First Sunday after the Epiphany; the Baptism of Jesus

Readings — Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

A friend of mine just purchased a Tesla.  He loves it.  He can even control it through his watch.  He can stand by a store and summon his car from the parking lot to come to pick him up.  It’s just like the T.V. show I used to enjoy with John and Ashley thirty years ago, Knight Rider.  My friend is thrilled.  Yet just like any other battery-operated item, it needs to be plugged in to be recharged, just like our cell phones.  Without a charge, a Tesla will slow down and eventually come to a dead stop.  Recharging is the key so the Tesla can re-start. 

In ancient Israel post-Joshua and pre-John, the Baptist when the people of Israel needed to re-charge, needed to re-start, their lives, they participated in a baptismal rite, a baptismal liturgy.  They went to the east bank of the Jordan river, removed their clothing, said prayers for repentance, for the repair of their lives, and waded across the Jordan river to begin again.  They put on a fresh set of clothes, sometimes even took a new name, and they re-started their life.  Re-charged, they began again.  They re-entered the Promised Land as their ancestors did, following their forty years of wilderness wandering, led by Joshua. 

Today’s reading from the Gospel according to St. Mark re-introduces us to John the Baptist, and his calling people to repentance, to re-start their lives.  Today we find Jesus among those standing on the east bank of the Jordan River, ready to re-enter the Promised Land and to re-direct his life.  We don’t really know why he was standing with the others on the east bank, perhaps he was now free of family-supporting responsibilities.  Some scholars think that Joseph died young, leaving Mary and her other children dependent upon the carpentry skills of Jesus.  At age thirty, the other members of the family could pick up the family business, freeing up Jesus.  As he was coming out of the Jordan’s water, he saw the heavens torn apart, a dove descending, and he heard a voice from above, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you, I am well pleased”.  Jesus was called by God, the Beloved, and told God was pleased with him.  WOW!  This was before Jesus healed the ten lepers. This was before Jesus called the disciples.  This was before Jesus shared any parables.  This was before Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount.  This was before Jesus turned water into wine.  This was before Jesus fed 5,000 with five loaves and two fish.  This was before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.  Up until that time, Jesus was a good village carpenter.  Up until that time Jesus was a good eldest son.  Up until that time Jesus was a good older brother.  Up until this time, we might say Jesus was an ordinary first-century Jew.  “With you, I am well pleased”, said God.  Even if we assume that Jesus did ordinary things exceedingly well, they were still ordinary things, and yet God said to him, “with you, I am well pleased”. 

Unfortunately, sometimes we assume God is only pleased if we do extra-ordinary things.  I think we do so in error.  I think God said to Jesus, “well done”, and God says to us “well done” as we, too, do the ordinary things of life—like being a good village carpenter, or mechanic, or accountant, or teacher, or health care worker, or waitress, or small business person.  God said to Jesus, “well done”, and, “with you, I am well pleased”, for doing the ordinary things of life.  So being ordinary is okay, in fact, is blessed by God. 

Yet, we cannot stop there because John the Baptist’s baptism was the Jewish rite that was focused on repentance, on re-starting.  The baptism of the Jesus we know goes beyond a baptism of repentance and moves into commissioning for the future.  The baptism of Jesus is forward-looking and propels the baptized into a life of service.  In the current rite in our Book of Common Prayer, the weight of baptism is on the commissioning for service as a member of the body of Christ, a member of the community of faith.  From the prophet Isaiah we hear these words, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him…”.  So, we are beloved of God in our ordinariness, and we are commissioned by God by anointing, by the Holy Spirit in baptism, to serve in our ordinariness.  That is to serve in our occupations, in our friendships, in our families, in our communities.  The baptism of Jesus blessed our ordinariness and commissions us to serve as we live our lives.  One final thought.  Our catechism states that there are two greater sacraments, Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist.  Remember I started with my friend with the Tesla, the Tesla that can do amazing things but only if it is re-charged from time to time.  Well, I think our home kits for Holy Eucharist, Holy Communion, like our in-person Sunday Holy Eucharists, are how we are re-charged, week after week after week. Without the recharging sacrament, we lessen our ability to live our commission to serve.  Recharged by the Holy Sacrament, we are able to continue to live our lives – commissioned to serve.  In these Covid times may we live our ordinariness and continue to serve.  In baptism, we have been “sealed by the Holy Spirit… and marked as Christ’s own for ever”.  Amen

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