The Baptism of our Lord – Year B
God doesn’t send us anywhere, to do anything, without blessing us first!
This weekend, we begin our celebration of the season of Epiphany. It is probably my favorite season of the church year. I like Epiphany because it is the time when God is most clearly visible. That’s what Epiphany means: God is visible to us. We can hear God speak, and we can sense God’s presence with us.
It is a season of stars and lights. It is the time of year when the days start to get longer. Epiphany is a time of God-sightings. It is the season of the church year when we hear stories about Jesus that clearly reveal that he is the Son of God. We hear the story of the Magi, the wise men who follow a star to see the new king. We hear stories about the calling of the disciples. We hear stories of healing. Today we hear the story of the baptism of Jesus. The final week of Epiphany, we will hear the story of the Transfiguration.
God doesn’t send us anywhere, to do anything, without blessing us first.
There are some events in life that are called “game changers”. When they occur, you know things will never be the same. The routine you were used to has been disrupted permanently. What used to be “normal” no longer exists. Some events are historic and affect everyone. For example, the bombing of Pearl Harbor or the use of the atomic bomb.
Some events are more personal, like the loss of a job, or the loss of a family member.
Not all life-changing events are negative, though. Graduation from school changes everything. Getting a new job and moving to a new place changes everything. Marriage changes everything. The birth of a child really changes everything. The focus of your life is different. It will never be the same.
In today’s gospel story of the baptism of Jesus, God changes everything. Mark covers the actual event in three verses, so it is easy to miss the the importance of it. Listen as I read the last three verses again:
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 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. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Did you hear that? The heavens were torn apart! Ripped open!
You remember in the creation story, God separated the light from the darkness on the first day. On the second day, God put up the dome of the sky as a barrier to separate the heavens from the earth. The heavens are where God lives. The earth is made for us to live on. There is a barrier between them from the beginning of creation.
At the baptism of Jesus, God changes everything. God rips the heavens apart. (Tear fabric to demonstrate). You see when something is ripped apart, it can never go back to the way it was. I have a sewing machine and I can put a seam in this cloth to put the two pieces together, but I can never put it back the way was.
God rips open the heavens. The barrier between heaven and earth is torn apart. God deliberately changes things forever. God is no longer just up in heaven. God is now visible to us and accessible to us in the person of Jesus. Things will never be the same.
The focus of Jesus’ life is immediately different. He can’t go back to being a carpenter in Nazareth. His ministry begins at this moment.
Baptism changes everything in Jesus’ life. The Spirit drives him into the desert for forty days, then he begins to call disciples and starts preaching and teaching and healing. His life as he knew it is gone.
While being a carpenter in first century Palestine was probably not an easy life, his new life as the Messiah, the anointed one, will lead him to the cross. When Jesus dies on that cross for us, God opens the earth with an earthquake. The curtain in the temple that separates the people from the holy of holies is ripped in half. The way to God is open to everyone through the cross.
When the heavens open at Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus. God speaks a powerful blessing, “You are my Son, my Beloved; with you I am well pleased”. God doesn’t send Jesus out into the world, without blessing him first.
God doesn’t send us out anywhere, to do anything, without blessing us first. Our ministry in life also begins with our baptism. We come to the font, most of us as infants. We do nothing to deserve the blessing. Even if we are baptized when we are older, we know we have done nothing to earn it. We bring nothing with us. God does everything.
When we are baptized, it isn’t as dramatic as it was for Jesus. The sky doesn’t tear open and no doves descend. God has already torn open the heavens and sent the Holy Spirit to earth at the baptism of Jesus. Once something is torn, it never goes back together. Heaven is open to us because of Jesus.
When we are baptized, we receive the same blessing as Jesus. We become children of God. The pastor says our name, then “child of God, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever” and we’re adopted as sons and daughters. There is no more powerful blessing than to be told you are a beloved child of God.
This is a new year and a time of new beginnings for this congregation. Many things may stay the same, but there will still be adjustments to make. There will be important decisions for all of you. You will need to work together to establish a vision for the future. You will need to talk and pray together to discern what God is calling you to do in this time and this place.
God did not send Jesus to begin his ministry without blessing him first. God doesn’t send us anywhere, to do anything, without blessing us first. We are baptized. We are God’s beloved children.
I have put water in the font in the narthex, so that as you leave today, I will give you God’s blessing, as a reminder of your baptism. As God’s beloved children, may we share that blessing with others. Amen.