It has been weeks since I posted to this blog—too much transition and the wicked sinus-infection-of-the-damned seized me by the ears, slung me into a corner and mocked me as I tried to press into a new “call.” The infection was decimated by amoxicillin, the transition has ebbed, and now here we are at Baptism of our Lord Sunday. And, here we are—at long last—with a post.
So here goes——it ain’t about us, folks! It is so easy to spin this text into a theological rope-a-dope about baptismal theology. But, should we? Let’s think.
Preachers, we could preach:
1) That Baptism for some is like getting into the “Trinity Club” where you gain special access to the Big Three: Divine Cat Daddy, JC, and the Ghost with the Most. And, consequently, some of us think that our exclusive “Trinity Club” membership gives us special rights, privileges, and a code of conduct that sets us apart, and perhaps, even above others.
or, if that doesn’t inspire, we could preach;
2) That Baptism is fire insurance. It’s like the old church signs says, “Eternity: Smoking or Non-smoking.” Some people will pound down the church door and hound the local cleric to baptize bouncing baby boodle as a curative measure before the holy family heads off on Summer vacation as a way to keep the baby from forever roasting in the bowels of hell should the family RV go careening into the Grand Canyon and the babe not survive. Yep, Baptism as fire insurance…..not a new concept.
or, rather than preach splash-to-endure-flame, we might even preach;
3) That at the divine cattle auction, people rather than bovine stock, are bought by God, claimed by God, and with a baptismal brand, seared by God with an indelible, immutable mark—deeply blazed into our sinful hide, and that forever when we are seen the mark will let all know that we are owned by God because of the readily visible “Crossbar JC” brand. And they will know beyond any doubts that we had no voice in the matter for branding is the work of the owner, not the owned.
and, if we’ve gone that far, why not preach;
4) That the Divine Rancher takes stock of all ages. And that babes are as likely to receive the brand as adults. For ownership is the action of the owner, not of those being owned, therefore “age of understanding” and “age of accountability” has nothing whatsoever to do with the Baptismal brand decidedly placed upon those owned at the prerogative of the owner. No deciding or understanding on the part of those being owned makes any impact in what the Divine Rancher decides or does.
and, as they say, in for a penny in for a pound, why not go on and preach;
5) That Baptism is the way the Divine Parent adopts—-for only One was ever begotten of the Divine Parent, so all others made God’s family have been made so by adoption. And the adoption process is Baptism……and adoption has nothing—NOTHING—to do with age, or understanding, or personal decision making. When adoption happens the making of family happens, and this is totally dependent on the Divine Parent adopting and instantaneously making babes—of all ages—family members of the Most High God. No deciding about this—-when a babe is adopted it is made family by the work of the adoptive parent (s) no work done by the babe—-none at all—-just like when baby boodle has a dirty bum, the decision to wipe it and clean it rests totally with the parent(s)——-the decision to clean the dirty bums of humanity rests in the hands of the Divine Parent—-the One who has been washing people from the rooter to the tooter since the days of the mikvah.
but, if we had the courage to preach any of this, then we must remember…
that it is NOT “Baptism of People Sunday.” This Sunday, 11 January 2015, is “Baptism of Our Lord Sunday.” Options 1-5, though faithful ways to speak of Baptism, focus on people—how people get something from God. What do preaching options 1-5 actually say about the baptismal event of Jesus Christ? Not a thing. Not one single blessed thing. And, again, it ain’t about us!
We are nowhere to be found when John—the cousin of Jesus—gets the shock of his day when Jesus strolls up and just short of demands that John wash him in the river. The story found in the Gospel of Mark goes like this:
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And 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.6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He 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. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And 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. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (text taken from NRSV)
It is important to note that this is the event that kicks off, “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” There is no word in the three preceding verses that says one thing about the birth of Jesus—no angels, no manger, no inn, no census, no tax, no kings, no camels, no birth—–what is offered is Baptism by a man in a camel-hair leisure suit with locust wings under his honey sticky digits.
One might wonder if the evangelist’s exclusion of the birth of Jesus and the evangelist’s opening of “the good news” with John’s Baptism of Jesus might be important and intentional. It is almost like the evangelist sees the Baptism of our Lord as more important than the details of his birth.
There’s an irony for us—Baptism more important than birth. And in Mark 1: 4-11, this irony isn’t the only one. I count at least five.
1) v. 4—–Does Jesus, the sinless One, need to experience a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins? Ironic, no?
2) v. 8—-Just exactly what does the evangelist mean by “in those days?” In those days when Jesus randomly strolls up to his cousin at a river? In those days when John baptized Jerusalem city-slickers? Or, in those days when theophanies were all the rage?
3) v. 10—Isn’t it ironic that the One, “conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit,” as we creed-sayers profess, would need the Spirit descending like a dove on him?
4) v. 11—Isn’t it ironic that the words “the Beloved,” ἀγαπητός, is only used 3-times in Mark’s gospel: 1) Mark 1:11 at Baptism—where his self-deprecating cousin washes the One from Nazareth (the sticks, nowhere special) from which no good thing comes per John’s gospel, and after this washing, the One from Nowhere Nazareth is driven into the wilderness and temptation, 2) Mark 9:7 at the Transfiguration where soon after Jesus of Nowhere Nazareth expounds at length (ch 9, v 12) about his personal suffering, and then 3) Mark 12:6 in a parable Jesus tells where the son is murdered by wicked renters. I ask you—are these 3-uses times where being “the Beloved” is a delight? A mark of blessing and blissful distinction? Ironic.
And really here’s the biggest irony of all (v. 10) the heavens are torn apart—–and by whom—-the Father and the Spirit. God, who has no need to tear apart anything, God rips open the heavens to dwell with people. God, the One with all the agency, performed a divine episiotomy, and EMMANUEL—God with people—-was born into human reality. From ripping of heavens, to flowing of water, a birth like no other was taking place in the muddy Jordan river. God is no longer content to be bounded, and is loosed in the world. God moves into the world, and the Spirit moves into Jesus.
And into the Son the Spirit descends. In this text the Spirit descends like a dove, but later in Mark’s gospel (ch 3, v. 22-30) Jesus will be accused of being possessed by unclean spirits and Jesus will retort that such a charge is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that resides in Jesus.
So, the Triune God moves into the world through Baptism—the Baptism of Jesus. And a new reality is born as the Spirit sets up residence in the Son. I wonder what preaching possibilities might be found in that happy thought—the Spirit setting up residence in the Son. From cover to cover Mark’s gospel offers one ironic surprise right after another—-and it all gets it’s beginning in the Baptism of our Lord.