In Mark’s gospel, Jesus’s baptism is the beginning of everything.
It is literally the beginning – the very first thing that happens once Mark announces that he is telling “the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
John baptizes Jesus in the Jordan River, and the heavens open.
A voice from heaven says,
“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
This is not only the first thing that happens –
it is the foundation for everything else that happens in the gospel.
Jesus is chosen and blessed, accepted and loved, and filled with the Holy Spirit.
Everything he does after that flows out of this experience.
David Lose, President of the Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia, says,
“Again and again, as Jesus casts out unclean spirits, heals the sick, feeds the hungry, and welcomes the outcast, he will only do to others what has already been done to him, telling then via word and deed that they, too, are beloved children of God with whom God is well pleased. “ - from David Lose’s Blog, In the Meantime
Baptism is a new beginning for each of us.
Each of us, in our baptism, is chosen and blessed, accepted and loved,
and filled with the Holy Spirit.
But it may be difficult for most of us to experience baptism as a new beginning.
For many of us here, our baptisms also happened, literally, at the beginning –
in the first years of our lives.
How many of your remember your baptism?
I was baptized when I was four weeks old, at St Paul Lutheran Church in Omaha, NE,
the church where my mother grew up
It is hard for me to think of it as a turning point in my life.
And even for those of us who chose baptism as older children or adults,
it may be hard to hold on to the special new start offered that day.
Martin Luther counseled his followers to remember their baptism daily by making the sign of the cross when they washed in the morning.
He lived his baptism, not as a one-time event,
but as a new-every day reality in his life with God.
Fr. Doug has mentioned in a recent sermon that, as a young man, Luther was tormented by guilt and worry over the smallest of sins.
He was convinced that God was just waiting to catch him in the act and condemn him for the slightest wrong.
After his revelatory reading of Romans,
when he finally understood what it means to live in grace,
Luther realized that he could rely on God’s promise of love and forgiveness made at his baptism.
The story goes that occasionally, when Luther started to revert back to thinking that God was an angry hostile vengeful God, he knew that it was the devil trying to get him to doubt God’s grace. And when Luther experienced this despair and discouragement, he was known to throw an occasional ink pot at the devil while yelling "I am baptized!"
Not I was baptized, but I am baptized.
For Luther, baptism was a beginning not just once,
but a matter of always-being-made-new by his faith in God.
We, too, can live out lives filled with the remembrance of our baptism.
We can share in the belief that God can make all things new.
The reading from Genesis reminds us that
In the Beginning,
God created everything out of chaos and nothingness
God spoke light and the world into being
and God saw that it was good.
God continues to create
to create each person in God’s own image
to create new ideas and new horizons and new relationships.
God can create second chances and new life,
even when we see only chaos and darkness.
In Detroit we would have said –
We have a God who makes a way out of no way!
God always offers new life and new beginning
to those who believe and open our hearts.
This does not mean it is easy.
Nor that we get just the new beginning we want if we pray hard enough.
New beginnings are hard work.
New beginnings usually mean something has been lost.
New beginnings can be exciting, or painful, or both
and they are usually scary.
But when we pray, work, and open our hearts to God’s love and healing,
our lives can be transformed
and we can find new beginnings we dared not hope for.
As Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians,
God, by the power at work within us,
is able to accomplish far more than all we can ask or imagine.
The discernment guild has offered a series of Bible verses for us to pray with throughout January, inviting us to consider God’s offer of new life and new beginnings.
The first was from Isaiah 43:
18Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.
19I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
As a community, we have come through a time of loss, struggle and uncertainty.
We come into 2015 ready for new beginnings,
as we prepare for the leadership of a new rector.
But I believe this past year we have already seen rivers in the desert,
new life springing forth among us,
even as we hold our breath, waiting for a new day.
We have worked hard together,
continuing in our faithfulness to our baptismal promises,
trusting in God’s promise to lead us and guide us.
And our work is just beginning
New beginnings are exciting an a bit scary,
and often don’t go just as we expect them to.
New leadership will bring new opportunities for service and involvement.
We pray to be led into new ministries of service and love,
and we seek to share the good news
that each person is known and loved by God.
We continue to trust God to make a way for us into something exciting and new.
One of my favorite prayers is from the Lutheran baptismal rite.
It is prayed over the baptized, and also used also in the renewal of baptismal vows.
This is the prayer I offer for each of you, and for our community, today:
We give you thanks, O God, that through water and the Holy Spirit you give us new birth, cleanse us from sin, and raise us to eternal life. Stir up in your people the gift of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever.