The Baptism of Our Lord; Year B (1/11/2015)

Lessons:Genesis 1:1-5 Psalm 29 Acts 19:1-7 St. Mark 1:4-11

Prayer of the Day: Holy God, creator of light and giver of goodness, your voice moves over the waters. Immerse us in your grace, and transform us by your Spirit, that we may follow after your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

1.4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

St. Mark 1:4-11 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Baptism: the Heart of our Faith

Baptism lies close to the heart of our faith.

I am aware that there are many “versions” of Christianity that have a presence in our day. Joel Osteen would have us believe that God wants every Christian to be prosperous. Mark Driscoll promotes the notion of “Muscular Christianity.” In his day, Robert Schuller was convinced that Christian faith led to the power of positive thinking. While these particular systems of belief seem compelling to many Americans as they seek to live out the American Dream, they have little to do with Biblical faith, and the crucified and resurrected Christ.

A friend of mine was fond of saying, “If it sounds like a deal, it isn’t the Gospel.” He was right: each of the above “versions” of Christianity sounds more like a deal than the free, undeserved gift of God. Gin yourself up to some level of faithfulness, and you will be rewarded (by God) with wealth, strength or success…

This is why the gift of Baptism is such an important one. It reminds us of who God is, and who we are.

On Sunday we turn our attention to the Baptism of Our Lord. It is a well known story. John, son of Zechariah and Mary, and relative of Jesus, is dressed in traditional prophetic garb and baptizing in the Jordan River. His baptism is one that revolves around repentance — a classic prophetic theme. I’ve long been struck by the Greek word for repentance used in this passage. It is μετανοία (“metanoia”), a word made up from the prefix μετα (transform) and the root νούς (mind). To experience repentance is to experience a transformation of the mind. As John lifted up for his listeners his vision of faithfulness, they became convinced that they needed a new beginning — a new direction — in life. They were transformed in the way they understood themselves and their God, and in a dramatic ritual John led them out into the water, drowned their old, sinful self, and raised them up to new life.

The baptism of Jesus is even more dramatic. For him, it was not a baptism of repentance (the Son of God had no need for his mind to be transformed), but it was an anointing for ministry. The heavens are torn apart. The Spirit descends. The voice of God booms, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” God anoints Jesus for his ministry of death and resurrection, and proclaims for all to hear: “with you I am well pleased.”

It is into the name of Jesus — the death and resurrection of Jesus, actually (see Romans 6:3-5) — that we are baptized. In the waters of our own baptism, God speaks our name, unites us to Christ, and grants us the promise of new life. God says to us, “with you I am well pleased.” This free, undeserved gift from God has the power to transform our minds. Loved deeply by God, transformed by God’s grace, claimed by the baptismal promise, let us live our lives in a way that proclaims who our God is. And by our faithfulness, may others come to know the love of God.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What message lies at the core of John’s baptismal practice?
  2. What do we learn as we consider the story of Jesus’ baptism?
  3. Why is it important that we understand Jesus to be God’s son; the Savior?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What does it mean to confess that I am saved by God (not by my own actions)?
  2. How has God’s love and grace changed the way I think about myself and the world?
  3. How does my baptism help me better understand my relationship with God?