Baptism of Jesus Mark 1:4 – 11 07 January, 2018
Some people are baby people; they are naturals. When I was studying to be a minister at Queens College the woman who lived next door to me at Kernick House at was into babies. She was a natural; an earth mother maternal type -she ended up having four kids. My time living next door at Queens College is dominated by images of her nappies and breast feeding pads (she made her own and reused them!)that filled her clothesline.
Not everyone is a baby person. Of the gospels Luke is, Matthew only a little bit. Mark and John are not baby types. They have got no time at all for baby stories. Nothing about that from Mark whose gospel we are going to be reading from this year. No, for him its straight into it. He propels the adult Jesus straight onto the stage. And within 8 verses of his opening he has dealt with all the preliminaries (that is John the Baptist fulfilling the Isaiah quote) and is into the first of many stripped back and fast paced stories of Jesus – the baptism of Jesus. But don’t get sucked into thinking “Oh it was Christmas nearly 3 weeks ago and so that is why we are having the baptism of Jesus story today.” At this time of the year we read this as an Epiphany story – the revealing of Jesus, the uncovering of the mystery of God’s redemption, the light shining in the darkness to use a Johnanine expression. It is not about babies. It is about baptism, water and Jesus taking on our frail, fallen humanity and in the power of the Spirit raising us, giving us new hope and standing where we stumble and fall.
And there is a deliberate matching of texts today in our lectionary with the beginning of the Hebrew scriptures of the creation of the world from the watery chaos and the recreation of the world through Jesus Christ, whose first public act is to be baptised in the waters of the river Jordan. Life again emerges from water. Water and life feature today.
Water nurtures, cleanses, replenishes but it also drowns and in Christian theology and liturgy it also can give new life. You can die from not enough water or too much. Water is a feature of the life of the people of God, coming as they did from a dry land and we here in Australia also occupy a dry land. Just this week been reading a book called Tracks about a woman named Robyn Davidson walking through the Australian desert with her camels. Water was one of the few essentials.
In the church we have underutilised water, or the image of water. It is there though in our scripture and tradition, but like the presence of water itself, we have kind of taken it for granted. I am old enough to recall a time when you did not pay for water usage. Just the fixed costs of sewerage, parks levy etc but water? free!
Water in the scriptures… how does it feature in the NT? The community can gather around a well in the desert to tell stories and to meet people or maybe even the Messiah like the woman at the well. You can give a cup of cold water to a stranger and win your salvation or have to leave behind the waters of the lake which was your work place as a fisherman in order to win your salvation. You can walk on the water or if you’re are Pilate or another denier of Jesus you can use it to try to wash away every trace of the sacrifice of the Son of God. You can use the water to purify yourself in ritual washing, or if that has little appeal you can always change the water into wine and simply have a rip roaring time at a wedding party.
Water is there at the creation of the world. Which rather raised the question of how it could be there already in the very first verse of the bible “In the beginning when God created the heavens and earth the a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters”. Water, Wind/Spirit and Voice – the essentials of creation and recreation. God saw it was good and declared the whole creation to be good. God smiled upon the creation and blessed it/us. And in the baptism of Jesus the same voice comes from the heavens and again declares in Jesus God is pleased. For many people God’s face wears a disapproving frown rather than smile of blessing. Remember that, remember you have been baptised in the waters of creation/new creation, remember God smiles upon you and be thankful.
And then in the opening words of the New Testament, Jesus, along with the notorious sinners of his day, humbly stands in the queue to be plunged under the waters of the River Jordan. This is a startling thing for John has declared this a baptism for the repentance of sins. Yet Jesus stands with us to undergo this renewing ritual. Jesus does not despise our frail humanity but fully enters into the struggle of redemption. You have to think he began with the same common humanity as you and I have. You have to think that humanity was being baptised in the flesh of Jesus. You have to think when the Spirit comes upon your humanness you too can draw close to God in following the example of our brother Jesus. Jesus – baptised as one of us and so the way is open to be a Jesus person yourself.
This determination to model your life on Jesus is something I have been seeing a bit lately as I have been visiting the psych ward at one of Melb’s hospitals regularly doing for the past 4 months. The guys (as they mostly are in this ward) have got to know me as a “pastor”, as most of them refer to me and greet me when I enter. I have got to know a number and few of them have regular visitors. As you can imagine there are any number of conversations around religion, theology, biblical interpretation, who I am, what my name is, where my church is, if I think the beast of Revelation is about to appear etc, how do I know how to play table tennis if I am a pastor, if it is OK to be a vampire cos drinking the blood of Jesus is in the bible. During the week one of the conversations moved to the next two hours and how one guy was going to survive this period cos the hospital recently was declared a smoke free zone and now the only way to smoke is to get your allocation of smokes and leave the premises. This of course has been a major stressor for many. And smokes would not be handed out until 6.00pm and it was only 3.55pm. This led to a lively discussion of the merits or otherwise of smoking, drinking alcohol and doing illicit drugs. The guy in the group who was hanging out for the smokes said he smoked but did not drink or do drugs and asked my opinion of this as a pastor. I said it sounded OK; after all one out of three is not bad. Another of the inmates (it is a locked ward) said he should take up drinking cos that would be better – not sure if the “better” referred to his level of satisfaction/enjoyment or if it was better for his health. Anyway the first guy said he did not like alcohol and would stick with his smokes to which one rather zealous disciple of Jesus declared that he had better reconsider his life choices if he really wanted to follow Jesus cos; “Jesus drank but did not smoke, you are stuffed, you have got it around the wrong way cos you smoke but do not drink”.
Baptism does declare the way is open now to follow Jesus for he truly is one of us. Just how you do that will require the imagination provided by the Holy Spirit though.
The recovery of baptism as the primary rite of entry into the community of the solidarity of sinners that is the church is timely. The new found appreciation of the value of water heightens our sense that in the gift of baptism we have something exquisitely precious. It is not just the water, but the plunging under and being raised to new life. This is nothing less than the physical sign here on earth of our salvation.