First Sunday after the Epiphany
Genesis 1: 1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1: 4-11
I think Paul’s reaction to the people of Ephesus is funny: Did you receive the HS when you became believers? Uh, what’s that, they reply. Paul stares blinkingly at them and asks, the follow up: “Well then, what the heck were you Baptized into, anyway?” “John’s Baptism,” they say, happy to actually have an answer to this one.” And Paul, pursing his lips and seeing this as a teachable moment, goes on to explain, naturally, what Baptism is. Baptism is at once an act of repentance, where we acknowledge the sin that we all have in common, and a desire to turn, for our lifetime, to God. But, then, Paul rejoins us in the notion that this is a Baptism into the life, death, resurrection, and beloved community of Jesus Christ. In Baptism we embrace the fullness of God’s love, who moved upon the waters, created us, as an act of love, and gave Himself to us, in Christ, as a final and complete act of love. In doing so, He made a promise to us that He would never leave or forsake us. In Baptism, we become God’s forever.
So, we should say that Baptism is related to the mysterious and mystical powers of God in Jesus. It relates to the deepness of that same God who moved upon the darkness, upon the emptiness of the universe and spoke us into life. It does not mean we need to speak in tongues, which is probably good news to Karis, Kandra, Kaitlin, and Kody, and their parents. Speaking in tongues is something I have done only with my Spanish tutor. But Paul is hinting, in all of his conversation around Baptism, at the power of Baptism in a way that we have perhaps lost a bit of: that reality that Baptism brings with it the gift of Christ in the Spirit and makes us a powerful force in the world, in all kinds of ways. How is that? In what ways?
When Jesus is Baptized at the River Jordan, the Holy Spirit can be seen descending on Him, after the heavens are ripped apart. There is a violent nature to our seeking Baptism, in a way, one in which the Spirit can overwhelm us in a very real and tangible ways. Matthew has John say that the one, a certain someone, comes after him that will baptize not just with water but with the Holy Spirit AND Fire! Fiery is the nature of our Baptism into the life of Jesus Christ. It is a life He chose and he asked Baptism for himself, even though he was without sin. So, Baptism is not just about repentance, it is about new life, new birth, a new powerful sense of God being with us and tying us to one another in an altogether powerful way.
So, let’s think, for a moment, of Baptism as a creative force of the Spirit in the world and in our lives. To do that, let us imagine creation itself. I believe that science and God’s creative power are wholly compatible. Fear not, I am not about to launch into a lecture about science, natural law, and faith … I wouldn’t even if I felt qualified to. But imagine how God might have created the universe, if we look at the science of it. An explosion of unimaginable proportions that scientists call the Big Bang. The gradual cooling over millions and millions of years and then all the improbably sequences of events that have to happen to make life possible on earth. Then the continuing violence as the darkness of the planet is breathed upon by the forces of God into life over billions of years and the power of earthquakes, shifting plates beneath the earth, volcanic eruptions, and so much more.
The explosive energy of God’s creative action is a wonderful metaphor for Baptism. God patiently waits for us to come to Him, as if for the earth to cool. God, once we are marked with the seal of Baptism, never leaves us. In fact, God has been with us since He created us, it just took us a little time to realize that. So, God is patient but we should never take the power of God’s presence with us for granted.
Israel held a high view of God’s creative power and believed that His presence, let’s call it, for us, Baptism, might be like this:
3 The voice of the LORD is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders; the LORD is upon the mighty waters.
4 The voice of the LORD is a powerful voice; the voice of the LORD is a voice of splendor.
5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedar trees; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon;
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the LORD splits the flames of fire; the voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
8 The voice of the LORD makes the oak trees writhe and strips the forests bare.
Baptism is a creative action of Almighty God. It creates in us a powerful sense of God’s presence. Sometimes that presence doesn’t come to us all at once. Sometimes our Baptism takes some time for us to grow into; it is an ever-evolving sacrament, a blessing of God’s love that brings with it belonging. Belonging to God in a new and powerful way, because we are embracing God’s grace and mercy. Let us be patient with ourselves, as we live more fully into the reality of what God is making in us; for God is surely patient with us.
Let us remember, too, that our Baptism commissions us to go out into the world and be a blessing to that world; to strive for justice and peace, and to respect the dignity of every human being. But it also calls us back to community, to keep the promises of God by consuming the life and grace of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, and to continue to expand our sense of God through the way we worship and pray together.
And being Baptized, it should be said, does not set our life in a place without strife. The world and the people in it are still being formed and are still imperfect and sometimes treat one another with contempt and violence. Jesus was Baptized and continued to experience the pain of doubt, even, but certainly persecution and violence. But as the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus, it is a sign of God’s peace at Baptism, God’s holiness, at Baptism, and God’s presence, above all. We are joined to God, in Holy Baptism, for now and always. The Baptism of Jesus means that we are Baptized into a saved life, a life of hope, and a life of the living presence of our loving and forgiving Savior.