Baptism of Our Lord

Pastor Anke Deibler

  • Genesis 1:1-5
  • Psalm 29
  • Acts 19:1-7
  • Mark 1:4-13

Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

We have somewhat tamed baptism in our churches today. The way we baptize people today is on the sedate, orderly, tranquil side. Jesus’ baptism, however, has the overtones of the dramatic, radical event baptism truly is.

As soon as Jesus emerges from the water, the heavens are torn apart. This is an almost violent action. It takes power to tear something. God is tearing open the heavens; this is a cosmic tearing. In an act of might, God opens the heavens. As Jesus comes up out of the water, the spirit comes down on him. Anything that might have stood in the way between Jesus and God is removed. Jesus and God are united.

Additionally, a voice comes from heaven. Mark uses a Greek word here that describes a loud voice. It is the same word he uses to tell about John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness; the same word used for the cries of unclean spirits being cast out by Jesus; the same word describing Jesus’ cry of forsakenness on the cross. In other words, this is loud. This voice is booming from heaven.

Putting together the strength of the tearing of the heavens and the volume of the voice from above, we realize that this is a very dramatic, drastic, life-changing moment. This is not so much a lovely, tranquil scene of a dove slowly cascading down in circle and alighting softly on Jesus. Rather, this is closer to Moses meeting God on the fiery mountain.

That’s why I love this painting of Jesus’ baptism by Danielle Bonnell. It shows the power and grace and surrender and struggle and hope of baptism all at the same time.

Jesus needs this powerful moment with God, because immediately afterwards, his struggle against evil begins. He is led into the wilderness where Satan tempts him for 40 days straight. And even after those 40 days, Satan will pop up in Jesus’ life time and again to tempt him, to convince him to stop following God’s call and instead choose the easier, richer, more successful, more accepted, more fun path through life that Satan offers. Even on the cross, Jesus will be accosted by the evil one. The struggle against evil does not end until the resurrection.

Baptism launches Jesus into this struggle. God sends him into that battle with the gifts of baptism: the Holy Spirit, faith, and the acceptance as God’s beloved child.

A lot of people say that God affirmed Jesus when God called him his beloved son. And to be sure, that was a very affirming thing for Jesus to hear at the outset of his ministry and his struggle with evil. I believe, though, that this was more than just an affirmation.

Pastor David Lohse points out in his commentary on this gospel text that affirmation is something we all crave, and something that is just about omnipresent in our society. Facebooks lets us “like” movies or books or the postings of other people. Our own posts are “liked” by friends and strangers alike, and that makes us feel good. Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram invite us to collect thousands of “followers”, “fans”, or “friends”, most of whom we never met and never will meet.

In children’s sports, team members receive a medal just for showing up, for “participation”. Ads are so personalized now that they target our particular tastes and create the impression that we are the most important customer.

We all crave affirmation, and social media give us the impression of being affirmed. In our heads we know that countless folks who affirm us don’t really know us and we don’t know them. And still, it feels so good to get 200 “likes” for our latest snapshot.

We are at heart social people. When creating human beings, God declared that it is not good for us to be alone. That still holds true. Social media offer us the perception that we are linked to so many others, that we are surrounded by a community of like-minded people that value us.

How true is this perception? MIT researcher Sherry Turkle wrote the book “Alone Together”, in which she lays out her discovery that people today report feeling at the same time more connected and lonelier then ever.

Why? Because, while we crave affirmation, what we really need is acceptance.

Affirmation is something we earn by being witty, smart, talented, hip, or the like. It is the reward for trying hard to fit in. Every teenager learns this in high school: If you want to be part of the crowd, you have to do certain things, dress a certain way, act a certain way in order to be affirmed as cool or okay.

Acceptance, on the contrary, means being accepted just the way we are.

Affirmation says: “Your hair looks great this way. You can hang out with us.” Acceptance says: “We would love your company no matter what you look like.”

Affirmation says: “You are good enough now to join our la-cross team.” Acceptance says: “You are a great person; come and join us.”

Affirmation says: “As long as you toe the line, you can be part of us and we will love you.” Acceptance says: “We love you no matter what you do.”

The message Jesus receives in his baptism is one of acceptance: “You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.” This is pure acceptance. There are no conditions placed on Jesus. God does not say, “You can be my beloved son if you do this, that, and the other thing.” No, this is pure pronouncement of love and acceptance: “You are my beloved son. Period.”

With this divine acceptance and the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus ventures into the wilderness to begin his struggle with evil. He will walk through villages and country sides and share the good news he himself had received from God with everyone he meets: Whenever he heals the sick, casts out demons, feeds the hungry, and welcomes the outcast, he shows them that they are God’s beloved children, too.

He pronounces to everyone that God is pleased with him or her. Jesus shows in his ministry that the heavens are torn open and that every man, woman, and child now has access to God’s love, God’s salvation, God’s acceptance.

It is this message that reigns in the evil one and diminished his power. That was true in Jesus’ day, and it is still true today.

Our baptism sent us out into a life where we struggle with evil. In many different ways, evil is all around us.

I think of evil invading this world when I see homeless people sleeping on the streets in this freezing weather and yet see government funding for aid programs cut. I see Satan’s work when absentee landlords cut off heat and skimp on fire alarms, and then a whole family is killed or left homeless because they tried to heat the place with the gas oven and caused a fire. I see evil when dictatorial leaders usurp the election process or pick needless fights with other powers. I see Satan’s fingerprints when governments don’t allow aid convoys into war-torn territories and children in Yemen die of hunger and diphtheria.

I hear the voice of evil calling my name and trying to tell me that I am not thin enough, not fashionable enough, not good enough. I hear Satan nagging me when one of my pictures on twitter gets only 20 likes and usually I get 200; what did I do wrong? Am I not liked anymore? I feel the temptation of wanting more than I have, desiring the friend’s vacation, the neighbor’s car, the church member’s house.

I spot the evil one at work every time someone is diagnosed with cancer, every time a young person dies in a freak accident, every time the voice of depression leads a person to suicide.

There is indeed evil in this world. We are struggling with it every day. In baptism, God has given us the same tools for the struggle against evil that God gave Jesus in his baptism: the Holy Spirit, faith, and our acceptance as beloved children of God.

God’s voice of unconditional acceptance is louder than all the other voices that want to tell us that we don’t measure up, that we are not good enough, that we don’t fit in unless we change. Whenever those voices try to sway us, let us remember the voice that boomed from heaven on the day of our baptism: You are my son, the beloved. You are my daughter, the beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

With this strong voice of divine acceptance, we have a fighting chance against Satan. We will faithfully struggle on, relying on God’s love and grace and forgiveness, until we finally find rest in God’s kingdom.

I am closing with a powerful story about the voice of God’s acceptance giving us hope against the voices of this world. The story was shared by a professor named Heather Elkins. She was leading a Bible study for pastors. As an exercise, she asked everyone in the group to name the biblical character they most closely identify with. The responses were the usual assortment of biblical heroes and holy people.

But then it was the turn of a young pastor, who said, “The only name I could think of was ‘worthless’, for that is what my father always called me and said of me.” And he began to weep.

Everyone was stunned and at a loss as to what to do. Then an old, wise pastor stood up and walked over to the young man. He placed both of his hands on the young man’s shoulders and said: “You are my son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Remember God’s acceptance of you, on the day of your baptism and every day since: You are God’s beloved. Amen.

Tagged with:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *