Scripture can be found here...
I don’t know exactly what you’ve been told about the baptism of Jesus.
I know some of the things I’ve shared here, but I’m not sure I’ve told you this: Jesus was just one of hoards of people who were pouring out of every town in Judea to find their way to the muddy Jordan River, because there was a man there called John the Baptizer—literally, John the Dipper.
And the reason people went to John was because they wanted a fresh start. John was proclaiming a baptism of repentance, for forgiveness of sins. This wasn’t a rite of initiation, in which you joined John’s church. This was people of every variety, from the most poor and humble to the most rich and powerful, and all of them wanted pretty much the same thing: they wanted a new beginning. They wanted to turn their lives around. They wanted to put off their old ways, shed them like a beat-up, moth-eaten coat with holes in the pockets and frayed hems and stains on the lapel, and they wanted to put on new ways, God’s ways. Think what it’s like to take a shower in the morning, when you had a rough day the day before, or maybe a rough night. They wanted to feel new again, clean again, hopeful again.
So they went to John.
Jesus went to John, too, and we really have no reason whatsoever to think he wasn’t looking for exactly the same thing. Because, the God’s honest truth is: we have no idea what Jesus has been up to. He’s is about 30 years old, which makes it, for most of us, about 29 years and 11 months since we last saw him. Where has he been? What has he been doing? Is he looking for a fresh start? We don’t know.
Here’s what we do know: the baptism wasn’t, how do I put this…. typical. Insofar as, the Divine Presence, the Holy One, appeared, in the following ways:
First, after John had dipped him or dunked him, just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart.
This is a violent image. It conjures up barrier between earth and heaven, which has suddenly been ripped open. Remember Christmas, when heaven and earth met, kissed—just in case we’re not sure where that stands now—the boundaries have been breached. Earth and heaven are breathing the same air now, their inhabitants are gazing in wonder at each other.
Second, but pretty much simultaneously, Jesus saw God’s Spirit descending upon him. The Spirit appeared as a dove. Birds generally remind us of the arrival of new insight. Because they fly, they remind us of ultimate freedom. Because they can look down on the whole landscape, they remind us of perspective. And like Harry Potter’s Hedwig, they come bearing messages. This bird, because it arrives at the same instance of this tearing open of the sky so that heaven can be seen, tells us unambiguously: The Holy One is present.
And third: The baptism accomplishes something besides a cleansing. Look, we don’t know why Jesus is here, what he wants from John. But after Jesus comes up from the water, a voice is heard—does Jesus hear it? Does John? Do onlookers? Hard to say, from what Mark gives us. “A voice came from heaven,” he writes. And it says: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
We don’t know what was going on with Jesus when he went down to the Jordan. Maybe he was a mess. Maybe his late 20’s had hit him hard. Maybe he knew exactly what God had in store for him… he was preparing for his ministry, and he knew that this baptism would be a moment of revelation. Or maybe, he was about to try something new, and had no earthly or heavenly idea how this was going to work out. We just don’t know. But we do know what that voice says:
“Child of mine: I love you. I am pleased with you.”
And then, it all started.
In a few moments we will be calling forward all those who have been chosen by God through the voice of this congregation to lead us in our congregational ministry this year. Maybe some of you will stand here wondering what on earth you’ve gotten yourself into. Maybe some of you will stand here with remarkable clarity and confidence as to God’s call upon you. Maybe some of you are ready to try this new thing, with hopeful hearts and knees knocking, with no idea how it will all work out. And all of these are good and fitting responses to the call of God.
But hear this: God is here. Earth and heaven are still breathing the same air, and their inhabitants are still gazing in wonder at each other. God is still speaking, and God’s message is the same. Hear it now. It is for you:
"Child of mine. I love you. I am pleased with you. You are my own.”
And now, it begins.
Thanks be to God. Amen.