another be the victory that forever conquers the world. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Mark 1:4-11

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We are now heading into the season which follows the Episcopal Church's celebration of Epiphany. The first Sunday after Epiphany is traditionally the Baptism of our Lord, and the reading is taken from the Gospel for that year. As such then we see that the baptism narrative is taken from the Gospel of Mark. It actually has three parts to it. The first part is the preaching of John. The second part is the baptism itself. The third portion is Jesus' vision.

The beginning of our reading today falls in the very earliest of passages in Mark's Gospel and it includes the tail end of John's preaching and flows easily into the baptism of Jesus. John the Baptist is preaching that the "strong man" is coming. The combination of Greek words and how Mark opens his narrative make it unmistakeably clear that Jesus is the eschatological (end time) figure that Israel has been waiting to arrive. John's ministry has been to prepare the people and to be a moniker of the signalling the Lord's arrival. In language and clothing he appears as a voice heralding a new time and a new mission. (You might refer to the post for the second Sunday of Advent to read more about this part of our passage. You may also want to read Joel Marcus' work on Mark, page 163, specifically.)

The baptism of Jesus implies that perhaps Jesus was a follower of John the baptist. Such ideas and wrestlings with who baptizes who are age old and should not take away from the idea that the incarnation, God in human form, comes and is present with us and that he himself is baptized. I find myself drawn less to the idea of authority and whose student was whose and ever more closely invited to see that as John proclaimed there is a new Way being formed. There is a new structure to the world being made. Jesus and his baptism, like our own baptism is a part of that structure.
The action takes place on the edges of society, in the wilderness, not in the safety of sacred space. And, the act itself challenges us to ask were are we as a church doing the work of baptism? Where are we doing the work of heralding a new structure and a new Way to the world? Are we locked away where only a few can hear or are we out in the world, on the edges, inviting and encouraging people to see that there is a different way a new and every revealed way of being the kingdom of God?

The third part of the narrative today, following the proclamation and baptism, is the vision. Reading through the scriptures we might remember or rediscover Isaiah 64:1-2:

Oh that you would tear the heavens open and come down
to make known your name to your enemies,
and make the nations tremble at your presence,
working unexpected miracles
such as no one has ever heard before.

The images that are before us also remind us (I think intentionally) of the deliverance of Israel from the army of Pharaoh through the waters of the Red Sea. Certainly, this is part of our own baptismal liturgy. But we know what is coming next... Jesus is to go into the desert wilderness for a time of temptation.

The baptism is the launching of Jesus' ministry. It is the first corner stone of the new structure. It is the first step along the way for every Christian. It is a movement through the waters from sin and imprisonment to freedom and life eternal. There is another image here which is rooted in scripture and repeated in our baptismal formula and that is the death of Jesus on the cross.

Like bookends the beginning of the Gospel offers a vision of the end, wherein here at the baptism the heavens are ripped apart, the spirit descends, and God pronounces that this is his Son. We can compare this to the temple curtain which is ripped apart, Jesus breathing his spirit out, and the centurion making his proclamation. (Donald Juel, Mark, 34-35) Just as Jesus is baptized here in the waters of the Jordan so does every Christian man, woman and child find their baptism at the cross of Christ.

Today as you look out over your congregation you will see a group of people who more than likely believe that the government is not way it was meant to work, that power rests in the hands of the most wealthy people in the country, and that the current state of politics promises no change. They sit there also with the knowledge that they work hard and help their community and their neighbors; as do most Christians which Pew research says make up the majority of those who give time and treasure for this work. They are also worried about their future economically and they are concerned about who will take care of them. The holidays are over. Many have returned from vacation needing a vacation and the promises of what the shopping season promised are not what they expected.

It is a lie to pretend that our world mirrors the wilderness world in which John made his proclamation or Jesus was baptized. We live lives in the Episcopal Church that are foreign to most of the people in the rest of the world. It seems to me there are two very real places though in this gospel that hit right in the heart of where most folks are. The Gospel today recognizes that the world is not the kingdom of God and a new time is before us in this instance to turn, change, and make things different. We are the inheritors of God's vision and we are the ones who by walking the Way of Jesus make so transform the world around us that we shall in the days to come experience something new and different. We are a part of this building, Jesus is the cornerstone and we are the living stones being built up into the kingdom of God.

The second thing is this. In a world where not belonging is the norm and secret boundaries divide people clarity about living in the family of God and how you become a member is Good News. Most places you will not be told how to belong. Most places you will not have the opportunity to be invited to be a part. The "in" crowd is small and not many people are sharing the secret entrance rites. But in the family of God everyone is a member. In fact the moment a person recognizes the Grace of God moving in their lives they are "in." Baptism is the public rite of initiation which reminds them and the church that they are already God's sacred possession. They are God's sons or daughters, they are God's beloved, they are the ones upon whom Jesus breathed the breath of life and for whom Jesus died on the cross. Baptism is the clear sign that reminds us (not God) that we are his people and the sheep of his hand.

That my friend in the wilderness of this world is VERY Good News.

Some Thoughts on Acts 19:1-7

Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"A sermon cannot do everything, but as a congregation celebrates the Baptism of Our Lord, it is an opportunity for the preacher to speak about the many levels of baptism. One can teach, not only about its obligations (as above), but also about baptism's significance as an event where we are incorporated into Christ and, consequently, share his destiny."

Commentary, Acts 19:1-7, Arland J. Hultgren, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

"Clearly for Luke baptism is also about much more than individual experiences. It is about to a radical extension of doing and being good, or better, embodying God's goodness and justice in the world."

"First Thoughts on Passages on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary:Baptism of Jesus," William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

We have already learned about Apollos in previous passages. We know he is Jewish and from Alexandria and that the is a student of scripture. (see 18:24-25) He was teaching about Jesus and a seeker of the divine and of truth. Priscilla and Aquila meet him and open up the scriptures to him and show him a few things more - that Christ is the Messiah. They tutor him - if you will.

He is baptized and then comes to Corinth where he happens upon Paul.  We learn that they had been baptized but not given the Holy Spirit. So we begin to see here the tradition of laying on of hands with the gifts of the spirit. Paul says:

“John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied—7altogether there were about twelve of them.
So it is that they are given the Holy Spirit by an apostle. 

We see here as in other places that the apostolic mission was not only to baptize but to lay hands upon the individuals and call down upon them the Holy Spirit. 

The passage is used theologically to debate baptism and if water is enough or they have to be baptized in the spirit. For too long our Episcopal Church has left this baptism of the Spirit to a more charismatic part of our church - and certainly there are gifts of the Spirit. 

However, we must claim that the giving of the Holy Spirit to those baptized through the rite of confirmation is itself a very real giving of the Spirit. We are fulfilling and imparting in this ancient act of laying on hands the very real Holy Spirit of God. 

Theologian Frank Crouch writes:

This passage also connects with the gospel reading from Mark 1:4-11 (as well as Matthew 3:11, Luke 3:16, and John 1:33). In the four gospels and in this passage from Acts (including both Paul's and John/Apollos' baptisms), the intent is to focus us on Christ and to share with others what Christ brings into our lives and into the world. Not to focus on Christ only as someone who did something for us "back then" but to focus on Christ as someone who, through the power of the Spirit, lives in us and moves us forward today. John/Apollos' baptism of repentance and Paul's baptism in the name of Jesus ultimately find their fulfillment -- if they do find fulfillment -- in transformed lives. (Commentary, Acts 19:1-7, Frank L. Crouch, Preaching This Week,, 2012.)
So as we think and teach about our baptisms and the blessings of the Holy Spirit we to encourage the living of new lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are transformed by the laying on of hands and the forgiveness of sins. We are freed by the grace of God to go out and live on his behalf - as authentically as Jesus lived himself.

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