Scripture Readings for January 11, 2015: Genesis 1:1-5 and Mark 1:4-11
This morning following the sermon we will be renewing our baptismal vows. The church invites us to do this in January every year on the day that we remember Jesus’ baptism; and our scripture reading from Mark tells the story of Jesus’ baptism.
The lectionary also gives us another reading for today – from Genesis Chapter 1 – which at first glance seems kind of out of place. I mean, what does the creation of the universe have to do with Jesus being baptized, or with us being baptized?
There actually are a number of connections. Where Genesis talks about creation, baptism talks about our re-creation. Where Genesis sees the earth (Hebrew adam) coming out of water, baptism brings human beings (Hebrew Adam or Adama) up out of water. And of course, if Genesis had never happened then baptism would never have taken place either.
But what I’d like to focus on this morning is the phrase “and God said…” – because in both Genesis and Mark, God is speaking. We worship a God who is far from silent. God communicates with us all the time: through nature, through friends, through family, through our spirits, through the Bible, through sacraments.
I think one of the most important things to grasp about God’s word is that when God speaks, things happen. God’s word is active. God’s word is effective. I talked about this a few weeks ago when I mentioned the very first translation of Genesis 1:3 into English read “and God said ‘light be made’ and light was made.” I said I wished it was possible to come home from work at the end of the day and say ‘dinner be made’!
God’s word is like that. God says it, and it happens. Done deal. It may take some time, as human beings count time. God says “light be made” and in truth God’s light is still in the process of being made even today. Or as another example, over four thousand years ago God said to Abraham, “through your seed all the peoples of the earth will be blessed” and thousands of years later that blessing is still happening. So God’s word may take time as we understand time. But it is very active.
In Mark’s gospel reading for today, we hear God speaking again, saying to Jesus in front of everyone present, “you are my Son, my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” God is doing more than just being a proud parent. God is identifying Jesus as the Messiah, the unique son of God, the one God spoke about to the prophets in the Old Testament. God is speaking the reality of Jesus the Saviour into human history.
Before I delve into that, I’d like to talk about one of the objections I often hear at this point. Some of you may have heard discussions like this on Facebook, or wherever people gather. Someone will say, “yeah, but you don’t really believe all that stuff do you? About God creating the universe and all that? I mean, really, seven days? We know the universe is millions of years old! And it started with a big bang. You still believe in all that creation stuff?”
Well yeah. I do.
Granted I don’t know what kind of timeline God used for creating the universe. I do know that when it says in Genesis 1:5, “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” – that God was not talking about a 24-hour day. You can’t have a 24-hour day without the sun, and the sun hadn’t been created yet. The opening chapters of Genesis are not meant to be interpreted as an exact timeline as we human beings understand time. It’s more like the kind of explanation of creation one might give if one were talking to primitive peoples – which is what God was doing.
Having said that, there are a number of astronomers, physicists, and scientists, who have studied the ‘big bang’ and have thought about how the ‘big bang’ happened and what it might have been made of. If there was a ‘big bang’ – which is pretty much a given these days – something major happened, and very suddenly. What was it that ‘banged’? What was the bang made of?
Many scientists believe what made up the ‘big bang’ – the substance of it – was photons. For those of you who are Star Trek fans, you’ll remember “photon torpedoes”: weapons that fired bolts of light rather than physical explosives. Same idea.
“And God said, ‘let there be light’.” Coincidence? I don’t think so.
So what God says, happens. In a big way.
So as we turn to Mark’s gospel, God is speaking again: speaking salvation and redemption into the world.
God promised to do this many years before, all through the Old Testament. He promised a blessing would come through Abraham. To the prophet Isaiah God said:
“The Lord looked [at the world] and was displeased that there was no justice; God saw that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm worked salvation…” (Isaiah 59:15-16)
God spoke the promise of salvation to all his prophets… and now, in Mark’s gospel, God’s salvation has come. In fact God’s salvation comes walking up to John the Baptist in the river Jordan, asking to be baptized.
The thing about Jesus’ baptism is that Jesus didn’t need to be baptized. In Mark 1:4 it says John the Baptist was preaching a “baptism of repentance”. People would come to John and confess their sins. These confessions were not just a matter of getting guilt off their chests. When people confessed their sins, they did it with the intention of stopping whatever wrong they were doing and leading a different life from that point forward. That’s what repentance means: to change course or to change direction. So people came to John, admitted where they had fallen short of keeping God’s law, and the people were baptized as a sign of being washed clean: a promise of a new beginning, a new direction.
But Jesus had nothing to repent of. Jesus had never broken God’s law. He needed no new beginning. With Jesus, God was well pleased. Jesus chose to be baptized anyway, in order to identify with us fully, in order to become one of us. Jesus gave up His rights as the Son of God to live as we live and to die as we die – because baptism is a symbol of burial, of dying to sin.
In John’s gospel, God says through Jesus:
“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will live; even if they die, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25)
Baptism is a symbol of that also. Back in Jesus’ day people were baptized by being immersed in water – being brought down into the water and then being raised back out. It was a symbol not only of burial, but of resurrection – being raised again.
When we come to believe in God’s truth, when we trust God’s active word, we do so by saying, in public, that we believe. And we take vows. And following in God’s footsteps like little children, our words begin to become active. This baptismal covenant is not just words on a page. It is life-changing. These words are active, and they will work God’s will in our souls and in our lives.
So today, as we remember Jesus’ baptism, we remember our own baptisms. We remember the day a decision was made and vows were taken, either by us or by our parents on our behalf. And today, we make a concious decision to renew these vows, to renew the covenant made when we became members of the family of God. These words are not to be spoken lightly – because these words are active. They will change us. God’s word will create God’s reality in us. Prepare to be renewed.
And God said:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20)
God’s word is spoken. AMEN.
[Editor’s note: Any readers who would like to renew their baptismal covenant and/or their commitment to the Lord Jesus – the Reaffirmation of Baptismal Covenant that we used following the sermon can be found on pages 17-20 of this document. If you have joined us in this reaffirmation please leave a comment below.]
Preached at Castle Shannon United Methodist Church, 1/11/2015