Kenora Baptism of Our Lord Christ – Epiphany 1
10 January 2021
God of the heavens, whose holiness is unveiled by one who is submerged in all the pain and sin of the earth: give us faith to follow him who goes to the heart of darkness bearing only the Spirit of gentle, insistent peace; through Jesus Christ, the promised one. Amen.
How often do we look at the tiny things of the world, as we try to figure out God’s grand schemes? How often do we engage in the activity of “what if?” as we think and rethink the actions, the decisions that have brought us to this point, this place, this relationship, in our life, and with each other.
And I’m not immune from this kind of pondering exercise, either, from trying to look at the whole of creation and spot where we are today. It actually reminds me of zooming out on a map and trying to find my house from an orbital perspective.
I actually spent most of the week looking at the variety in the scope of the readings we are seeing, today, and trying to figure out how to make God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit equal to each other in the proclamation of a single message, today.
And what I discovered is that this is something that I can’t do. Not because it cannot be done, but because it is a topic best left to the grand thinkers of our age than to a Sunday sermon.
But what it is we’re seeing is God, the creator of the universe, taking direct action in the world around us.
Action that has been talked about in and through prophesy for generations before John the Baptists ministry in the Judean countryside, action that is looked for hoped for, and anticipated since the first prophesies spoke about the coming of the messiah.
What has confused and confounded us, since the beginning of the Christian era is why Jesus, the Son of God, the one born without sin, would submit to a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Yet, here he is, today, waist deep in the Jordan river, being baptized by John.
Here he is, beginning his public ministry in a way that truly foreshadows its end, on the cross.
John’s message to those who come to him is: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mk 1:7b-8)
So, hearing John’s words, we’re anticipating one who is great, armoured to the teeth, who comes to us with a grand retinue, an entourage that would rival Caesar.
But this has never been Jesus style.
From his perspective, today, he enters public ministry, he enters the arena will introduce to each one of us the God who loves us so much that Jesus, the son of God will die on the cross so that we can have a life as the children of God.
The one, whom John points to, comes before him to receive from him a baptism that one born without sin, does not require.
And this is the mystery of today’s gospel passage. This is the mystery of God’s love.
Today, we witness the Lamb of God, the one born into the world to save all of humanity, is anointed for his ministry, is anointed for his death on the cross.
What is important to each one of us, then, is how we are able to learn from Jesus, in the time that he is amongst us.
What is important to Jesus is that we learn from him of God’s love, of God’s desire to be active in all of creation, so that when Jesus time amongst us comes to an end then the doors to the kingdom of heaven open, and we’re able to take our places in God’s kingdom, forever.
But these are grand ideas. And what I’ve discovered is that we’re not easily able to look at the grand scheme that God has set in motion, from the moment of creation, to the end of the world. After all, we’re not God.
God is omnipotent, God is omniscient, and we are only a part of God’s creation. A beloved part of creation, yet a part, all the same.
Lately I’ve liked the premise of the movie “Now You See Me.” Its about a group of four magicians who work to right a series of wrongs that happened over 30 years before. But, in the midst of their work as magicians, they point out, repeatedly, that the closer we get to them, and to their actions, the less we will actually see of the pattern of what it is that they’re doing. They actively point out that the closer we get, the less we see.
We can see this with images. The closer we step to a painting, the more we can admire the artists technique, his or her brush strokes, the use of pigments and all sorts of technical aspects of the artwork. But its only when we step back from the painting, its only when we look at the image, as a whole, that we can see it, that we can admire what it is that the artist saw, what they created.
In the same way, being a part of creation, we are so close to it, so much a part of God’s plans for not only our lives, but for the whole of the world, that we cannot see what it is that God sees.
Our lives of faith, our being an integral part of God’s plans in and for creation works the same way.
We are like the cogs and wheels, the springs and screws of the inner workings of a clock, a time piece. None of the pieces within the clock are able to see the whole of the clock, the individual pieces may not even be aware that they’re in a clock, but without their, without our efforts the whole mechanism breaks down.
Today we’re able to see how God is working within creation, through the baptism of Jesus by John, to bring all of humanity, to bring each one of us into a direct relationship with God.
And this is the mystery, today.
This is where we find God, looking at the larger picture, that here, at the beginning of Jesus ministry, we see the shadows of the cross. We see the lengths to which God is willing to go to have a relationship with each one of us.
So, naturally, the question we need to ask is how do we, how are we able to respond to this overture of divine love?
Jesus is born amongst us to encourage each one of us to learn from him, to emulate him, and love as we are loved by God.
Yet, today, we see Jesus beginning to do what we cannot.
John, in the Jordan river, offers to one and all a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Something that we can benefit from because we are fully human, we sin, in our lives, but, Jesus does not. Yet, Jesus is anointed, by John, in the waters of the Jordan, and from here we mark the beginning of his public ministry, the beginning of his teaching each of us to love as we are loved.
“9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” (Mk 1:9-11)
God recognizes the pattern. God sees the steps mandated by God to correct the separation between God and each one of our lives and hearts.
This is one of those points where we can look backward and see God’s hand at work, not just because this is where we identify that this is where the Holy Spirit has guided each one of us to see this event, but that Jesus is blessed by the descent of the Holy Spirit on his life, and for his public ministry in the world.
So, looking at this from the ‘what if’ ponderings of our lives…
What if Jesus didn’t get baptized by John, in the river, today? After all, he is the son of God, he is God manifest in human form.
How will we learn of God’s love for each of us, if Jesus is unable to understand the burden of sin that weighs down our lives, our hearts, our every decision?
At the same time, how do we, when we ignore what it is that God has done for each one of us, reconcile our choices against what it is God does for each one of us, not just today, but every day?
Often, when I’m able to go to the hospital to visit, I ask if the one who wishes to receive communion, also wishes to participate in the Brief Order of Confession and Forgiveness. And about 95% of the time, I’m told that the one with whom I am visiting tells me that they have no need to confess, that they’ve done nothing wrong.
But he does receive John’s baptism.
Here, today, Jesus receives a baptism of repentance, not for his sake, but for each one of ours. That this road leads to the cross, not for Jesus benefit, but to relieve each one of us from the burden of sin and errors that has separated from God’s love.
Here today, we see Jesus being to take on the burden of sin that has filled the world and oppressed our lives and hearts.
Here today, we see Jesus step forward from the obscurity of the crowd, and step into the role created for him from the dawn of the world.
A role that is created so that we can learn from Jesus to love as we have been loved since the creation of the world.
So that we can trust, trust that when we lay down our burden of sin, that it is finally destroyed in the light of God’s love. A love that culminates in the cross. A death that is destroyed in the light of the resurrection, on Easter morning.
When we confess our sins before God, when we lay down our errors our problems, our sins, whether it is here, today, and every Sunday, or whether it is in the day to day circumstances of our lives, then we can bask in the light of God’s love, as God declares: “You are my [Child], whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mk 1:11b)
It is then, in the light of God’s love that we live, surrounded by the love that has existed since the dawn of the world, forever, before the throne of God.