Baptism of the Lord
Life in Baptism, by Pastor Kinsey
Its football playoff time, and my Green Bay Packers are in! Sorry about that, Bears fans. But today the Packers take on the Dallas Cowboys in a game being billed as the Second Ice Bowl, a repeat of the 1967 Division playoff, when the very same teams, played on the same frozen tundra of Green Bay’s Lambeau Field in brutal minus 15 degree weather. That was before thermal underwear, and Heat Gear Receiver Gloves. My Texas cousin’s, who live in Dallas, bet me and my Wisconsin siblings, a six pack of beer on the game – Shiner Bock if we lose, and Pabst Blue Ribbon, if we win. I’m actually only a fair weather football fan, but now that the stakes have become so high, maybe I’ll have to watch!
This season I haven’t been the only ambivalent football fan, unhappy with its negative image, yet still excited to watch. This year, of course, there’s been a string of public disasters for the NFL, especially the high profile domestic abuse cases, shown in shocking, hard to watch, video’s. And the casual reaction of the league’s management has only highlighted the problem.
And then there’s the building revelations of long term health effects on players, for the all too common concussions that happen at every level of the game, and now they’ve found that even just multiple hard knocks to the head without a concussion can be just as devastating over time. This too, the NFL has tried to sweep under the rug.
So, in the popular mind, the NFL has had a horrible year. The perception at least, is that it’s not only dangerous to be a player in the NFL, but it’s also dangerous to be a family member.
So, can you be a fan of football, without at the same time, approving of the very unpopular image of football?
Today we celebrate the baptism of Jesus, this turning point moment, in the ministry of the ‘Anointed One.’ It’s noteworthy that reading from Mark’s gospel, as we did today, the baptism of Jesus is where the story begins. There is no birth of Jesus story in Mark, like in Matthew and Luke, or even in John, who has that beautiful Prologue on the Pre-existence of Jesus as the Logos, the Word of God. In Mark’s gospel, the divinity of Jesus appears by way of John the Baptist’s introduction of him, who spoke of his younger cousin Jesus as, “one who is way more powerful than he was” – though John was no shrinking violet himself, boldly challenging everyone to get their ‘behinds’ down to the Jordon River to be baptized, right away, including the hot shots in Jerusalem. And when they didn’t show, he railed against those lazy contented hypocrites from downtown, just like Isaiah or Elijah would have. But of Jesus, John says, “I am not worth to stoop down before him and take off his sandals.” And suddenly, Jesus comes, and, John baptizes him anyway!
Jesus is submerged into the Jordan River. He holds his breath, and when he comes up, “the heavens are ripped open!” Not just the usual little window opening in the sky, where the rain would fall through, as they believed. But the heavens were torn open, so that God could send the Holy Spirit, something like a dove swooping down. And God whispered in his ear, ‘I’m so pleased with you, Son, and I love you!’
John’s punishment for trying to outdo his cousin Jesus, is that he must fade from the story, and doesn’t return until his sudden, and murderous exit, a few chapters later, at the hands of Herod. Which is also a disturbing foreshadowing of the fate of Jesus. Cousin Jesus will indeed be greater and more powerful than John, but only to the extent he is obedient to his life’s calling, even to the point of dying on the cross.
Jesus invites us to be baptized as well, and to follow him by wading in the water with him. Just as Jesus went in all the way, holding his breath, and came up the other side, a new person – as a sign of his death and resurrection, his dying to sin and being raised to new life – so we too die and rise with Jesus in baptism. One day Jesus’ breath, his Spirit, would be brutally taken away from him, by powers that claimed to protect and provide.
And so, is Jesus, who died the human one like us, also able to be Jesus the Christ, the anointed one, the Son of God for us?
This week, saw the brutal murder of journalists in France, who published highly controversial, even offensive, satire. Just like my recommendation for ‘The Interview,’ the Seth Rogan movie, I don’t recommend the content of lots of the cartoon images published at Charles Hebdo, but I do defend their right to speak freely. I think we can do better for our neighbors, by respecting them enough not to offend them, on purpose. Though of course, that’s not always going to work, either, for any of us. But the point, I think, is that we draw the line, at murder. Seriously, I think this is actually a perennial problem. A problem for extremists, like those who took the lives of 10 journalists in Paris, and a problem for us, as well, who have, for example, fanned the flames of violence now, with 12 years of unnecessary war and killing in the Middle East.
The reason we believe in the power of baptism, is because we believe that Jesus died and rose again for us. And that Jesus did it, on purpose. He didn’t just die on a cross as a nice guy. There were others that did that. But because Jesus was uniquely seen as the powerful one, the anointed one, uniting the chosen people in a new life of humble sacrifice, and a ministry of healing, and modeled what God’s king in this world is for us, our lives have been transformed. We believe in the power of baptism because only Jesus could rip open the heavens for us, who were the ‘not-yet-chosen-people,’ enough, to reveal the heavenly, the divine truth that life does not come from murderous death. That revenge, and an eye for an eye, only increases the power of death and the devil, and corrupts this very good world God gives to us.
When we believe in baptism, we understand that dying and rising with Christ is a symbol, and a reality of, life that begets life. When we die to our sin and our fallen humanity in the waters of baptism, then we see that not only is murder always wrong, but it is rooted in an evil power that robs us of our true humanity, and our true connection with God’s saving divinity. In Jesus on the cross, we see how, when we raise up innocent victims, over and over again, only to violently expel them, we are part of a fatal mistake. And we are horrified!
And so, it is right, if we are horrified by the murders in Paris this week. But as a baptized people of God, it causes us to also ask where our own responsibility is in the violence in the world.
Jesus came to baptize us with the Spirit, his cousin John said. And when St Paul, in our 2nd reading, found disciples who were only baptized in the Baptism of John, for the forgiveness of sins, and didn’t know that the Holy Spirit was the breath and power of God moving in our lives and in our world, Paul immediately baptizes them in the name of the Lord Jesus, and they were transformed, and they began to speak powerfully about the life of the risen victim, Jesus, and the new life now available to us.
In the contradictions of the NFL, or the fog of war being cheered on, in so many places, as our redemption, Jesus is wading in the waters of baptism, and just like us, holds his breath. We go in one side, and symbolically come up the other side, emerging as a new creature, from death to life. In baptism, we enter the same sacrificial life Jesus lived, even in the face of his enemies.
In Jesus’ baptism, the heavens were torn open, just like they are every time we are baptized too. And God comes down to whisper in our ears, you are my daughter, you are my son, I love you. Go and share this good news: Life comes from life. Today’s murderous crusades, in the name of righteousness, cannot save the world – but you can, says the Spirit – whenever we hold the fragile good news within us, the gift of life! This news is the open secret underlying creation itself; it is the light tearing the heavens open, it is the descending Spirit, the noisily flapping vision of the dove, into our world. It is the possibility of new life, at every moment, that God continues to create, and make possible, for us. We are a Baptized people! Go and share this message of Life!