January 13, 2019
“Rites of Passage.” You’ve heard that term, I’m sure. We humans are big on those things! They are common to all societies. Think about it. Primitive tribes are known to have their ordeals for a child becoming an adult. Our Jewish friends have their bar-mitzvahs or bat-mitzvahs. We Christians have our Baptisms. And even though one could argue that baptism means something more, spiritually, still it is a milestone in our lives. It is a transition from one time of life to another.
We have many of them. We honor them. And we look back to them with fondness, or at least we do for the most part. Maybe there are some milestones we’d rather forget! But think of our religious milestones. How many of you remember your baptism? How about your first communion? How about your confirmation?
This story for today is a milestone in Jesus’ life. It is the ceremony, the “rite,” he used to mark the beginning of his ministry. And in Mark’s Gospel, that’s all we have. Matthew and Luke tell us of the beginnings of Jesus’ life. John tells us about the beginnings of Jesus’ existence. Mark tells us just the story of his ministry.
Think about it. We know only a little about Jesus’ childhood. Mr. Harold is going to give us some thoughts about that next week. He’ll have us thinking about the one story we have of the child Jesus getting lost on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. We have that story, and little else. But this story, marks a change!
This is the day we celebrate “The Baptism of our Lord.” This is the day Jesus passed “through the waters” of baptism, and went on to change the world. And I have to ask, does this seem backwards to you? Here we have the Messiah, Jesus, the son of God, being baptized by a human, John? Does that seem backwards? John thought so! And don’t we agree with him? “I should be baptized by you!” he said.
Think about that. The old liturgy’s books stated that we are “Baptized for the remission of sin.” And that’s certainly part of our belief. Though it would be more accurate to say “the remission of our sinful nature.” That’s what’s really being changed. If we had to be baptized for the remission of each one of our sins, we’d have to be baptized a lot more often, wouldn’t we! I know I would!
Baptism is the “rite of passage” if you will, to the new life. It marks our being redeemed by the person and work of Jesus Christ. We are redeemed from sin, past, present, and future, and more than that, we are redeemed from our sinful nature. As Paul told the Colossians, we have been “delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of his beloved Son…” (Colossians 1:13)
Ok, so that’s all good. I think we all know that! I think we believe all that. But, do we not also believe that Jesus was without sin? And even if we can’t believe that, and some don’t, I think it’s safe to say that we believe he was certainly part of God’s kingdom already. There was no “transferring from darkness” necessary.
So why this story, then? Why this ceremony? Why this ritual? Well, I can’t say I know for sure. But I can say that this was a milestone, a “rite of passage,” as I stated before. It was a beginning, a “memory point” in time. And it was an exclamation point! Because, as I’ve often said, when God starts something, he really starts something!
Think of it – the plagues, the Red Sea, Pentecost… Those are just a few of the dramatic events God used to plant stories firmly in the memories of his people – forever! Well, here he does the same thing. And here he actually adds his own voice! “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!” The people heard his voice! I’m sure those who were there would never forget that moment!
So this is a milestone! But it’s more than that. It is also a confirmation for all time, of who Jesus was. It tells us that he was who he said he was, so that we can know that we are his! It reminds us of what he has done for us. It reminds us in our times of doubt that we have chosen Jesus, and it was the good choice! Because he was and is the Son of God!
That’s what this story does for us! And I believe it also affords us an opportunity to renew our commitment to him! That’s what we do here each year at this time. We’ve just passed a milestone of a New Year. And maybe we’ve made resolutions, and maybe we’ve broken them already! And I’ve been asking us to make a “resolution” of faith at this time – at the beginning of the New Year, and to recommit ourselves to being followers of God’s beloved son, in whom he is well pleased.
So, I ask you to do that again today. Please, take out your bulletins, and turn to the back. And join me in the renewal of our Baptismal Vows.
Eternal God, we thank you that you have made us yours, that you have transferred us from the dominion of darkness to the kingdom of your Son! Give us strength, that the start of a New Year, to follow him, and to be more like him every day. For this we pray in his name, Amen.