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Sermon for the 1st Sunday after the Epiphany

Genesis 1:1-5 Psalm 29 Acts 19:1-7 Mark 1:4-11

I was talking with a friend who gave up social media for the new year. She was trying to make friends outside Facebook while applying the same principles. Every day, she walks down the street and tells passersby what she had for breakfast, how she feels, what she had done the night before, and what she will do tomorrow. Then she would give them pictures of her family, her dog and her garden. She also listens to their conversations and tells them that she loved them. She was bragging about how it was working. She already had three people following her – two police officers and a psychiatrist.

The Baptism of our Lord comes quickly after the Magi leave. Each year it begins the season of Epiphany. In our lectionary, we jump from the birth of Jesus to his baptism in the Jordan River as a thirty-year-old adult. My how time flies. In the three-year lectionary cycle, Jesus baptism rotates through the synoptic gospels. This year we have Mark’s account.

Now in very few words, Mark will transition from the end of John’s preaching mission to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus’ baptism provides the hinge. The people are wondering if John might be the messiah, but John tells them that someone more powerful is coming. One who is empowered by the Holy Spirit is coming. We know that during Advent, John’s ministry is all about preparing for the Messiah’s coming.

The beginning of Jesus’ ministry is marked by his baptism, not fully described in Mark’s account, but we know the story. “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordon.”

According to this account, all we know about Jesus’ baptism is that it was with “all the people” – but maybe that is what we sometimes forget. Jesus presented himself to be baptized as an act of solidarity with a nation and a world of sinners. Jesus just got in line with everyone who had been broken by the worries and woes of this world. Some of them had given up on themselves and on God. When this line of downtrodden, broken, world-weary folks formed, they were filled with anticipation and hope for new beginnings. Jesus joined them, knowing all that he was to do. At his baptism and throughout his ministry, he identified with the damaged and broken people who needed God the most.

If the church is to be a hospital for sinners instead of a hotel for saints, then we need to do our part. If Jesus got in line with sinners, we need to sign up and we need to get in line. We are all works in progress and there is no magic formula or time frame that makes us worthy. Jesus’ love and grace and mercy and compassion make us worthy. It is not anything that we need to do, other than accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

In this account of the baptism, Jesus doesn’t say a word out loud. 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 whom I am well pleased.” Jesus is not only coming to us sinners; he is connecting to the power and presence of God. He won’t begin his public ministry of teaching and healing left to only his power and abilities. The source of his strength will come from beyond him. The Holy Spirit will encourage him all the way, even as the way becomes more and more difficult. The disciples will learn this power and presence of God from Jesus, as the Spirit will give them stamina and patience to love and love again in faithful ministry.

So another question echoes through our walls – “Do we depend on the Holy Spirit and our prayer connection with God to help us go into the world and make a difference in people’s lives through Christ?” How do we respond when we hear a need? Perhaps, we realize that our God connection is a lifeline for all of us followers of Jesus. It is necessary for every individual, every congregation, every diocese, every ministry. It is important to realize that this intensely spiritual experience Jesus has after his baptism happens when he opens his heart. Identifying with sinners in the waters of baptism and hearing God’s affirmation, Jesus is now claimed as God’s Son.

At his baptism, Jesus is ordained as Messiah by God, God who loves him and doesn’t hesitate to tell him so. This powerful affirmation, this calling from God, will sustain Jesus through his time in the desert where he is tempted. This powerful affirmation will sustain him through the joys and trials of his faithful ministry.

My father was a member of the “greatest generation” described by Tom Brokaw. He spent so much of his life providing for his family, a family he dearly loved. But he was never able to say that he loved us, was proud of us, or any other affirmation. So during most of my life, he provided for my needs and loved me in his own way. It wasn’t until about six months before he died that he had a stroke. That stroke freed up that part of his brain that wouldn’t allow him to express his heart and he was able to tell us that he loved us. It is one thing to know it, but something quite different to hear it from the person you love. “You are my child, my beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

So, does it help us to know that God claims us as God’s children and is proud of us for bringing God’s love to all people? In light of the happenings this week at the Capitol, how does our love of God and country lead us forward to make sense of the siege and violence in Washington? I was heart-sick when I saw the images and heard the reports. Several years ago, I walked through those halls during a tour with my sister and her family. We saw the history, we heard the stories, we felt the patriotism. The Capitol stands as more than a building – it holds so much of who we are.

We need to realize that we are in this together – we aren’t red or blue states, we are red, white and blue – the colors of our flags, the colors of our past and the promise of our future. We are reminded to call on God’s strength, power and perseverance – no one of us has the answers, but together we can piece together a plan to heal and move forward. In a democratic nation, we don’t always get our individual needs met, because the focus is on the “greater good for the majority.” But, we all have voices to proclaim and defend our rights and the rights of others. We are in this together – something the COVID pandemic has continually reminded us of.

We need to hear this affirmation from God - we are God’s beloved! - and from each other. These are life-giving words that every human being upon this earth should hear: “You are my child, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” When Jesus heard those words, they changed his life forever. They will do the same for us, for our children, our neighbors, our spouses, our church family, and as Jesus promised, even our enemies.

Mark uses a few words to share with us the baptism of our Lord. But those few words lead us to the very deep wellsprings of joy. They lead us to identify with all people, to depend upon God for the strength to live and to love, and to hear the affirmation of our God as the source of our calling and purpose for life are the most enduring joys of life. These are the blessings of our life together in Christ as a church family.

In baptism, God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ’s body, the Church and inheritors of the kingdom of God. We don’t have to wait until we have it all together to be baptized. We don’t have to wait until we have it all figured out to be baptized. It is in baptism, that the Holy Spirit empowers us and moves us forward. It is something that we are called to do, to be the hands, and heart and feet of Christ. God honors our efforts, the intentions of our hearts. We stand and in standing we are saying to them, “You are children of God, God’s beloved and with you we are well pleased.” We are all welcome to join the family!! Amen.

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