Todays readings for the Baptism of Our Lord Genesis 1:1-5 Psalm 29 Acts 19:1-7 Mark 1:4-11
Transcript of the Sermon given by Reverend Roberta Hamilton.
In the beginning… Our readings today begin at the very beginning. Now, in our culture with its emphasis on scientific discovery, we have tended to be a bit embarrassed by this creation account, and when you consider those Seven Day Creationists that insist that if the bible says seven days it means seven days, we often don’t know quite what to do with this.
And how does this Genesis account connect to the Baptism of Jesus, which we are celebrating today? Well, it is all about revelation. In this season of Epiphany we are considering God’s revelation of God’s self. In one sense that revelation began from the creation itself, God reveal God’s-self in the act of creation.
We have no idea what was before the creation, or even if there was a before, and neither do the scientists, of course. Even if you subscribe to the big bang theory of the creation of our world there has to be something that precedes it, and that something is God, what ever that means. We don’t claim to understand it, any more than the scientists can, but in a sense we can name it, “God”.
And God, right at the beginning according to this account wanted revelation. So God said, “let there be light!” and God, God’s-self was revealed in that moment. And light itself was good. Now we al know that we need light for life, but it is also warmth and freedom. Clarity of vision, revelation, is born with the light.
And the light is also revealing something about God as well, that God is a tripartite being: God the generator, Word the speaker and Spirit the breath, or wind or dancer. God in this first creative act reveals Trinity to us.
And that revelation of trinity is also visible at the Baptism. Jesus the Son or Word, goes down into the water and the heavens are rent and the Spirit descends like a dove, and God’s voice is heard, “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” It is interesting that here, in Mark’s Gospel, presumably the first account of this that was written down, it is a private moment. Jesus of Nazareth, clearly identified, the human being whose birth we have just celebrated, goes down into the water, at the beginning of his ministry, and is revealed to himself as God’s beloved, and part of God, even in this human body. Now, there is something important here which is that Jesus was God before his baptism- the baptism doesn’t make him God, but it is a moment of revelation. And that moment of revelation is for Jesus, for John and for the onlookers, who are not mentioned but can be assumed. So it is with us. God loves each child born, each person as they come to growth. Everyone is created in God’s image, male and female, gay and straight, able and disable, neurotypical and non neurotypical. Each one of us is already beloved of God, but baptism gives God a chance to say so, it is confirmation of the truth of humanity, that they are beloved of God. Baptism is a sign and seal of our relationship with and in God.
We have no way of knowing what Jesus thought about himself prior to the beginning of his ministry, and really very little is revealed in the gospels. But at this moment Jesus has God’s affirmation.
We think a lot about affirmation and really it has turned into a bit of a circus. Kids in races all get a ribbon for participation to affirm them. People get emails, or cards in the mail every time they buy something telling them what a valued customer they are. We have “likes” and “loves” on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and every other social media site, and we feel pleased every time someone likes our posts. We live in the age of superficial affirmation. Most of you are old enough to remember a time when praise was scant and we were much more likely to be criticised for what we didn’t do than praised for what we did do. I remember doing a funeral and the elderly father kept telling me of how proud he was of his daughter for caring for her mother so well before she died, and every time he said it he said, “I shouldn’t say this, but she did a wonderful job…” or, “I know I shouldn’t give her a swelled head but…” and for me it summed up the attitude of so many people a generation older than me. But real affirmation is very deeply important for people. I can remember when I was going through a very bad patch as a young mother, and with hindsight I was probably clinically depressed, and I desperately wanted to know where in the bible it said that God loved me- personally- I wanted it to say, “Roberta Hamilton, as an individual, is deeply loved by me”, signed God. But it doesn’t, it can’t. God’s love for us as individuals is revealed by the way Jesus treated individuals, and God’s love for Jesus is revealed in this first Theophany of Jesus’ life. God puts in an appearance that can’t be missed, God’s voice thundering from heaven, and the Holy Spirit cramming itself in to a form that is vaguely like a dove so that God can be heard and seen. And Jesus, well, Jesus is touched by the water, and he feels as well as sees and hears. At that moment the heavens are rent so that there is nothing to divide God from Jesus the human, and this is the moment that ushers in that rending of the curtain in the holiest of holies in the temple that prevents God being seen and experienced by humans. Christ in his death and resurrection has completely revealed God, as God’s loving and saving self, bringing wholeness and beauty for all.
Jesus experiences God at his baptism. This is how it is for us as well. We can hear God, and see God and touch God in one another, and not just in the good and pretty and clean, but in all of broken and fallen humanity because God is God for everyone, whether they know it or not.
Jesus as revealed in Mark’s gospel is the God of the margins, or the boundaries, of the thresholds, of the liminal spaces. God is in the centre as well, but there is no place outside of God’s love, you can’t escape to some border town where God is not. And God’s love is affirmation. We, along with Jesus, are told in our baptism that we are God’s beloved ones, with whom God is well pleased. We are also told in our baptism that we are light, that must shine in the darkness of our world so that God might be revealed. So in our baptism, we become epiphanies, in and of ourselves, places where God can be seen. We are part of the moment of creation, and we are simultaneously God’s new creation. This is real affirmation. We are created by God, we are loved by God and held by God in the relationship of love that is the Trinity.
So with the disciples in Ephesus let me ask you, “Into what were you baptised?”
Those of you who have been baptised into the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are baptised into a revelation of God God’s-self. Any who are not baptised are still beloved of God but let me encourage you to come forward for baptism and become, for us an epiphany, a place where God is revealing God’s own self.
We are called to be the light of the world that reveals to the world how much God loves us, each one. This week my challenge for you is to show everyone around you, your significant others, the people you interact with at work, in the shops, or wherever you are, that they are loved by God, by your kind words, and your smiling face. True affirmation is found in a living being.
And as we turn to one another in a few minutes, instead of saying, “peace be with you,” I am asking you to say, “Peace be with you, beloved of God.”