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Baptisim Of Our Lord B Sermon
Genesis 1:1-4, Mark 1:4-11
7, 2018


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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us, in the name of his risen son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.

In the beginning … So begins our first lesson; so begins the entire Old Testament and Holy Bible. When the calendar turns over from one year to the next we often think about beginnings, and our scripture today is filled today with talk about them.

In Genesis 1, creation is described as if the spirit of God is dancing across the waters. The formless void which God shapes into our world is the stuff that creation is made of. And as the wind or spirit of God hovers over the face of the waters, we anticipate that something special is about to happen – the power of God is about to be unleashed. It is the beginning of life itself!

As we think about this creation of God’s we know that it is not without darkness, for God created the darkness just as he created the light. We also know that it is not without peril – in Psalm 104 we read about how God created the great sea monster Leviathan and put it in the sea for the sport of it. But God also created light and brought some semblance of order to the chaos of a formless void, so we know that when God says that it is good, it is intended to be good from beginning to end, despite the fact that there may be bad things present at times.

Mark’s Gospel doesn’t begin with the back story to Jesus’ life like Matthew and Luke’s gospels do. Mark goes straight to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry … which is the moment when he was baptized by John in the Jordan. In Mark, Baptism and Holy Spirit are closely connected. While in Genesis the spirit is likened to a wind dancing across the waters, in this story the spirit appears in the form of a dove descending from high above where the heavens have been torn apart. It reminds me of the first lesson a month ago – the first Sunday of Advent this year – where the prophet Isaiah cried out to God, “Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down …” This is just the beginning of a new fulfillment of that prophecy; God is in the process of coming to His creation in a new and personal way in Jesus Christ. Here the heavens are torn open; At Jesus’ transfiguration a cloud overshadows Jesus and the disciples on the mountain and the voice proclaims the same thing that is said at his baptism, that Jesus is God’s beloved son; and when he is crucified we read that the curtain of the temple – which was a deep blue that looked a lot like the heavens with planets and stars depicted on it – is torn in two from top to bottom, and an unlikely voice – a centurion – proclaims that surely this man was God’s Son. Things are torn open and the spirit moves from the beginning of Jesus’ life and ministry to the very end.

And finally, in our second lesson, Paul directs new believers in Ephesus that a baptism in Jesus’ name is a beginning for everyone, for it is the beginning of a new relationship with the spirit of God for a lifetime.
In the beginning – of a new year … of Jesus’ life and ministry … of our relationship with God’s Holy Spirit in baptism – we have the promise that God’s presence will be with us through everything that may happen.
This will be a different year for me. (Hold up my 2017 “Little Red Book”) In 2017, Augsburg Fortress produced for the last time these date books for pastors. More than just date books, they contain information for Sunday worship, the scripture, and contact information for all of the synods in the ELCA. I have also enjoyed having at my fingertips a chart which tells for the next ten years the dates for movable Holy Days like Ash Wednesday, Easter, and Pentecost, and what say of the week Christmas will be. This is the last one. From now on my calendar will be on my smart phone … which will take some adjusting!

(Hold up a box of previous little red books). About 6 years into my ministry I began keeping the little red books at the end of the year instead of throwing them away. You’ll notice one slightly bigger two-tone brown book for 2012, that was the first year they didn’t send them out for free and I kind of protested by using a date book that was sent as a sample to the church. I went back to the red one the next year. I have occasionally looked through these books and have been reminded of friends and family members of these last 22 years – of events like weddings and funerals, meetings and vacations, celebrations and struggles. They tell of the changes that have happened, moves made and of things that, even after all of this time, remain pretty much the same. All in all the promises that was spoken at my baptism those many years ago at Linden Lutheran Church – that the Holy Spirit has claimed me as a child of God – continue to be as important now as they were in the beginning, when they were first spoken and the spirit descended: maybe not like a dove out of the sky, or a wind hovering over waters, but in many other ways which I have known and felt. Sometimes it has come through the words of my family or other trusted people; sometimes in moments of insight or inspiration; at other times it has come through experiences: successes, mistakes and corrections. In all circumstances, the spirit that has been present from the beginning has never abandoned me, and I would venture to say that it’s the same for you.

I want to close with a thought and prayer that God will be with our city this year. Many of you know that Lucy and I were on the news Thursday evening when we were waiting for the busses of Centennial band members – including Hannah - to return from their trip to the Outback Bowl in Florida – a trip that took about twice as long as expected to get home because they got stuck in the snow and ice on I-95 in South Carolina. When I watched the piece on the television, I was reminded of the problems that still remain in our city. The station led with the stories about the weather on the east coast, which naturally led in to our interview from our home. Next came a story about the situation with homeless youth who are in danger with the extreme cold temperatures of the last two weeks. Then the story about how the murders of a woman and her young daughter brought the total for this year to five – and this story ran on January 5, so that is an average of one per day; this following a year when we set a record for homicides.

In reflecting on that newscast I was a little embarrassed. There we were, upper-middle class people with our dog on our lap doing puzzles in a warm house in a good neighborhood, simply waiting on a bus that was late. All the while, there are people freezing to death because they have no homes, and others living in neighborhoods which pose dangers to their very lives. Our congregation is called to pray for our city as this year begins. We are called to trust that the spirit is present, and live like the spirit is present with each of us. What does that mean? I think at the very least we are to be constant in prayer for ourselves, our neighbors and our city. Beyond that, we are to be voices for those who are at risk, however that risk may come. We are to help them to know that the spirit is present and will not abandon them either. Where we are called to action, we are to prayerfully reach out in love, even if it involves risk, because our city is in need of the power of the spirit that we know is present in our congregation. And more than anything, we are to expect that the year that is before us will be a spirit-filled year of hope for all of us, because of the voice that spoke at our baptisms, “You are my beloved sons and daughters. With you I am well pleased!” May it be so, in the name of Christ our Lord; Amen.