Scriptures: Genesis 1:1-5 Mark 1:4-11, Acts 19:1-7
Let us Pray:
Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Commentator Lee Barrett says of Mark’s account of the baptism of Jesus, “Mark’s story of Jesus’ baptism provides the indispensable context for understanding everything subsequently recounted about Jesus’ ministry and passion. God’s dramatic acknowledgment of Jesus makes it clear that through the words and deeds of Jesus we humans are encountering the enacted intentions of God.” “…the enacted intentions of God…” that phrase lept out at me as I was preparing for this Sunday’s worship. Listen again for the Word of God and let us see if that phrase rings as true for you as it did for me.
Mark 1:1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God: 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”
4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 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. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 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. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Mark 1:9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 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. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Here ends the reading from the Gospel of Mark. Thanks be to God.
“…the enacted intentions of God…” In the context of Mark’s time, and the time of Jesus that Mark records, that phrase rings true. My question for you is, does the picture painted by Mark of John baptizing and preaching from the shores of the Jordan River – at the edge of the wilderness, if you will – have any bearing on our time and place today? That is a good question; to which I ask, do we not drift in and out of our own wilderness experiences as we journey on through hopefully faithful lives? God’s intervening moment in the life Jesus, as recorded by Mark, happens at the moment of his baptism. Is there still ongoing potential for God’s imminent intervention today? To which I reply, is the promise of new life pouring into our own troubled world just as much like an imminent intervention as hearing the news Mark recorded when the heavens ripped open and the Holy Spirit of God descended upon Jesus in the Jordan River?
Every now and then I come across a commentary so beautifully written that I am tempted to abandon all hope of writing a good sermon and just read directly from the commentary and call it good. Barrett’s commentary on today’s Mark passage comes very close. He says our own age is like John’s: poised between a troubled past and an unprecedented future. Barrett tells us that for Mark, Jesus is the “fulcrum of God’s dealings with humanity.” He goes on to say, “The figure of John the Baptist situates Jesus in the past, present, and future of God’s activity.” We might say the same thing about our own place and time. For our current times, for this community of believers, even for each of us personally as we move and live and have our being along our journeys of faith, Jesus is still the fulcrum of God’s dealings with us. Thanks to the Son of God being born among us and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus at his baptism, I submit to you that every time we put God first in our lives, the Holy Spirit comes present, breathing through us from deep within. If we listen carefully, like Jesus we will hear the still small voice speak even unto us, guiding us to make our best choices yet again in our decisions, our thoughts, indeed our every action in the world.
From Mark’s perspective, then, we might conclude that Baptism and the Holy Spirit are inexorably intertwined. Today’s passage from the book of Acts seems to confirm that. Listen again for the Word of God:
Acts 19:1 While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. 2 He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them…”
Here ends the reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Thanks be to God.
A very interesting passage from Acts. Commentator Doug Ottati writes,
“One point that stands out is historical. Our passage intimates some important tensions within the early Christian movement. Apollos is presented as being helpful at arguing with other Jews that the Messiah is Jesus, but at a loss when it comes to rightly understanding baptism and entry into the Christian movement. He misses something fundamental, namely, the relationship between baptism in the name of Jesus and empowerment in the Spirit.”
He goes on to write that the “true Christian movement is both united and driven by God in the power of the Spirit.” He points out that according to God’s plan, the power of the Spirit expands the Christian movement in an ever-widening circle. Arguably, the entire two volumes of Luke-Acts chronicle the unfolding story of God’s advent into human life with Jesus; following the “Spirit-empowered expansion of the Way” as the early church is born and grows.
In Augustinian traditions, baptism is a visible sign of an invisible grace, or as we might call it, an outward sign of an internal conviction. Those in the Augustinian traditions baptize both children and adults for this reason: God gives the grace of adoption whereby we become God’s daughters and sons. The main differences between Reformed protestants and Baptists understanding of Baptism probably stems from the belief that Baptism is a marker of one’s personal faith commitment – that is, a decision of the person being baptized that yes, this is indeed, the Way of life and I choose to follow it. Reformed protestants would claim both that this is true, especially of teenagers, young adults and older adults alike, but also that formation of children in the faith begins with infancy as the whole of the faith community pledges to raise children in the Way of everlasting, believing in hope that the young person will grow into a personal understanding of God’s grace and make a good confession when they come to choose to believe and follow the way of their upbringing.
Doug Ottati concludes his commentary on baptismal passage with these words:
“The gift of the Spirit in baptism sweeps people up into the dynamic of the Spirit and its expansive Way. It drives believers to participate in the church’s expansive mission. It empowers them to witness in word and in deed to a universally inclusive reality. And so by the Spirit they are empowered to witness to a truth that many in today’s terrorized and war-torn world may need to hear. Now that the Way is come to all, we no longer need be Jews or Greeks or Egyptians or Romans or Arabs in order to be God’s people.”
Ruthanne Hooke reminds us that,
“…What these disciples were missing, and what they received from Paul when they received the Holy Spirit, was principally the power of prophecy. We tend to think that prophecy has to do with foretelling future events, but in Luke’s Gospel and in Acts, to prophesy is to speak about the present; it is to speak in God’s name on behalf of God’s work in the world. This speaking is done with the Spirit’s power, and thus it is inspired utterance, and has the power to change the world.”
So we come to this day in our liturgical calendar when we celebrate that God not only came down to be one of us in the person of Jesus Christ, but we also celebrate that Jesus was baptized, just like us. This means an even deeper joining of our lives with God’s; through redemptive work by water and prophetic work by Spirit. Praise God for our adoption as God’s children, being gifted with direct empowerment to be God’s witnesses in our families, our communities, and in the world. Amen? May it be so.
 Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Tayler, ed. Feasting on the Word – Year B, Vol. 1 Advent through Transfiguration. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.