My sermon for this week is based on Mark 1:1-11.
To download an audio of my sermon, click here.
Baptism is most often framed as a beginning. No matter what your denominational theology is, whether you believe that a soul is saved in baptism or whether you think that baptism merely consists of an exchange of well-meaning promises, for most people I think baptism is perceived to be a beginning: a beginning of a new communal relationship, a beginning of a new life dedicated to higher ideals, and so on.
The Gospel of Mark adds to this concept by skipping over Jesus' birth and young life entirely, tuning us in at his baptism in the very first chapter and verse.
But as folk wisdom would have it, every new beginning requires an end. And when is the last time we conceived of Baptism as an end?
In reality, as near as we can figure it, Jesus was about 30 when his baptism happened. An interesting if academic question is what happened to Jesus in those 30 years? Was a good guy? Did he do well in school? Did he ever fall in love? Was he a teenage rebel? Did he hitchhike around Europe for a year to find himself?
As I said, academic for us, and certainly academic for Mark, who conspicuously has nothing to say about Immaculate Conceptions, leading stars, Magi, mangers and Mary...which are pretty important, right?
Weeeeell, maybe not.
If we conceive of Baptism as an end, and if we conceive of Jesus' baptism (which would have been seen by his culture as superfluous because having been born Jewish, he did not require baptism) as a deliberate and conscious commitment to a new life on his part, then maybe his lineage and pedigree are less important.
It is as though the Gospeller is saying, "Whatever Jesus was before this moment, whatever he did, whatever successes or failures he experienced, whatever his sins, whatever his virtues cease to matter from this moment on. What is now important is what he is and what he will become".
To begin this new life, in a way Jesus had to "die" and be "reborn". Even in our own denomination, there is a notion that Baptism is much like a second birth, and other denominations refer quite readily to being "born again". It is also telling that Mark tells us the heavens opened two times: once at Jesus baptism, and once at his death. Basically, the heavens opened when Jesus transitioned from one state of being to the next.
But one of the most important parts of this moment in this Gospel is hat Jesus made a choice. And here's the thing: faith is a choice. It is not actually something you are born with or brainwashed into. It is actually a decision and a commitment.
Part of that decision and commitment is to affirm that whatever had come before is less important that what is about to come. To affirm that who you were is less important that what you are becoming. To affirm that you past need not define or enslave you. To turn your face towards the future and strike out boldly into it.
Here's where churchgoers have an edge: we have a community of pilgrims who are ostensibly doing the same thing, Today I invite you to take courage in that community, to decide to have faith in your future, and to enjoy discovering that greatest of territories.