Based on Psalm 29 & Mark 1:1-11 January 11th 2015
We have only just closed the chapter on Christmas and Epiphany and now we stand with Jesus at the edge of the Jordan River, listening to the lone voice of John the Baptist. The Jordan River at its closest is a fair hike from Jerusalem – we took a bus, and it was still a long way – winding down from the high country toward the Dead Sea and the town of Jericho. It seems unlikely that all of Jerusalem when to hear him, but it seems that enough were curious or hopeful or suspicious or longed for a word and way to change their lives around, that they found their way to John at the Jordan River.
Jesus also makes his way south-east from Nazareth to find John. Mark’s gospel gives no indication of what Jesus has been up to for the past 30 years or so, but this is a pivotal moment. He now stands in the cool waters of the river, facing John, facing his future, facing the unknown. I can imagine him saying, `Baptize me. Baptize me John, and I’ll go where this takes me.
Please note, although our theology around baptism has been filtered through the years, with theologians trying to explain our sinful nature, or seek a way to build membership, and then there are assorted family traditions, it was not a sign of safety for Jesus – this is not `fire insurance’, this is a step of commitment. He steps into the water, knowing somehow that it will change him.
Both Mark and Luke record this event as Jesus hearing the voice of the Holy Spirt – “You, are my Beloved, my Own. On you my favour rests.” Note that God says this to Jesus before he does anything that we know of in his adult life, before his public ministry begins. Just showing up is half the battle, just having the courage to step in. Jesus steps into the water, but then he steps out again and the world shifts ever so slightly and yet profoundly.
It would be nice to leave Jesus in the glow of the Spirit’s blessing, but the Spirit is as restless as wind, and today’s gospel stops just short of Jesus being driven, compelled deeper into the desert for a time of trial and temptation. After his time in the desert Jesus begins to talk of the Kingdom of God being at hand. Jesus grew up in a Jewish society that, in response to the oppression they had been under over the past several centuries, longed for God to deliver them, by means of a warrior Messiah, and the issuing in of the end the ages. That’s not what Jesus meant when he said the Kingdom of God was at hand.
Robert C. Wild, in his book Realm of the Sacred, looks at the ministry and teaching of Jesus, and concludes that for Jesus, the Kingdom (or Kindom) happens “whenever and wherever people enter into compassionate and just relationships with one another… this view of the Kingdom recognizes that it is elusive, even as life-giving human relationships are often transient and uncertain. We move from being creative to destructive and vice versa. The kingdom wanes or even disappears when we treat others with suspicion, dishonesty or enmity. On the other hand the kingdom is being realized, is being made actual, as we are open and honest, generous and caring towards one another. And this implies economic arrangements which promote equity and justice for all.” P 63
As we step into the water with Jesus, the Holy Spirit leads us out, as it led Jesus, into a world so in need of the good news that the Kingdom of God is at hand. It is at hand in the way we treat one another in our own community and in the way we respond to the big stories of life – for like Jesus before us, we live in a world of extremism and fear and oppression.
These were the things Jesus stepped out of the water to face. How can we be strengthened, how can we lean daily on the Spirit to face such a world?
I have been following the United Nations Association in Canada a little more closely these days, and was inspired by this article written just before Christmas, and just after the extremist attacks in Australia. With the news of more killings in Paris this past week, it still is a helpful corrective to hatred and despair.
The writer says, “While much of our work at UNA-Canada is confronting the shadows that cross our world, of conflict, privation, loss and despair, let us ‘reflect’ on our attempts to banish the darkness. I was moved, just recently, by the courage shown by the Sydney café manager who gave his life in an attempt to wrestlethe gun from the hostage-taker, and the lawyer gave her own life while protecting her pregnant friend.”
What emerges from these atrocities is a kind of Islamaphobia.
The writer continues, “Let me share a news item that has deeply moved me. An Australian train passenger spotted a Muslim woman removing her hijab, ostensibly out of fear of being targeted by this rising backlash. The passenger told her to put it back on and offered to walk with her in solidarity. And so began a program called I’ll Ride With You. This has been traveling via the Internet, and the response included calls not to blame all Muslims for the hostage crisis and, more universally, for greater tolerance. The initiative also included offers of companionship and solidarity for Muslim travelers who might not want to travel alone. I’ll Ride With You has not removed the backlash but it has provided many points of light which ask us to stop and to recognize our common humanity.
Will we reflect the light we encounter and make it brighter? “It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.” These words, it turns out, are Eleanor Roosevelts’, one of the architects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and one of the founders of the United Nations Association movement!”
Week after week as we gather to worship, we light the Christ candle, celebrating the Presence of the Holy in our midst. Better indeed to light one candle than to curse the darkness. Better to step into the cleansing waters of baptism to wash away all our fear, our ego self, our reluctance, than to stand on the shore, shaking our heads. As we step out of the water, may we be sustained and refreshed for the journey of discipleship. That will call on all the love we can muster. Please pray with me:
God of power and of love, at his baptism you called Jesus your Beloved, and sent your Spirit upon him. May we, born of water and of the Spirit, know ourselves to be beloved by you and strengthen by your Holy Spirit. We pray for the courage to step out into the world you have called us to love. Amen.