This Is Me 1-7-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 1:4-11, I explore the Baptism of Jesus. It serves as a bridge back to Israel’s history, and the history of what God is doing in the world. It also creates a vitally important connection for us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/this-is-me-1-7-18

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Maybe its fitting as today is the first Sunday of a new calendar year…but we find ourselves today at the beginning of one of the gospels…and I can’t help but chuckle as I think about it…The opening verse of Mark…chapter 1 verse 1…The beginning of the Good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Sounds a bit like a title…and I think is a pretty awesome way to open it up…then we get 2 verses quoting the Old Testament prophet Isaiah…and then we start off the Gospel of Jesus…by talking about a guy named John. (pause) Wait…what?

Weird right?  This is supposed to be about Jesus…but first we hear about this wilderness wild-man…some random preacher wearing camel skin and leather belts…chowing down on locusts and honey…throwing water around and telling people to repent. Totally weird.

But yet here we are…and as I was working with this text through the week…knowing that our focus today is on the baptism of Jesus…I read this early introduction of John…this brief description included these crazy details about his odd-ball wardrobe and diet…and the thought that went through my head was “Who cares?” (pause) But you know what, let’s put a pin in that for just a second…and I’m gonna describe someone else to you…see if you can figure out who I’m talking about.

There was this guy…he was really skinny, pretty darn tall…he was fond of wearing dark suits…he had dark hair and liked beards…usually had a thick chin strap, no mustache though…and often times you’d see him in a really tall tophat…something they call a stovepipe.  Anyone know who I’m talking about…I’ll give you one more hint…he was a president. (Pause, wait for the answer).

Abraham Lincoln…of course. He is a figure who is SO prominent in our nation’s history……that all it takes is a simple description of the man… and most of us know exactly who we’re talking about. (pause)
Now, imagine yourself a first-century Jew living in Israel…utterly tied to your culture’s history…and you start hearing about some random wilderness preacher wearing animal skins and eating a crazy diet…and instantly you think Elijah…the great prophet of the past. We might not make the connection now 2000 years later…but make no mistake, just like we think of Lincoln, they would think of Elijah.

Now I’ve talked before about how important the history of their culture was to them…their scripture…the Torah…or the Old Testament as we know…was passed down in story form…yes they had written scrolls, but everyone knew the stories…everyone knew the different historical figures…and everyone knew the prophecies…their history…all that stuff that had happened in their past…all that stuff in their cultural rear-view mirror…it was vitally important to them in their lives in every…single…moment…

But by the time we’re talking about now…here at the beginning of the good new of Jesus Christ…things had been pretty quiet for a while. That powerful voice of God…the one that we heard in our first lesson today speak the world…speaking existence into being…the voice speaking chaos into order…that same voice, who later would speak to the people through the prophets…well that voice had been pretty quiet for about 400 odd years…but the very last thing they had heard…actually the very end of the Old Testament…we hear from a minor prophet by the name of Malachi who shares the Lord’s promise to the people “Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.”

In short…the last promise their culture had received several centuries in advance…was that right before Judgement day…whatever that’s gonna look like…apparently Elijah is gonna show up…and now…HERE’S JOHNNY!!!!

Knowing this…knowing what people would think when they heard about him…no wonder he attracted such big crowds…no wonder his message of repentance…of turning away from our sinful past and looking back to the good life that God hopes for the individual…maybe it all makes a little more sense to consider if everything in their cultural history pointed towards John’s ministry as being the beginning of the end.

But here’s the thing…if the Old Testament tells us anything in its long history…in the countless stories that it shares…its that God is ALWAYS, up to something new and unexpected.  And this new moment with John the Baptist out in the wilderness…this new Elijah…its no different. When the people go out to repent, thinking they better get their ducks in a row because the end is coming…John shut that down…You think I’m Elijah? You think this the end…no sir…there is another one coming after me…and he is greater than I am.

John might as well be saying “you better hold onto something because God’s got something WAY more impressive in mind than me…” John is just a small cog in a great big machine…one tiny…though important part of this greater over-arching story of what God’s up to throughout all of human history up to now and forward into the future.

I think that what John means when he says “be prepared.” (pause) So, we’ve got this connection to the Old Testament, and I’ve heard people say that the Old Testament is dense and hard to understand…and there’s truth there…but typically when I hear that its from people who never really dive into it…and typically just hang out in the New Testament…and I can’t help but think that this sense also carries the idea that what God is up to in Christ is a do over…that everything that came before doesn’t count…it doesn’t matter…that in Jesus God is just hitting the reset button.

But I can’t help but think that every story that we hear through that old history has been leading up this moment. Adam and Eve…Noah and the flood…Abraham and the covenant…Moses and Egypt…the wandering and the settling of the Promise Land…the Judges and the Kings…and the exiles and the rise and fall of different empires…all of that has collectively shaped the Jewish culture up to this point when John and now Jesus come on the scene.

And now, we hear that John uses water….baptism…itself a culmination of two very old Jewish practices of purification…and once more, God invites humanity forward…shaped by what has come before, prepared for what is happening now…and joining in the future work of God in our reality. (pause)
Now John’s self aware enough to know that there’s something WAY bigger than him at work here…but that whatever it is, its not going to cancel out what’s he’s up to…its just gonna change it. I baptize you with water…but that one who’s coming…the one who’s greater than me…he’ll baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

And low and behold…here comes Jesus…and he too is baptized…and for the first time…this statement of John comes true and those present see the heavens torn open and the Holy Spirit coming down upon Jesus…and this giant booming voice…that same voice which is powerful to literally SPEAK CREATION INTO BEING…calls out You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.

Now we all know that we’re talking about Jesus here…and there have been many questions through the years about why Jesus had to be baptized…he was without sin…so the repentance that John’s been talking about probably doesn’t apply…so how come? (pause) Well maybe that question, while valid…doesn’t really matter.  Maybe all that matters is that we see that Jesus himself was baptized…and later on…in one of his final statements, he’ll pass the command on to us to do the very same…baptizing in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

And if we share in the same baptism that Jesus himself experienced…well then we begin to see that the promises made are also the same. (pause) I love how Mark’s account of the baptism ends…with this booming proclamation from God about the identity of Jesus. About the identity of the one who has just been baptized. You are my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.  And with that God drops the mic. (pause)

Often times when I’m speaking at a funeral…I’ll remind those present that when it comes to the story of the individual, God gets the last word…and I think that’s true here too…God literally has the last word in this baptism…and its one that we share.

How amazing is it…how mind blowing is it that this same God who speaks from the heavens…who claims Jesus as his beloved son…also claims you. The promise…the declaration…it’s the same for you.  God looks upon you, God sees an amazing creation…and God calls you his beloved Son…his beloved Daughter…and in you he is well pleased…as you are. (pause)

In you he well pleased…not as you could be…not as you one day hope to be…but right now…as you are…no matter what junk lies behind you in your history…no matter what skeletons might lie in your closest…God claims you right here right now…AS YOU ARE…and God delights in you.

So what can we take away today…as we consider this brief story of Jesus’ baptism…featuring a promise we share…and another biblical figure who serves as a blast from the past to the culture that Jesus was a part of.

And perhaps the only take away that we can find is that whatever lies in your past…the good, the bad…the joys and the sorrows…all of that has shaped you into the person that you are right now…your past has helped shape your present identity…and in the waters of your baptism…and not only that but in every other day of your life…God sees you…God loves you…God claims you…and God invites you forward into something new…

Consider all that…all of it…and know that it has formed you so that as you look to the heavens…you can honestly say Here I am…this is me…and the same God who ripped open the heavens to claim his beloved Son Jesus…claims you…and there is nothing in all of creation that can take distinction away from you. And when the story of your life is told…God gets the last word. Amen

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