The audio was recorded at our Praise and Worship Service on January 11, 2015.
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."
God Broke Loose
It seems like an odd question to begin with this morning, but it comes directly from the story that Mark is telling. The story that we hear this morning from Mark proclaims that our world is a different place because God broke loose in our midst through Jesus.
We find our selves once again at the river Jordan with John. The familiar call of repentance rings out of Mark’s story. We have heard this tale already in the last few weeks. We encountered John twice in advent. But that was last year. We are now beyond the busyness of Christmas and our transition into 2015. Life has fallen back into it’s usually frantic pace - our routines are running once again.
So its back to the river we go - where things seem to be business as usual. John preaches. People repent. There is yelling and splashing and crowds and hope. Then Jesus walks out of the anonymous crowd. The routine has been broken. The stronger one that John has spoken about has just entered the waters. And nothing will ever be the same.
We have an insiders view of the baptism, and it all seems “normal” as the event unfolds. There is water, words are spoken, Jesus is dunked, and then it happens. The heavens are ripped apart. Not just opened as if you were sliding a window open on a new spring day. The heavens are ripped open. Like the shattering of glass. It’s violent. And it changes everything.
It brings to mind the prophet Isaiah of old - “If only you would tear open the heavens and come down (Isaiah 64).” We heard that plea at the beginning of Advent. It’s worth repeating now. There’s a longing from the prophet. Just like there’s a longing from John. Just like there’s a longing from the crowds at the river. Just like there’s a longing for us. A longing for God to be present.
If only you would tear open the heavens and come down.” Isaiah 64
Jesus walks out of the wilderness and demonstrates God’s presence. He preaches in a synagogue, raises Simon’s mother-in-law to new life, calls twelve disciples, teaches and preaches and heals at a frantic pace. He confronts the powers of the world with a new way of being in the world. He critiques the broken systems that perpetuate hate and destruction and death. And the powers seethe and wait for an opportunity to silence Jesus. They react with a cross and claim victory. But not so fast.
At the end, of the supposed end, while Jesus hangs on the cross, Mark gives us a reminder that God is still present, even in that hopeless hour. As Jesus breathes his last, the curtain of the temple is ripped in two, like the heavens were ripped in two at the river. And God is there again, God breaks loose into our world. Then the centurion, the representative of Roman might, the symbol of absolute power, confesses - “truly this man was the Son of God.” God broke loose into our world in a whole new way. Through resurrection and new life.
This is the story Mark tells. This is how the baptism of Jesus unfolds. The baptism of Jesus in Mark leads us into uncharted waters. God is loose and moving in the world. For Mark, God’s arrival into our humanity begun at Jesus’ baptism, was confirmed by the powers at Jesus’ crucifixion, and witnessed by the women at the empty tomb. It lead them on to Galilee. To witness the story again. To join in the movement of sharing the good news. The whole of our lives unfolded from that moment. And no, God is here. That’s why we gather this morning.
So I go back to my original questions - How will Fredericksburg be different tomorrow because of the presence of God that we worship and celebrate this day? God changed things. God changes things. God broke loose in our midst. God is present with us, calling us daughters and sons from the stirred up, ordinary waters of our own baptisms. Shaping and molding us into a people after God’s own heart. Creating a community with the power to change things. At this font we are reminded that God names us and claims us and there’s no going back. God does not go back on promises.
How will Fredericksburg be different tomorrow because of the presence of God that we worship and celebrate this day?
Perhaps a snapshot of what this looks like is helpful. On your way back out into the world this morning, you can pick up an annual report from 2014. In those pages in an answer to the question, how is Fredericksburg a different place because Bethany Lutheran exists. Its a glimpse of the rhythm of our ministry from the last year. Take is home and look at what God has done through us in the last year. How Fredericksburg is different because God has empowered us to do work in this community.
Then come on back next week as we gather for our annual meeting. As we set in motion our ministries for 2015. As we think about our budget, as we think about our ministries, as we think about how we invest our time and energy and resources in 2015.
And as we gather, let’s ask the question - How will FBG be different tomorrow because of the presence of God that we worship and celebrate this day?
How will things be different tomorrow because of what God has done through Jesus? How will things be different because God has named and called and shaped us as a community of faith to be proclaimers of the Good News and workers in the kingdom of God unfolding in our midst.
Today we remember and celebrate the baptism of Jesus and our own baptisms into his life, death, and resurrection. The waters of God have been stirred up and they will carry us into uncharted places.
Diane Roth said it well - “Baptism is a passport to places you never thought you would go, to be an emissary of the living God in the desert in the wilderness, to plant seeds of hope and healing in life.”
We are God’s daughters and sons. Named and claimed and called. Tomorrow our community will be different because of what happened this morning. And the world, the world, will never be the same.