Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | January 11, 2015

2015.01.11 “Torn Apart! – Baptism of the Lord – Mark 1: 4 – 11

Central United Methodist Church
Torn Apart!
Pastor David L. Haley
Baptism of the Lord
Mark 1:  4 – 11
January 11th, 2015

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

          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.” – (Mark 1: 4 – 11, NRSV)

Every year, on or about the second Sunday of January, just after we get all the Christmas decorations put away, a new year begun, and the driveway shoveled, we take an field trip. If only in our imagination, we load onto a bus and ride out to the banks of the Jordan River, where John the Baptist is preaching. On a bus, it takes only a little over an hour to ride out from Jerusalem; coming from Nazareth, a little longer.

On the second Sunday of January, we are glad to take such a trip out to the sun-washed banks of a River. That is, if we can’t go to the Florida or Hawaii, because about this time in Chicago, we are knee-deep in snow and ice and shivering in the cold, as we have been this week.

It gets old quickly, doesn’t it? Putting all those clothes on and off, just to take the garbage out. Having to pull shoes on and off, to keep from tracking up the floor. If you have small children to bundle up, that’s even more difficult. It’s best to be a teenager: then you can just go out in any weather – even sub-zero weather – with just a T-shirt and sweatshirt.

What we find when we get out to the Jordan is this; it’s not that impressive, maybe even making us wonder why we made the trip; we could have stayed at the hotel swimming pool and had more fun. I don’t know what it looked like 1,989 years ago, but this is what it looks like today; it’s known as Qasr-el-Yahud, and is thought to be the site of the Jesus’ baptism. It’s not to be confused with the place most tourists are taken, known as Yardenit, up north where the Jordan flows out of the Sea of Galilee, which looks like this; this would be definitely be worth a trip.

Why should we go out to such a place on this second Sunday of January? Because that’s when and where Jesus was baptized, the next big event in his life, after his birth and the visit of the Magi, which we celebrated last Sunday. By observing Jesus’ baptism, we learn about our own baptism, which we also reaffirm today. What better time to do so, than this second Sunday in a New Year?

If we had been able to be there on the day Jesus was baptized, what we would have found is this: the center of attention is a wild and woolly preacher named John, known as “the Baptizer.” He is one of those people who is fed up with the way things are, and is inviting people to get right with God by using a ancient Jewish ritual of washing them in water, which we know as the Greek word used for it, “baptism.” It’s a churchy word, it really just means ritual cleansing or washing in water.  They did it in rivers and lakes; we do it here in church. I guarantee if you did it in Lake Michigan, especially this time of year, you’d remember it the rest of your life; that is, if you survive the hypothermia.

There are lots of people there to hear John, there’s obviously a widespread desire among people to make a new beginning in their life, to wash the sins of the past away. There are religious people and non-religious people gathered around, such as tax-collectors and even a few soldiers, not always at the top of everyone’s Facebook friends list. Somewhere in this crowd, is John’s cousin, Jesus. Would we recognize him? We Americans would, because after all he’s the only white Caucasian in a crowd of brown Middle Easterners (kidding!)

But we also might not recognize him, because – having just left him as a toddler living in Bethlehem last week – we are surprised to find that he is grown, and around 30 years of age. How time flies!

Do you find this too; especially as we get older? Wednesday night’s sub-zero temperatures killed off my car battery. I could have sworn it was only a few years old. When I looked up the paperwork, I discovered it was 7 years old. How time flies!

And so we are surprised to see Jesus is grown, making his own decisions about his life, who he is, who he wants to be, what he wants to do. And one of the decisions he makes is to be baptized by John. But what he did not decide nor foresee was what would happen next.

Mark, the earliest of the four Gospels, begins his story of Jesus not with his birth but with this story. Mark says that “just as Jesus 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.”

What exactly does that mean, and what is Mark trying to say when he says, “the heavens were torn apart and the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove.” Is he saying it’s like creation all over again, when at the beginning of creation the Spirit of God brooded over the waters of chaos? Is he saying the Spirit of God descended upon the man Jesus, making him God’s Anointed One? Is he saying the Spirit descended upon Jesus, ripping not only the heavens but Jesus’ life apart, giving him a new understanding of who he was – God’s Beloved Son – and what he was supposed to do – be about God’s business? Which is exactly what he did, soon as he came up out of those waters.

Even more importantly, what does Jesus’ baptism say about our baptism, if we can even remember it, all these years later?

In light of what Mark says about Jesus’ baptism, maybe we understand our baptism less than we think. Instead of a warm fuzzy experience provided for babies; instead of adults shedding a few tears as at the end of a long journey; perhaps we should think of our baptisms as an earth-shaking event in our lives whose implications we are still trying to understand, not intended so much to comfort us, as to rend our lives apart and re-orient us to our identity and purpose, not only as a child of God but as a lifelong servant of God. By virtue of our baptism, can we see our baptism and our lives this way, even many years later?

May I tell you a story about someone who did?  Before Fred Craddock became a teacher of preachers, early in his life he and his wife Nettie served a church in Southwestern Oklahoma. In the  town he served, there were four churches, and – like most small towns – each had it’s share of the population. In those churches, attendance rose and fell according to the weather, like it does here.

But the best attendance in town was always at the local café where all the pickup trucks were, because that’s where all the men sat to drink coffee and talk while their wives and children were in one of those churches. They were not bad men, they were good men, family men, hardworking men; they just didn’t like church.

The patron saint of the group was a man named Frank. Frank also was a good man, a strong man, a pioneer, a rancher, a farmer, and a cattleman. All the men in the café respected Frank and considered him their patron saint. “Ha ha,” they said, “Old Frank will never go to church.”

“One day,” said Craddock, “I met Frank on the street, and he knew I was a preacher.” After Craddock greeted him, Frank took the offensive. He said “I work hard and I take care of my family and I mind my own business.” He said that as far as he was concerned everything else was fluff. “He was telling me,” said Craddock, “leave me alone, I am not a prospect.”  So I did not bother Frank.

That is why, said Craddock, I was surprised, and the church was surprised and the whole town was surprised and the men at the café were blown away, when old Frank, at 77 years old, presented himself one day before Craddock in church for baptism. Some said he must be sick, must have heart trouble, must be scared to meet his Maker; there were all kinds of stories.

But after the baptism Craddock and Frank were talking and Craddock said, “Frank, do you remember that little saying you used to give me so much? ‘I work hard and I take care of my family and I mind my own business.’”

Frank said, “Yeah, I remember. I said that a lot.”

“Do you still say that? said Craddock.

“Yes,” he said.

“Then what’s the difference?”

Frank said, “I didn’t know then what my business was.”

Frank discovered what his business was. It was to serve others, to be child and a servant of God, like Jesus. And so he was baptized, like Jesus was baptized. (Fred Craddock, “Attending a Baptism,” The Cherry Log Sermons, pp. 11 – 12).

Like we are baptized. By virtue of our baptism, do we know what our business is?



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