Six Days of Creation and the Sabbath
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
The Proclamation of John the Baptist
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare the way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,'”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
The Baptism of Jesus
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Now I am sure that some of you are questioning my decision to focus on water today, after all of the snow and the ice and the rain and the flooding that we have seen in the past week or so. But this is traditionally the time, according to the church calendar, that we remember Jesus’ baptism at the River Jordan. As we heard in our reading from the gospel of Mark today, “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
But, wait a minute. Jesus ministry hadn’t even begun yet, had it? He hadn’t called the disciples yet. He hadn’t healed anyone or performed any miracles. He hadn’t even started preaching to the crowds. So, why would God say that Jesus was beloved and in him, he was well pleased, when he hadn’t even done anything? He hadn’t proven himself! Well, my friends, today we are going to talk about one of the simplest theological concepts to understand, and yet one of the most difficult for people to accept in their own lives. So, let’s look back to the beginning of our reading from the gospel of Mark one more time, where we heard, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This is the beginning of Jesus story. Though the other gospels start with the birth of Jesus, the gospel of Mark starts with Jesus’ baptism. And this is interesting, because i you hold on for just a moment, we’re going to learn even more about God.
In today’s story, there is a new beginning, there is water, and there are words of love and affirmation from God. Right? The beginning of Jesus’ story in the gospel of Mark, the water in the Jordan River that Jesus is baptized in, and the words from heaven that said “You are my son, the beloved. With you, I am well pleased.”
Well, here’s the part that most people struggle with. How can God say that he is pleased with Jesus even though Jesus hasn’t done anything yet?
This concept, my friends, is called “grace.” And by “grace,” I don’t mean the act of being elegant, or the simple prayer said before a meal, but the grace that I am talking about is God’s love for us, not because we’ve done something to deserve it, but simply because God loves us and there is nothing we can do about it!
My friends, grace is all about the fact that God loves us not because of the things we say and do, or the clothes that we wear, or the time that we spend in prayer, or because of how many Sundays we come to church, or because we try our best to behave. But God loves us because of who God is, not because of what we do.
So, at the Jordan River that day, God wasn’t looking for perfection. After all, he chose John the Baptist to baptize Jesus – a guy with long hair and a scruffy beard, wearing a coat of camel hair and a leather belt, who ate locusts and wild honey. But through the waters of baptism and the new beginning that Jesus was experiencing, God was there to cheer him on, to remind him that he was loved and that he could do amazing things.
Think about it for a minute. How do you feel when someone says something positive and encouraging to you? It makes you feel good, doesn’t it? And if you feel good, doesn’t it make you want to go out and do something good in the world? On the other hand, when you feel judged and pressured and put down, do you want to go out and love others? No, not usually. That’s why it’s important to remember that when we read the Bible, and when we look to the scriptures, we are called to look at them through the eyes of love. Because that’s how God looks at us. After all, this book is meant to guide us to be compassionate and kind, building others up, not breaking them down. Folks, it’s our job to work towards the peaceable kingdom, not another world war. The Bible should never be used as a weapon to hurt others, but rather as a gift and a guide to share God’s love with the world.
This morning, we looked at the story of Jesus’ baptism, and we focused on the fact that there was a beginning, that there was water, and that God shared words of love and encouragement. But let’s looks back to our reading from the book of Genesis for just a minute, because you just might be surprised to find that we get a similar message. Granted, Jesus and John the Baptist weren’t there, and it didn’t take place at the Jordan River, but listen to what we read, “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void, and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then, God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God said that the light was good.” So again, there was a beginning, there was water, and God said it was good.
Friends, today here in Oldtown, we began a new journey. We focused on water in the scripture, and we welcomed Doreen, Michael, Barbara, Neil and Cyndy into our church family, and I know that God is well pleased. But the story does not end here within the walls of this sanctuary because God calls us out into the world to love our neighbors and to share the good news of the gospel. We don’t need to do that by standing and preaching on a street corner, telling people how to live their lives, or spending all day in prayer. Because, on the contrary, the best way to share the good news of the gospel is by encouraging the people around you. My friends, the gift of grace is not something that we can ever earn or deserve, but it is something that we can share. It’s a reminder that we are called to love others not because they have done something for us or because they are popular or because we think they deserve it, but it is loving our neighbor, whoever our neighbor might be, because God loves us the same way.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, I want you to pay attention to the water around you. Whether it’s raining outside, or you’re taking a shower, or washing your dishes, when you look out at the ocean, or even as you drink a bottle of water, I want you to remember that you always have a chance for a new beginning and that you don’t need to be perfect. You simply need to remember that you are loved by a God who loves you unconditionally. And knowing that, it’s my hope and my prayer that you’ll go out and share the love of God with others.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!