Baptism of Our Lord _ Mark 1:4-11 January 7, 2018
Prayer: Send down your Holy Spirit, O God—tear open the veil of heaven and speak to us as beloved children so that we may hear and trust the good news of your Word made flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Sometimes, I wish it were harder to join the church. I realize that this might be an odd thing for a pastor to say, but here is the deal--sometimes I think it's harder to get a membership at Costco than it is to become a Christian.On the one hand that can be seen as a good thing and it is in keeping with the sentiment that: Whoever you are—Wherever you are—However you are—You are Welcome Here—and that is a good thing.And yet, because becoming a Christian, becoming a member of a church or even being baptized is so easy—it is possible that when joining or being baptized we may do so without any notion of the responsibilities and magnitude of such a significant event in our lives.Consider this as well, in this day and age when more and more people are drifting away from church membership and claiming to be more “spiritual than religious”—there is the temptation to down play the very things that are at the core of our life of discipleship—you know, things like: regular worship, daily Bible study, a meaningful prayer life, a spirit of generosity in giving, a willingness to serve others, and the fellowship of the Body of Christ. In short, in an effort to streamline the process, we have watered down the very life we are entering into in the waters of Baptism.And so, I can't help but wish that joining up--signing on the dotted line--were understood to be a much bigger commitment. That has me thinking about baptism.What if....What if instead of a little chaste sprinkling of water on the forehead or even a full immersion on the banks of a local river or something in between...what if the only way to join the church was by skydiving? The very idea makes my stomach do backflips. But think about it.Free fall, then pull the rip cord, and then a gentle floating down to the ground. I mean, what's not theological about that? Think about it—it’s got all the themes: the reality of a dangerous fall into sin followed by the gift of redemption, the grace-filled experience of the parachute opening and God’s mercy saving us. And how no matter how much we might try to control our fate, we ultimately have to trust the grace of God because our lives are not really in our hands, but the hands of God.And then consider this—each week as we gather for worship we would encounter others who have had the same life changing, daredevil experience. The elderly couple who always sit in the same pew every Sunday and share a hymnal, the young family with very active children, the guy who seems as if he comes because his deceased wife liked it, and he may or may not miss Jesus, but he knows he misses her, the junior high confirmation student who has been dropped off by a parent after worship, and a whole host of folks, each one with his or her quirts and foibles, the heavy, the creaky, the busy, the young and the old, the happy and the sad--the people you will find in every church on any Sunday--think how you would see them all, if being baptized meant that at some point, however many years before, they had each had that day--that day when they had somehow summoned enough courage to leap out into thin air and into the hands of God....Think about it. Think about it, because when Mark's Gospel describes the Baptism of Jesus, it's that kind of radical act that he seems to have in mind. Mark writes that as Jesus "was coming out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and a dove descending."His word for 'torn apart' is schizo, and it means "to cleave, to cleave asunder, to rend." It's a strangely violent word to describe such a happy occasion. The way we tend to talk about baptism, it would have made more sense if Mark had talked about the dove, gently cooing, or perhaps fluttering over the surface of the water. But that is not how he talks about it.Instead, Mark talks about the heavens, schizo, torn apart. It's the word Matthew, Mark and Luke all use to describe that moment on Good Friday when the curtain of the temple is torn in two.It's the word John uses when the Roman soldiers at the foot of the cross determine not to tear Jesus' garment and divide it between them, but to cast lots for it, instead. It's a word with resonances in the prophecies of Isaiah, also, particularly when Isaiah says to God, "O that you would tear open the heavens and come down," (Isaiah 63:19). Mark understands very clearly that in Jesus, this is exactly what has happened. God has torn open the heavens and come down.And this is why, in Mark's judgment, the baptism of Jesus is so very clearly a radical act and not simply some quaint tradition or in the eyes of some a form of “fire insurance!”In Jesus, God has committed the act of breaking and entering the world, and Mark wants the world to know. And yet...how much of God's active interest in us are we really prepared to admit? Because, good heavens, if we took them seriously, our baptisms might just tear our lives apart, too. I mean, if our final and deepest allegiance is to Jesus, to the life he has called us to lead, and to the manner in which the Gospels show he has called us to lead our lives, well, then, that is sure to bring not peace, but a sword to plenty of our living. It will bring not peace, but a sword, to so much of what the world says our days should be about. It will bring not peace, but a sword, to so many of our relationships, to our allegiances and affiliations, and so much else. That's not what many of us are looking for.But if God has broken through the barrier and broken into our lives, then what ensues is not something simpler and easier for us, but rather something infinitely more complex and urgent. Baptism means that God has broken through; and so we, in turn, are called to tear into the challenges and problems of the world with everything we've been given. From that day on when God tore open the heavens, Jesus began tearing down preconceived notions of what a Messiah might be, and continues to tear open much of our fabric of life as we know it. Jesus comes tearing apart the social fabric that separated the rich from the poor.· Breaking through hardness of heart to bring forth compassion.· Breaking through rituals that had grown rigid or routine.· Tearing apart chains that bound some in the demon’s power.· Tearing apart the notions of what it means to be God’s beloved son or daughter.After the Baptism of Jesus nothing would ever be the same, for the heavens would never again close so tightly. And because of this each and every one of us is called into the remarkable, redemptive work of God. To give our lives to something more challenging than any other kind of work--and in the end, surely more beautiful, true, and enduring than any other kind of work.Jesus came up out of the waters, and perhaps that is what he saw. A vision of God and a vision of what it was to be alive, he saw what he could give his life to. Thanks be to God, that's also what your baptism and mine were pointing to...and that's what they are still pointing to.No matter where you are baptized...whether it's in front of the same font where your grandmother and mother were baptized or whether it's by the banks of a river, or whether it's standing in the sanctuary of a place where even you can hardly believe you've found a home...no matter where it is, the water and the promise and the prayer take just a few moments.But according to Martin Luther, every morning as he woke up he would make the sign of the cross and remind himself that he was a baptized child of God and that daily act of being “born again” set the tone for his daily work of living the life of a disciple of Jesus.So...I suppose it's unlikely that we'll decide anytime soon to replace baptism by water and the spirit with baptism by gravity and parachute. But the next time you walk into a church and encounter God's people there in all our familiar shapes and sizes, remember that what unites us all is something God's Word tells us is even more electrifying than jumping out of a plane. In baptism, the heavens themselves were torn apart. And when we experience that for ourselves, when we know that for ourselves, and feel it on our hearts at last, it is the thrill of a lifetime. It is like being born again, and again, day by day. It is when everything in this life finally, fully and abundantly begins and our calling and purpose in this life is truly clear.
Let us pray. Lord, help us live into the promise of our baptism. Help us to live courageously and joyfully. Take us where it may so long as that is where you need us to be. In Jesus' name we ask. Amen.
Pastor Stephen Blenkush
Zion Lutheran Church
Milaca MN 56353
Love like Jesus!