As we look to Jesus’s baptism by John and our own experiences of baptism on this Baptism of Our Lord Sunday, we find that the act of baptism changed something for Jesus, and it changes something for us. Baptism inaugurates a new life and a new way. It did for Jesus, and it does for us.
Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark does not begin his account of the gospel with Jesus’s birth narrative. He focuses on another sort of beginning, the birth of Jesus’ public ministry. Before the day when Jesus met John at the Jordan, the day we hear about in today’s reading, Jesus was not the same person we usually think of when we think about Jesus. Before baptism, Jesus was only God incarnate.
After being baptized, Jesus was God incarnate on a mission and empowered by the Holy Spirit. In baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus and sent him out into the world for the work of healing the sick, giving sight to blind, feeding the hungry and embodying a different type of faith. A faith that wasn’t stuck inside the temple but that was actively at work in people’s lives.
This gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism pushed Jesus out into a new movement and was itself a break in the way things were before. The Heavens tear open as the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in Jesus and in the world. The word used to describe the opening of the heavens that allows the Holy Spirit to descend onto Jesus and into the world is schizo. It is not a gentle opening like as of a door but a violent tearing open.
God rips through the heavens, bridging the divide between heaven and Earth. Creation is fundamentally altered as God again crosses the boundary between him and his creations. This violent action and the word used to describe it only occurs one other time in the gospel, during Jesus’ eventual crucifixion- the final tearing of what was left that could separate God from humanity- sin.
This tearing begins Jesus’s public ministry and gives him the tools needed for that ministry, healing and gospel sharing. Jesus’ baptism pronounces Jesus as God’s son and God’s beloved and sends him out in the world to share the good news that a different type of life is possible.
Jesus’s baptism started him on his slow march towards Jerusalem and his crucifixion. It set in motion his sacrifice. This set-in motion another sort of slower tear too. Slowly, in the ministry and teachings of Jesus, people’s worlds and visions were torn open to include the poor, the sick and the marginalized. Relationship with God was torn away from the temple and temple officials as God himself went to meet people in the streets. That tearing would slowly tear into the people’s lives too, opening their eyes and their hearts to their neighbor and Christ.
Baptism fundamentally changed Jesus’s life. After baptism, Jesus was transformed and set out to transform the hearts and lives of all those he came into contact with and all those who heard his message.
We cannot understand the fullness of all that happens in the act of baptism, but we know that the simple act of being splashed with holy water, like the eating of simple bread and wine during the eucharist, is a way that God tears into our own selves and works in our own hearts and minds to prepare us for a different type of life, a life as children of not only the world but as children of God too.
I don’t remember my own baptism, but I know that it marked the beginning of another kind of life even though I was only still a baby. When I was baptized my family and my godparents stood up and decided that they would raise me with an understanding of who God was and how a relationship with God was possible.
By some mystery, God entered into my life and now I live as a transformed creation. By the faith of my parents who had me baptized, by the work of the holy spirit, and by all those in my life who have nurtured and encouraged my faith, I have tried to live into the life God has called me to. The Holy Spirit has been with me throughout my life, and I know because of the promises of baptism that it will continue to guide me as I continue on the path ahead of me.
That is what living into baptism is like. It’s about moving forward transformed but not always aware of exactly how. Each of us experience this, guided by the holy spirit throughout our lives, even when we don’t fully understand or realize it. In some way’s baptism is like the beginning of this new year of 2021. Plenty of people are thinking about new year’s resolutions and ways to get more sleep, exercise more or spend more time on self-care. In baptism, we take up the practice of nurturing a different sort of life too. We practice admitting we have not lived as God desires in the confession, we ask for and receive forgiveness in the community of our churches and we develop a deeper understanding of God and God’s word each week during worship and hopefully elsewhere in our lives too.
The Holy Spirit is at work in us as promised, yet our promise and the promise of our baptismal sponsors, family, and community is to nurture ourselves in ways that allow God to work in our lives more fully. Baptism is not a one sided, get out of hell free pass. It’s entering into relationship with God, and all the blessing and responsibility that entails. It is entering into community so God can continue to work in our lives, not only within us but also in our relationships with and interactions with those around us.
In our own baptisms we are welcomed into the life of the church, given people to help instruct us in our lives of faith and empowered by the work of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’s baptism, the Holy Spirit empowered him into a life of ministry that would ultimately lead to his death and resurrection. For us, baptism opens us up to God’s working and leading, and to new relationship with God made possible by Christ’s death and resurrection.
Baptism is not any work of our own. We do not control the Spirit’s coming but rather, we acknowledge the promise that it does. This is exactly why we practice infant baptism. What happens in baptism does not hinge on our own understanding or ability to do something but rather on what God promises and assures us will happen. Baptism is not contingent on our action or inaction, but it calls us into action – into relationship with God and our neighbor. Whether the one being baptized is an infant or adult, we as a community rejoice with them, and commit ourselves to helping them grow in their faith given to them through the Spirit yet nurtured by scripture and by those around them.
Like Jesus, the Holy Spirit coming to us during baptism empowers us to live a different kind of life. That life strengthens us to live through grief, pain, sorrow, joy, hope, love, and all else life entails, not fearing what’s to come, but opening ourselves to all God has in store for our lives, just as Christ did. In baptism, we let ourselves be torn open, over and over again, because we are baptized into Christ’s life AND death, forever tied to service of God and our neighbors. So, let the world break our hearts. Let us feel for our neighbors in need and act on it. Let us recognize where God’s love is most needed and bring the good news to those places. Let us cry, and laugh, and weep, and rejoice for and with our neighbors just as Christ did, because the holy spirit is moving us to action, and we must respond.
Please pray with me.