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Plymouth United Church of Christ
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Eau Claire, WI 54703
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“Made, Loved, Held”
Sermon, Year B, Baptism of Jesus, January 11, 2015
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: Mark 1:1-11

We read this passage, minus the baptism part, back in December on the second Sunday of Advent. So if it feels familiar and recent, it is.

We have in this passage, John the Baptist. John is pointing the people toward Jesus. Maybe not specifically by name, though John would have known – he was Jesus’ cousin, after all. They had grown up together. You may remember the story of Mary and Elizabeth being pregnant together and Mary visiting her, and John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb because of Jesus in Mary’s womb.

So I’m sure John knew that Jesus was the one to come. But perhaps he didn’t. And as he is pointing people to look for the messiah, he may or may not have said who he was by name. We don’t know.

But John is out there in the Jordan, pointing people and saying, “One is coming. Be ready. Prepare yourselves!” He is in the Jordan River, baptizing people. And as he baptized, saying that there is one greater than him who is soon to come, who will baptize not with water, but with the Holy Spirit.

“He is more powerful than I! He can do something I cannot.”

Then Jesus shows up. He comes from Nazareth in Galilee, and he is baptized.

Now we started reading this gospel at the very beginning. These are the first words of Mark’s gospel, and Mark is likely the gospel written first as well. There is something missing here: there is no birth narrative. The writer of Mark is not concerned with how Jesus was born or how he came into the world. What matters is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, starting with baptism. The Gospel starts with Isaiah’s prophecy, and then introduces John the Baptist as the fulfillment of that prophecy. Then John tells of one who is to come, and Jesus shows up as the fulfillment of that prophecy.

And in this whole thing, Jesus doesn’t speak. He says nothing. He doesn’t speak to John. John doesn’t speak to him. It does make me wonder if maybe they had discussed this months or perhaps even years before, setting up that Jesus would have to be baptized by John. We do get in the other gospels some dialogue, with John saying, “I’m not worthy to baptize you – you should baptize me!” There is no conversation. Jesus says nothing.

But God speaks! Or at least a voice from heaven says something. I think we can safely assume, I think, that the writer of Mark here meant God. Or if not God, some heavenly being speaking on behalf of God.

Isaiah speaks, John the Baptist speaks, God speaks. And Jesus is silent.

A powerful silence. Silence has a power to it.

There is in this passage a moment of time and geography. John is in the River Jordan outside Jerusalem, baptizing people. He is in a very specific place and time. As he’s doing this, Jesus starts from over here in Nazareth in Galilee, far away, and starts walking. He comes to where John is and walks into John’s space and time, has his baptism, and then continues out of John’s space. Very linear. There is also that John is connected with the past, through Isaiah, the prophet from 700 years or so before John’s time. That is another line meeting in this space and time. Then at the moment of Jesus’ baptism, we a vertical movement of the heavens opening up, the voice speaking, the spirit descending down onto Jesus.

I wonder, had they talked about this ahead of time, or hadn’t they? Was John prepared for what happened? Did he know what was going to happen when he baptized Jesus? Was Jesus prepared for it? Are any of us ever, truly, prepared to meet or to experience God? To be in the presence of the Divine, feeling the Holy Spirit touch us? Those of who are baptized receive the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit is also around us all the time.

We can be prepared, maybe, for the moment, but can any of us – were any of us? – truly be ready for the full effect of encountering God? The life-changing, life-altering, cosmic whiplash that can be a meeting with the Divine? It can turn our lives upside down in good and wonderful ways, but upside down nonetheless.

I’ve had some experiences, I’ve talked of some of them. A few dramatic, but most have not. Most has been a slow unfolding, subtle day-by-day realization of God’s presence with me. But usually not the way I expect. Not at the times that I would have chosen. Not the way I would have planned for them. God is a surpriser. God likes to surprise.

God will come whenever and wherever God wants, regardless of what we put on our calendar. Or regardless of how we have mapped out our time and our days. Think of Christmas. We just celebrated Christmas. That was a surprise! God coming as a baby boy in a backwater town on the outer edge of the world’s mightiest Empire, born to a young girl who was an occupied non-citizen of that empire.

Even those expecting a messiah were not expecting that. Probably the messiah ought to have been born in Rome, seat of the mighty empire, though they were the enemy of the Jewish people and so the messiah ought to be born in Jerusalem, the holy city. God’s city. God’s home, The Temple, was there. All of God’s priests were there. The messiah should have come out of Jerusalem. That’s the big important city for the Jewish people. Certainly should not have come out of Nazareth, a town way up in the north, a city of of traitors in Isaiah’s time, a land of dullards and country bumpkins.

But God likes to surprise. So we may say to God, “Okay, God, if you are there, if you could show yourself on Tuesday morning. I’ll be meditating on scripture in my kitchen. You know where my kitchen is. Come to me there, and show me that you’re here. I need you to be very clear.”

Except God won’t show up on Tuesday morning in your kitchen while you’re reading scripture in your kitchen. A little bit of God will come, God is always present.

But maybe God has already shown up on Friday afternoon when you were impatiently getting your groceries and seething at the incompetence of the checker. Or the screaming child behind you. Or the moron who cut in front of you. But you missed it, because God can’t come from Nazareth, right? God can’t be the incompetent clerk, or the screaming child, or the moron who cut in line in front of you. God can’t be any of those, right?

And we may say, “Okay, God, so when you come Tuesday morning, I don’t want any drama. Just show up, say you love me, assure me you’re there, and then leave me alone. Don’t ask me to change anything. Don’t ask me to live differently. Leave me the same way. No interference. Okay?”

Ha! Totally, “No, not okay. I will come when I want, and I hope that when I come and you experience me, your life WILL change. Things will be different for you, in good ways, but also challenging ways.”

Like I’ve said before about the Lord’s Prayer, when you pray “Your will be done”, I hope that we understand the danger of that prayer. If we truly mean “Your will be done”, not my will or my ego or my needs or what I desire, that’s a lot of ego-need to give up. That’s giving up a lot of need for control, for a sense of power, for a need for clarity and routine and calm, to say “Your will be done.”

So maybe in this movement that Jesus has coming from Nazareth, to John for his baptism, and going beyond... maybe that wasn’t so linear. Maybe he didn’t go where he expected to go after his baptism. When Jesus is with John and the heavens open and the voice comes down and says, “You are my beloved”, right after that, Jesus goes into the wilderness. I could be wrong, we don’t know, but I have a feeling that Jesus was not expecting that after his baptism he would go into the wilderness. I think that was a change of plans. He probably thought he would hang out with John for a while, or go to Jerusalem, or go back home. There is an encounter with the divine here. He comes from Nazareth, goes to John, and then instead of moving in the direction he had probably planned, he goes elsewhere.

Everything in my life was going fine, and then I encountered the divine. Or we might say that everything was going fine and then we encountered Jesus. Now I have to change. Or if not change, I have to pretend that meeting Jesus didn’t mean anything.

I had everything under control. Everything planned out.

Then.... God.

But it is a wonderful life, and a god thing, giving up that sense of needing to be in control, giving up the sense of thinking only about myself, or my own needs, giving up my need for power, trying to give up ideas like that wealth equals winning or life is about accumulation of things, power, status. I don’t do this perfectly, God knows. Sometimes I don’t do it even particularly mediocre.

But there is in following God this call to be more generous, more giving, more loving, more tolerant, more open, and more willing to see God not just in certain ways, but to be open to God’s surprises. Be open to God’s surprising movements, especially in the people around us. That’s a wondrous thing, to realize how present God is.

To see God in the people living on the streets. To realize they are a reflection of God. To see God in the screaming child. God in the incompetent store clerk. And the guy who cut you off in line. And to realize that maybe the store clerk isn’t just an incompetent clerk, but maybe someone who is on the first day of her job. Or tired because she has three jobs to support her child. Or maybe just having an off day. Or maybe the clerk is struggling to hold himself together against the demonic voices in his head because his insurance company decided not to cover his medication any more because it cost too much so he hasn’t been taking it for a while. Or the veteran who has PTSD and needs some help.

To see God in the people around us, and to hear their stories. Which stories are about God.

John the Baptist is pointing the people to Jesus. He says that the messiah will come, and then, “There he is!” And now we have that job. We can point to Jesus, as well. There he is! He’s you, he’s me, he’s that gentleman, he’s that child killed in Afghanistan, she’s the girl going hungry at school, he’s the one who responded to the 150 car pile up in Michigan the other day, she’s the people who were slaughtered at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, and God is in the suffering souls of the men who did the shooting.

We point to Jesus, and invite people to come with us to experience God, and to experience this world that God inhabits and cares for.

In baptism, we learn we are beloved. Jesus is the beloved. All who are beloved are a reflection of Jesus. And all people are beloved. All of God’s people, all of God’s creation, are beloved.

The hard lesson that I have had to learn, have been slowly learning and trying to embrace more though it’s not always easy: if I am beloved, as is symbolized in baptism, if I am beloved, then so are the people around me. I’m not the only one who is beloved. Everyone is. Everyone is, and they are so regardless of how much I like them, regardless of how much I think of their worth. They are beloved. They are God’s beloved. And just as we are all God’s beloved, we are also someone’s jerk. I’m sure that for everyone one of us, there is someone in the world who thinks we are a jerk, an incompetent, or that we’re annoying. I don’t know of anyone who is so perfect and so good that everyone thinks the world of them. We are all somebody’s jerk. But more importantly, we are also all beloved by God.

And if we are all beloved, then let us treat each other as though we’re beloved. Like the song about John the Baptist that we sang says, “If you’re on the wrong road, go the other way.” We always have the opportunity to repent and change direction. God always forgives, always welcomes us back.

The song also says, “If you got two coats, give one away.” Take care of the people around you. And don’t forget your bugs, but I’m not going to judge if you decide to forget your bugs. I’m a pretty adventurous eater and have eaten many strange things, but I’ve never had the courage to eat any kind of insect. Not my thing.

I end with a story from Julian of Norwich, one of the great medieval mystics of the church.

“And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to naught for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God.

In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it.”

That, I think, is the message of baptism. We are made, we are loved, we are kept.

Imagine a world in which we truly believed in the belovedness of ourselves, and the belovedness of those around us.

If you’re on the wrong path, go the other way; if you have two coats, give one away. And know that you are God’s beloved.


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Plymouth United Church of Christ
2010 Moholt Drive
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 54703

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