Baptism of the Lord,b, Jan. 11, 2015

January 12, 2015

Called to Life
Mark 1:4-11

1:4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 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. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 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. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 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. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

There really isn’t a 12-step recovery program for the things that control my life. I don’t know of any Starbucks coffee recovery groups. There may be some, but I wouldn’t go because I’m not yet willing to gain control of that compulsion. And I generally follow the American Medical Association’s guideline for alcohol consumption, so that seems largely under control. I don’t consider myself addicted to any of my electronic devices. I might spend an abnormal amount of time listening to books on my iphone, but I don’t think it’s exactly detrimental to have logged 50 plus hours of books about American history over the past couple of months while raking leaves or engaging in other mindless tasks.

But I don’t have all of my compulsions under control. There’s this thing I do that’s sort of ugly, but I can’t stop myself. In fact I don’t want to stop – I am an unrepentant duck hunter. I’ve owned up to this before, and some people have found this to be disturbing.

In all honesty, it’s a little disturbing to me, because I love ducks. I think they are beautiful and amazing animals. I love to watch them and I love to hunt them. It’s a behavior I can’t really explain or reconcile within myself. I can give you a well-reasoned justification for the activity and how it puts me in touch with the fact that anytime we eat meat there is an animal that has been killed. I can justify the behavior, but I don’t do it because it makes sense. It’s just something I’m compelled to do – it’s primitive.

And it’s cultural. It’s something I got to do when I was a child and I’ve never gotten over it. I would hunt with my father, and my grandfather, and a few other men. I never learned to call ducks when I was a child because we had Hubert, and Hubert knew how to talk to them. He was a very authoritative duck caller.

But Hubert had to retire from duck hunting at some point, and I decided I wanted to learn to be a duck caller. Soon after I started trying to call ducks I was out with my father one morning and I asked him what he thought of my calling and he said, Well, it’s loud.

I thought that was a pretty good assessment of my calling, and in some ways that describes my attraction to duck hunting – it’s loud. Now I don’t think it’s the voice of God that calls me out into flooded places before daylight during the winter, but it’s something akin to the voice of God. I’m certain I could live a whole, happy life if I never pulled on another pair of waders, which indicates that it’s something less than the voice of God that calls me to hunt, but anytime I’m provided with the opportunity I won’t show up late.

I don’t wish to trivialize the baptism of Jesus by comparing it to my compulsion to go duck hunting, but on some level I think Jesus was drawn to what John the Baptist was doing down at the Jordan River in the same way I’m driven to go duck hunting. The forces that drove Jesus to the Jordan river were more than primal and cultural – I believe that the Holy Spirit was part of that mix as well, but I don’t think Jesus could have stayed away from what John was doing because it was an authentic expression of faith in God, and that’s exactly what Jesus was all about.

In the Gospel of Mark, we are provided with very little introductory information about Jesus or John the Baptist prior to the story we just read this morning. You might say this is the way Mark introduces Jesus. We aren’t given any information about where Jesus or John came from, but John’s primary invitation was to people who felt the need to repent of their sins and to live a new life in relationship with God.

John also made this announcement that he was preparing the way for one who was greater than him and who would immerse people in the Holy Spirit, but Jesus didn’t show up and make this announcement about himself prior to his baptism. Jesus showed up like everyone else, and John baptized him like everyone else.

I like the way Mark tells this story. Other gospel writers build in some resistance on John’s part to baptizing Jesus – the indication being that Jesus had no need for repentance. I don’t need for Jesus to have been someone in need of repentance, but I do like the idea of Jesus not disassociating himself from those of us who do.

Conventional Christianity seems to put a lot of emphasis on the perfection of Jesus. I’m sure we’ve all heard someone say that there’s only been one perfect person and that his name was Jesus. People usually use that line to comfort someone who’s done something really ridiculous, and I guess that’s not a bad thing to say to someone who has fallen in a ditch. But I don’t need for Jesus to have been this perfectly pure person. I’m much more nourished by the concept of a savior who knew what it felt like to fail and to get going again in a better direction.

We don’t know what drove Jesus to be baptized by John, and I’m really comfortable with that. In fact I love to think that Jesus didn’t quite understand what drove him down to the river to be baptized. I know I don’t quite understand what drives me to do what I do, but I’m trying to learn to be sensitive to those better spirits that drive me and to avoid those other ones.

What we do know is that Jesus and everyone else experienced some clarity when he came up out of the water. Jesus did show up at the right place, and it marked the beginning of his public ministry.

I think this story is a good illustration of how the Holy Spirit can work in each of our lives. We don’t know that it was the Holy Spirit that drove Jesus to be baptized, but Jesus had enough sensitivity to the authentic presence of God to show up where God seemed to be at work, and it turned out to be a very clarifying event. Jesus went to the place where people’s souls were being nourished, and he left as the most powerful source of nourishment the world has ever known.

We don’t generally step in to places with full knowledge of how we will come out of the situation, but when we follow those promptings that seem to be where God is leading us we often will find new clarity about who we are and what we are to do.

I’m so sad about what has transpired in France over the past few days. I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to criticize the way in which some people of other religious faiths follow dark paths with deep religious conviction. What those terrorists did in France is a distortion of what the core teaching of Islam is all about. I don’t know what forces shaped the lives of the people who engaged in those horrific acts of violence, but it is the opposite of what Jesus was baptized in to and what we are invited to become immersed into as well.

By going down to the Jordan River Jesus identified with people who were lost and he associated with people who were in need of repentance. Jesus became the one who offered people a better way of living because he didn’t disassociate himself from those who weren’t conducting themselves in acceptable ways.

I don’t know how to fix what’s wrong with other faiths, but I believe we have a story that the world is in need of hearing. It’s the story of how God chose to be in the life of a man who overcame evil with love. A man who didn’t see himself as better than those who were impure, but who offered everyone the chance to get on a better path. Our story is of a man who didn’t consider the use of violence to be the way to solve the problem of ungodly behavior.

This is the story in to which we are baptized. It’s a story into which that we must learn to immerse ourselves and to allow ourselves to become the new beloved children of God. We are invited to be the people with whom God is pleased.

Our world is saturated in death right now. And many people are inclined to believe that we need more instruments of death to overcome the agents of death. I’m not so naïve to believe that we don’t need to exercise great diligence in seeking to understand what is going on and who is involved, but I also believe we need to remember the powerful story that we have been given. I don’t know what it is calling us to do or where it will call us to be, but it’s a story that can far surpass the power of the cartoons of Charlie Hebdo.

It’s moving for me to see the people in the streets of Paris who believe that there needs to be freedom to satirize every powerful person and organization. I believe this as well, but the world needs more than satire. The world needs hope. And I believe the message of Jesus Christ is a message of hope. The message is that new life is a possibility for all of us. Redemption and reconciliation can happen.

I think we all have some loud callings in our lives. Some of those callings are pretty trivial and meaningless. It’s a challenge to understand how responsive we need to be to those odd directions we are inclined to go, but we need to nourish that calling we have from the one who calls us to life.

I believe Jesus Christ is calling all of us – baptized or not – into a new way of living and of associating with one another. Jesus understood what life is all about, and he wants us to become the beneficiaries and the bearers of that new life.

The world is full of people who now are choosing to associate themselves with Charlie Hebdo. I’m inspired by their demonstration, but I wish the streets would be filled with more people who want to be associated with Jesus Christ – the one who showed up at the Jordan River and got in line to be baptized.

Thanks be to God for this powerful story of how God chose to be with us, and how God enables us to find true life in this world that is so torn by death!



One Response to “Baptism of the Lord,b, Jan. 11, 2015”

  1. Lois G. Russell Says:

    Well said!!!!!

    Sent from my iPad

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