Sermon January 10, 2021

The First Reading: Genesis 1:1-5

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

The Second Reading: Acts 19:1-7

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the inland regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. 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.’ Then he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They answered, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ 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.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied— altogether there were about twelve of them.

The Gospel: Mark 1:4-11

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 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. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 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. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 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 you I am well pleased.’

The Sermon

Baptism is the theme today. And it is a little confusing. In the gospel of Mark, Jesus got baptized by John and we can wonder why he was baptized in the first place. In the book of Acts there seemed to be competing forms of baptism: the one from John – the baptism of repentance – but then there was a better one which Paul administered, in which people received the Holy Spirit. The story in Acts sounds like a baptism recall. If you only received John’s, you better come back for the upgrade. Also the people in Acts who received the “right” baptism with the Holy Spirit started speaking in tongues and prophesied. Honestly, I have never seen that happening after any baptism. What does that mean?

And then there is Genesis speaking about darkness and formless void, yet the wind of God – the spirit – swept over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. He basically spoke light into being. His word wasn’t just information; it brought forth a new situation. In other words, God’s words are not only talk, but also action.

So all readings are about water, the spirit, and the spoken word that morphed into something entirely new. They are all about new beginnings.

Obviously, the first chapter of Genesis was the beginning of everything – although God was there all along. Before there was anything, there was God. And everything that exists came into being because God created it.

And yet, it is just that: a beginning, a story without an end. It is easy to get caught up in a debate about evolution vs. creation. However, this misses entirely the point of this passage. The creation story is about an ongoing development. It is not about a God who created something with a beginning and an end that never changed. From the beginning it was meant to evolve.

And it did evolve. From the beginnings in Genesis up to today we have this long relationship of God and his people who constantly created new things.

In Acts we hear about the Ephesians and the jump start through baptism and the Holy Spirit. The first chapter of Mark describes Jesus’ baptism, which marks the beginning of his ministry. And in the same way as God created the world by his Word and Spirit, so God sent forth his Son by his Word and Spirit. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

These are not just nice words, but they reflect words from Isaiah which were spoken centuries earlier and which define the mission and purpose of those to whom they were spoken. As it continues in Isaiah “I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to nations.” So Jesus took it from there and brought healing in the broadest sense to people.

In all these new beginnings, the Holy Spirit played a major role and that is actually the key element as the Holy Spirit is the moving presence of God among us.

And that raises the question how we are living out our baptism now given that, for us too, baptism was the beginning of our ministry. Baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit are not one-time events but starting points for our ministry. And we are not alone.

Like Jesus we received God’s assurance that he is with his people, with us, and with his Son and that the Holy Spirit is involved from now on. Jesus’ baptism made his identity quite clear.

As baptized Christians we have adopted this very same identity. Just as Jesus, we are assured that we are God’s beloved children with whom he is pleased, despite our shortcomings.

Just as the identity of Jesus as the Son of God was manifest in his baptism, so is our identity as children of God manifest in our baptism, an identity that frames all of our other identities: parenthood, work, community service, and citizenship – all these become venues for the service of Christian love.

Isaiah’s words, “I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to nations,” apply to us as well. It is certainly no easy task to bring forth justice in the world, or to work for an end of human suffering, or to bring peace where there is hatred and discord. And yet, this is the mission, which is laid upon every person who is washed in the waters of baptism. Illness, injustice and suffering were the arenas of life to which Jesus was sent. And because of our baptism, those are the arenas of life to which we are sent as well. We are to bring about healing, reconciliation, and change. Facing those kinds of issues is not an easy task, but we are not left to our own devices to do justice for God either.

We do have the help of the spirit in being faithful witnesses. It comes with baptism. Like Jesus we share the same intimacy and love that Jesus experienced with God, just as the touch of the spirit is ours as well. And we are reminded that we are among the beloved with whom, – because of Jesus, – God is well pleased. Amen.

And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.