January 7, 2018 – Baptism of the Lord/Mark 1:4-11
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the birth of our first child, probably because that child now is expecting her first – who also will be a daughter. When Jennifer joined us, in her own difficult and miraculous way, it certainly changed our life, as everyone had said it would. But it changed life in the most glorious fashion imaginable. Things that seemed important before, suddenly held little meaning, while things we might have regarded as insignificant before took on new meaning.
Take baptism, for instance. While Jeff, growing up in the Baptist tradition and being baptized as a young boy, clearly remembers his baptism in the Green River, I have no recollection of my baptism as an infant. But I do remember Jennifer’s baptism. In pictures from that day, Jeff and I look like little more than children ourselves as we stand before the font holding her in the dress she wore only that one time. It was a powerful time in our lives – and in hers, although she doesn’t remember it – because it was the day on which we witnessed to God’s loving claim on her even before she could respond in faith. Ordinary water, poured into an ordinary basin, dripped generously into the startled eyes of a baby – ordinary things proclaiming an extraordinary event.
John the Baptist also used ordinary water when he baptized Jesus. Ordinary, silt-filled water from the Jordan River, into which he submerged Jesus, lifting him up from the waters into new life. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ baptism establishes his identity. As witnesses to the gospel account, we see a second epiphany, the manifestation of God-among-us in the person of this Jesus. What Jesus experiences – the ripping apart of the heavens and the voice of God – no one standing beside the Jordan seemed to witness. Mark tells us that Jesus saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit alighting on himself; that Jesus heard a voice from heaven lovingly claim him as the Beloved Son. It will become apparent, as Mark’s story unfolds, just how unaware the people around Jesus were about who he really was. But we have been granted a special audience, invited to stand alongside Jesus and see and hear the events during his baptism that attest to his identity as the Son of God.
All of the other people around Jesus – the disciples, the crowds to whom he preaches, even his family – are left in the dark. “Jesus knows who he is by means of an experience that is not accessible to objective, public verification. Others must discover this truth by listening to what Jesus says and by watching what he does.”
What about our own baptism? “Do we consider that in our baptism the barrier between heaven and earth has been torn asunder, the Spirit has alighted on our head and God has claimed us and called us beloved?” Our baptism matters, after all, because we are who God says we are. Baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, we have been claimed in the same waters that poured over Jesus Christ. We have been named, called children of God, beloved children of God.
When Jennifer was baptized, a hundred or so people sat in the congregation that morning, witnessing to her new identity as a child of God and promising to nurture and guide her as she grew. But most of the people she has met in her life did not see the drops of water run down her face, did not hear her cries of distress, did not experience the moment – at the ripe age of six weeks old – that she became a new person. Just as most people did not witness your baptism, or mine. Like the folk who surrounded Jesus during his ministry, most people can only see that we are children of God by listening to what we say and by watching what we do. Because we have been linked to Christ through our baptism, we have been called to live as he lived. “[We] can’t throw up [our] hands in despair because [we are] baptized. By virtue of [our] baptism [we] are united to Christ and through Christ to [others], and because of Christ, to the whole of creation. And [we] can’t undo that unity, no matter how hard [we] try. We are stuck together.” As our Study Catechism says, “My baptism means that I am joined to Jesus Christ forever” – that I “walk with him even now in newness of life.”
Today, we will install three new elders to serve Providence for the next three years. No doubt, you’ll be watching them, along with the rest of the Session, and making some judgments about how well they are serving, how closely they are following the promises they will make in just a few minutes. But remember – we are all in this together. God calls each of us beloved. It is up to us to decide how we will reveal that identity to the world around us.
Let us pray.
O Lord, uphold us by your Holy Spirit. Daily increase in us your gifts of grace: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever. Amen.
 Lamar Williamson, Interpretation: Mark, 35
 Jill Duffield, Looking in the Lectionary, Jan. 7, 2018
 Williamson, 35
 Study Catechism, 45